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TelevisionWeek's Blink page is an industry must-read, taking a sardonic look at happenings across the television business. This wry coverage is extended online and updated throughout the week.

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December 2004 Archives

Toyota's Real Deal With Boxing Show

December 20, 2004 12:00 AM

In what may well be the highest price ever paid for a product integration/advertising package in a TV series, Toyota has signed to become a major sponsor in NBC/Mark Burnett Productions' upcoming boxing-reality show "The Contender." The automaker is believed to be paying a whopping $16 million for product placements and ads on the show's first 13 episodes, which begin airing in February. That surpasses sponsorships in CBS's "Survivor" and Fox's "American Idol," both established hits that have had deals in the $10 million to $14 million range. Mark Burnett's "The Apprentice" has overall deals in the $10 million range, according to media buying executives. What makes the Toyota deal especially surprising is that another boxing-themed show on Fox last summer, "The Next Great Champ," had poor ratings and was canceled before its initial order finished airing. Sources said Toyota's reps have seen episodes of "Contender" and believe it will do much better. To make sure it gets its money's worth, Toyota is buying an unusually heavy load of four 30-second spots per episode (two is typical) and is the exclusive car company. At an estimated $200,000 per spot, Toyota is spending $10.4 million in media and more than $6 million in product integration fees. Rich Frank, chairman of The Firm, the entertainment marketing company that put together the deal, wouldn't discuss specifics but said: "The car category is a very competitive-especially for Mark Burnett shows. But that's where we come in-we can move very fast." Toyota will place cars in the show and have its name on the boxing ring corner pads and in other elements in each episode. -WAYNE FRIEDMAN

'Wickedly' Good

CBS's televised hunt for the next domestic diva, the upcoming reality show "Wickedly Perfect," brought in some Type A personalities when it came to cooking and entertaining. But as happens on most reality shows, once contestants were voted off, they were sequestered in a hotel until the final diva was left. With all that boundless domestic energy, the rejected Martha Stewart wannabes channeled their frustrations into preparing five-course meals. "Wickedly Perfect" executive producer Eric Schotz said the contestants turned their hotel rooms into make-do kitchens with toaster ovens and hot plates. "They were doing soups and seared ahi tuna," he said. "Every day it became about the meal. I was so blown away when I went there. I thought, what's wrong with you people?" But Mr. Schotz knew he was dealing with much more fastidious reality show contestants than usual. "This is the only show since `Boot Camp' where everybody made their beds," he said. "This is a fun little group of people. It's `Desperate Reality,' if you will." "Wickedly Perfect" premieres Jan. 6. -CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA

Loesch Carded

It would seem that greeting cards play a special role in the professional life of Margaret Loesch. Some three years after her sudden departure as founding president and CEO of Hallmark Channel parent Crown Media, Ms. Loesch finds herself teaming with Hallmark's chief rival, American Greetings. The No. 2 greeting card company behind Hallmark, American Greetings last Friday said it was making a significant investment to become a co-owner of The Hatchery, the entertainment company Ms. Loesch founded with marketing exec Bruce Stein 18 months ago. The greeting card giant will use the stake as a launchpad to expand into the entertainment business. Under the terms of the partnership, whose financial details were not disclosed, The Hatchery would continue to develop its own stable of entertainment properties-which include direct-to-video feature films based on the books by author R.L. Stine-while also mining American Greetings-owned properties such as Maryoku Yummy and Twisted Whiskers. -JAY SHERMAN

Something to Bitch About

December 13, 2004 12:00 AM

In his musical tribute to honoree Sir Elton John during taping of the 27th Annual Kennedy Center Awards last week, Billy Joel did a rendition of Mr. John's classic song "The Bitch Is Back." However, it is unlikely that you will see that performance when CBS airs the annual honors Dec. 21. Things are a bit sensitive these days in the wake of Federal Communications Commission fines for so-called indecent programming. CBS parent Viacom recently agreed to pay a $3.5 million fine for several incidents and is still challenging a $550,00 fine levied for Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction." A CBS spokesman huffed that the network prefers to talk about the brilliance of this year's Kennedy Center honorees, who include (besides Sir Elton) Warren Beatty, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Dame Joan Sutherland and John Williams. CBS declined to comment on whether Mr. Joel's version of "The Bitch" would be included-the producers are still editing the show for content and to fit time constraints-but Blink wouldn't count on it.

-DANIELLE PARKER



TV, Not Rx

Who says TV isn't educational? On Thanksgiving Day, 15-year-old Raynita Anderson helped save the life of a newborn baby in the back of a minivan using skills learned from watching Discovery Health Channel. Ms. Anderson had just witnessed her mother's friend give birth on the way to St. John's Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, N.Y. But the umbilical cord was wrapped around the neck of the baby, who wasn't able to breathe. Luckily, Ms. Anderson's favorite show is "Babies: Special Delivery," which once featured a similar scenario. She expertly unwrapped the cord and used her shoelaces to tie it off. On the "Fox News Live" morning show, series producer LMNO Productions awarded Ms. Anderson $1,500 for her quick thinking (and presumably the great press).

-JAMES HIBBERD



The Week That Was

Things have changed in the 57 years that Arvid "Swede" Nelson has worked at station WEEK-TV in Peoria, Ill. For one thing, it was a radio station when he started. Now it broadcasts in high definition, which Mr. Nelson called "the biggest thing," along with the arrival of color. Mr. Nelson, 80, is retiring at the end of this month from his post as master control operator. (WEEK's other master control operator, Bob Swadener, is also in his 80s.) Mr. Nelson has seen a lot since he joined the station as an engineer. He's known almost everyone who has worked there. "He's not the traditional curmudgeon engineer. He comes in early and walks the halls. He has a couple of jokes to tell. So everyone knows him," said General Manager Mark DeSantis. When the station had its anniversary two years ago, Mr. Nelson was at the door, greeting folks.

Working at WEEK, Mr. Nelson met famous people. He was the audio man when President Eisenhower came for a speech, and he ran the camera when President Reagan came to town. Mr. Nelson said President Reagan "was very impressive. Once through his copy and he was ready to go."

Mr. Nelson decided to hang it up because he figures it's only a matter of time before the master control job gets automated. He'll stay in Peoria with his wife of 37 years. After years of watching only NBC shows during his 4:30 p.m.-to-12:30 a.m. shift, he's looking forward to seeing what other networks have to offer. He'll also indulge hobbies, which include amateur radio, photography and music. "I've got a thousand things I want to do."

-JON LAFAYETTE

Don't Call Them Ghostbusters

December 6, 2004 12:00 AM

Since the debut of "Ghost Hunters" in October, paranormal researchers from Rhode Island (whose day job is as plumbers for Roto-Rooter) have been on a spirited search for ghosts and poltergeists. Along the way they have found a sizable viewing audience, averaging 1.2 million viewers per episode. Last week Sci Fi ordered 13 additional episodes of the show, which is captured not just by the production crew but also by handheld cameras carried by the team members. That is how they captured some hard-to-explain incidents, according to creator and executive producer Craig Piligian ("American Chopper," "Survivor: Africa"). In one case, the show lost a cameraman who quit after seeing an alleged ghostly entity. Another time a sound engineer's heavy equipment inexplicably flew into his face, knocking him to the ground. The close calls have made for great TV. Maybe too great. Although the paranormal team members (who don't like comparisons to the movie "Ghostbusters") have been investigating pro bono for 12 years and are known for taking a high-tech approach, savvy viewers can be forgiven for a degree of skepticism given the show's content and the network's penchant for hoaxes-on its prank show "Scare Tactics" and, less scrupulously, during an ill-advised publicity stunt promoting "The Village," in which the channel attempted to fake a scandal involving director M. Night Shyamalan. But Mr. Piligian said that while he is a skeptic, he has faith in the team's credibility. "I'm sort of a nonbeliever," he said. "But I believe in the [`Ghost Hunters' team]. I believe they're real enough. They're normal guys and they sell the show as legitimate."

-JAMES HIBBERD



Gov. Zig-Zaggy

Although California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger graces the cover of the upcoming Emmy magazine, which features a comprehensive special report on runaway film and TV production, don't look for a quote from him inside. He told the mag he was too busy to give an interview, despite repeatedly saying the loss of more than 30,000 showbiz jobs in California since 1999 is a big concern. Several articles do detail his commitment to the cause. While he won't allocate any new money, restore the budget of the film commission or provide tax incentives (due to state budget problems), the Governator has recruited pals such as Danny DeVito, Tom Werner and Clint Eastwood onto the film commission to help lobby producers to keep production in the state. An anecdote in the issue relates how the governor appeared earlier this year on the L.A. set of a movie with Mr. DeVito to talk about runaway production. He praised Mr. DeVito for keeping his production in California. But when a reporter asked about outsourcing jobs from the Golden State, the Gov replied: "We don't want to get into the situation of protectionism." Concluded Robert Salladay, author of the article: "Saying `We want to make movies everywhere' at a political event to stop out-of-state productions is the kind of zig-zaggy comment Schwarzenegger often makes."

-ALEX BEN BLOCK