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January 2005 Archives

Facing a Challenge Every Day

January 31, 2005 12:00 AM

On "The Entertainer," Wayne Newton's new show for E!, performers are put through a series of challenges. One of those working behind the scenes as a senior producer is Mr. Newton's sister-in-law, Tricia McCrone, who has to face her own life challenge. Four years ago she was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease. In Ms. McCrone's case, it causes an inflammation of the connective tissue in the joints. "I was very lucky I was diagnosed early," she recalled recently. A former producer on "The Jenny Jones Show," Ms. McCrone, 34, has also gotten her brother-in-law involved in the group Lupus LA, which last year honored him and his wife, Kathleeen, with its Loop Award, presented by Pax Network founder Lowell "Bud" Paxson and wife Marla, who have a daughter with lupus). Mr. Newton calls Ms. McCrone "very courageous," adding: "She has held her integrity and never let the disease stop her from doing anything she wanted to accomplish." --ALEX BEN BLOCK



Measured Efforts

A group formed by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau is the latest to jump into the debate over how to measure the viewership of video-on-demand. The fray is already crowded with such groups as the On Demand Consortium at CTAM, the ID!A Project at DiMA Group, the advanced TV committee with the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the enhanced television group at the Association of National Advertisers, among others. CAB formed the group late last year and held a meeting in New York last week attended by programmers from Discovery, Turner, Scripps Networks, Viacom and others. The purpose is to find a common approach for VOD measurement currency, reporting metrics and revenue sharing. In layman's terms, CAB plans to serve as a matchmaker, bringing programmers and cable operators closer together on the prickly issue of ad-supported VOD. Finding ways to accurately measure VOD viewing is the single most important issue with VOD this year, CAB President and CEO Sean Cunningham said. "That's why everyone is obsessive in getting this done the right way," he said. --DAISY WHITNEY



A Shot at Leno

While NBC touted record ratings for its Johnny Carson tribute on "The Tonight Show," executives at Turner Broadcasting's Cartoon Network couldn't resist taking a shot at the show's current host, Jay Leno. In its popular late-night Adult Swim block, during "The Family Guy," sharp viewers spotted two Carson-related commercial break bumpers. The first was a sincere tribute, noting "[Carson] shaped our lives." But the second added: "We're sure that `The Tonight Show' will run plenty of Carson tributes this evening. But `The Tonight Show' hasn't been `The Tonight Show' since Johnny retired. The REAL `Tonight Show' is `The Late Show.' Hosted by a fellow named David Letterman." Then, in smaller type, the bumper explained: "The ideas and opinions expressed in this bump completely reflect those of Adult Swim ... and you, the viewer." Word has it Adult Swim Senior VP Mike Lazzo and writer-producer Matt Harrigan, who once worked on "Late Show," wrote the copy. "I think it was just a complete expression of honest feelings," Mr. Harrigan said. "We felt sad, and that was the next thing that came out. Everybody here loves Dave and sees Dave as the heir." --JAMES HIBBERD

Röhm Lays Down the Law

January 24, 2005 12:00 AM

That was quite a surprise ending on NBC's "Law & Order" for Assistant D.A. Serena Southerlyn, played by actress Elizabeth Röhm. We knew she was leaving, but not that she would go out with such a bang. At the end of the Jan. 12 episode, written by Richard Sweren and Lois Johnson, she departed in a final scene that was personally written by executive producer Dick Wolf. Ms. Southerlyn was called to her boss's office, where D.A. Arthur Branch (former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson) told her that prosecutors need to be cold and dispassionate, and that she was too warmblooded-and fired her. She then dropped her own bombshell by asking, "Is it because I'm a lesbian?" With surprise on his face, he replied, "No." She said, "Good," and it was over. Blink asked Ms. Röhm how it came about. She said Mr. Wolf asked her whether she wanted her exit to be "something splashy" or "something simple." "Something splashy, of course," replied Ms. Röhm. When Mr. Wolf mentioned the L-word, Ms. Röhm confessed she had "toyed with the idea" as part of her secret back story for her character. "So we just said, 'Well, let's do it.'" Ms. Röhm said there are no plans to bring her back. "It was just a really great sendoff amongst friends." She now plans to be bicoastal, moving between her New York base and L.A., while she seeks "character-driven TV shows or maybe movies." The former soap star will be seen this spring in "Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous." --MICHELE GREPPI



A Showbiz Companion

Parodying entertainment news shows must be harder than it looks. Comedy Central had two shows in development to fill the half-hour following its acclaimed news parody, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." An insider told Blink that one pilot, "The Hollywood Show," featuring former "Daily Show" correspondent Brian Unger, has been dropped. The other, "Gone Hollywood," co-created by actor David Spade," has been sent back to the shop for a few tweaks. And one of those adjustments apparently will be a replacement for host Greg Giraldo, a comedian who regularly appears on Comedy Central. Despite the problems with the pilots, an insider said the network is convinced a showbiz show is a natural and will eventually get on the air. --JON LAFAYETTE



Peldon Perseveres

Two days after she was accidentally stabbed on the set of Tobe Hooper's indie horror film "Mortuary," actor Courtney Peldon was back at work last Friday. Ms. Peldon, 23, who had recurring roles as Becky Emerson on "Boston Public" and as Jonathan

Taylor Thomas' girlfriend Lauren on "Home Improvement," was wounded during a fight scene. One of her co-stars apparently was given a real knife instead of a fake knife by the prop department. Ms. Peldon's injury required stitches and plastic surgery, according to her publicist, who declined to comment on the specifics of where she was stabbed.

"Mortuary" tells the story of a family that moves to a small town to run a mortuary, which turns out to be haunted. Maybe places do exist that are more dangerous than public schools.

-CHARLEY DANIELS

He's No Chicken, He's Just Busy, Busy-Bam!

January 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Food Network last Sunday was set to premiere "Iron Chef America," the domestic version of its long-running Japanese import where chefs compete head-to-head to create culinary masterpieces against a ticking clock. Food Network celebrities such as Wolfgang Puck and Mario Batali are scheduled to compete, but don't expect the channel's signature chef Emeril Lagasse to step into Kitchen Stadium anytime soon. "We've asked, but he declined," a source said. A Food Network spokesman confirmed that Mr. Lagasse will not duel on the show, but denied the chef was worried about getting-Bam!-kicked down a notch. "It wasn't a matter of him wanting to do it; it was more of a scheduling issue," the spokesman said.

-JAMES HIBBERD



No Guarantee

So far this season, Dennis Haysbert has not appeared on Fox's hit action series "24" as President David Palmer. He has been replaced as the president on the show by Geoff Pierson, who plays President John Keeler. Mr. Haysbert may be back in a recurring role later in the year, but so far there is no deal, according to a Fox spokesman. In the meantime, Mr. Haysbert will show up on commercials on the show and on the show's Web site, by virtue of a deal between Fox and Allstate Insurance, which has been using Mr. Haysbert as spokesman for the past year. Later this season, Allstate's ad agency Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, will create mini-movies and special content focusing on how Allstate fights fraud, which will appear on the "24" Web site. As far as we know, that insurance will not cover Kiefer Sutherland's Agent Jack Bauer, who has survived everything from plane crashes to atomic radiation. For Agent Bauer, the only survival insurance continues to be strong ratings.

-WAYNE FRIEDMAN



Next Wave

What would you do if the name of your new business suddenly were linked to one of the biggest tragedies in history? In the case of Tsunami Productions of Parkton, Md., which is attending NATPE next week for the first time, the answer is nothing. So far, there's been no negative reaction to the name, according to Me-lissa Mc-Comas, a marketing guru with retail connections, who founded the company. People tell her: "Now we'll know how to pronounce the name of your company," she said. Tsunami produces shows that get sponsorship-or have product placements-from marketers the firm has relationships with. At NATPE she'll be pushing two new weekly shows-"Beauty Behavior," a makeover show for "real people," and "H.I. 101," where regular guys take on home improvement projects. Ms. McComas said she named the business "Tsunami" because it signified a "surge and motion and movement" and is considering giving some of her proceeds to the tsunami relief efforts.

-JON LAFAYETTE

Flash: AOL Voters Think Like TV Critics

January 10, 2005 12:00 AM

It is unusual when TV critics and the mass of viewers agree on which shows are best, as occurred in the latest TelevisionWeek semiannual Critics Poll (TVWeek, Jan. 3). The poll named ratings hits "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives" critics' No. 1 and 2 faves, respectively, and dubbed "Center of the Universe" the worst show. Now those results have been validated in a poll of AOL users. The difference is that "Desperate Housewives" was No. 1 and "Lost" came in second. Other shows from our best show list that AOL users thought were tops were "Gilmore Girls," "American Dreams," "The O.C." and "The West Wing." Shows the critics ignored but AOL users liked included "CSI," "Alias" and "Boston Legal." Shows getting thumbs down on both lists were "The Swan," "Fear Factor" and "Growing Up Gotti." Since AOL voters had more time, they actually picked as the very worst a show that will be eligible for our next critics poll in July: "Who's Your Daddy?" which aired only last week.

-ALEX BEN BLOCK



Welcome to Wisteria Lane

Networks always try to outdo themselves when it comes to hosting parties for the semiannual TCA Press Tour. ABC, which presents last this year, will take advantage of its biggest hit and the critics' presence at the Universal City Hilton. Across from the hotel is the Universal Studios back lot, the home of the infamous "Wisteria Lane" set, familiar to millions of "Desperate Housewives" fans. ABC will host a party on the street and is opening four fully dressed homes to partygoers. Network planners are hoping the unseasonably heavy rain that has dominated the L.A. area weather this winter won't interfere. Maybe deceased housewife Mary Alice Young can pull some strings in the afterworld to guarantee a starry night. It is the No. 1 show on TV, after all ...

-CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA



NCTA Finalists

The search for a candidate to succeed Robert Sachs as president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association appeared to be nearing the final stages last week, with two previously-unmentioned-but-very-plugged-in Republican insiders rumored to be among those making a final dash for the $1 million-plus-a-year post: David Hobbs, head of the White House's legislative office, and Kyle McSlarrow, a deputy secretary at the Department of Energy. Mr. Hobbs previously was a top staffer to former House majority leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. Mr. McSlarrow previously worked for former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. Neither of the rumored contenders returned telephone calls. NCTA had no comment.

-DOUG HALONEN

Happy Couple Down Mexico Way

January 3, 2005 12:00 AM

The spectacular three-home compound atop the Las Brisas resort in Acapulco, Mexico, where last month Viacom co-President Leslie Moonves wed longtime girlfriend Julie Chen, "CBS Early Show" anchor, was once owned by Warner Bros. Beginning in the late 1970s, Steve Ross, the entrepreneur who built Warner and merged it into Time Inc. in 2001, used what he called Villa Eden as a place to pamper top stars like Barbra Streisand and Sylvester Stallone. The lavish retreat was sold after the merger in a wave of cost cutting, and at one point was owned by Haim Saban. The cliffside villa, overlooking Acapulco Bay, has indoor and outdoor pools, indoor and outdoor tennis courts and lots of luxurious rooms. The Moonveses' very private wedding, presided over by a Mexican judge, was attended by about 30 guests, mostly family and close friends. It concluded with a fireworks display. Afterward the newlyweds honeymooned in Cabo San Lucas. Blink wishes them a long, happy and prosperous union.

-ALEX BEN BLOCK

Lighthouse Life

Bill Baker, the president of public TV powerhouse WNET-TV in New York, knows that living a dream is not easy. His longtime fascination with lighthouses led to him to buy in 1992 an island four miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. Henry Island came with a 102-year-old lighthouse-of which he is officially the keeper and the Canadian Coast Guard is the owner. The house had not been occupied in 40 years. The price was "about the cost of a bathroom" in Manhattan, he wrote in "Lighthouse Island: Our Family Escape," a picture-filled history. "It is not a place you go to casually," said Mr. Baker, who spends three weeks each August there with his wife, two grown daughters and son-in-law. "It is a big production." The pilgrimage starts with a two-day trip in a car with necessities for a stay on an island with no electricity or running water and a bathroom facility that is enclosed but whose workings don't qualify as indoor plumbing. A one-hour boat ride is followed by a schlep uphill to the clearing in which the lighthouse, house, outhouse and storage shed are clustered. The Bakers cook and cool food with propane and stay in touch with the world via hand and marine radios. The lighthouse was automated in 1966 and runs on solar power. When he is on the island, Mr. Baker raises the flag every morning, shines the lens and touches up the paint. As lighthouse keeper, Mr. Baker is not compensated. "It costs me money," said the TV executive, who started the not-for-profit Henry Island Lighthouse Preservation Society to help pay for maintenance. It's an expense he said he's happy to pay for the opportunity to spend three weeks a year in a pristine setting he visits "365 days a year in my mind."

-MICHELE GREPPI

Dressed for TV

Bravo's newest reality hit, "Project Runway," has also been a hit for show sponsor Banana Republic. On "Runway," 12 over-the-top fashion designer wannabes compete for a chance to develop their own clothing line. The winning creation, a black silk capelet dress by designer Wendy Pepper, was included in Banana Republic's winter line. Within hours of being offered on the retailer's Web site, it was oversubscribed. "We were excited to see how fast Wendy's dress sold out, but not completely surprised," said Bravo President Lauren Zalaznick. "These designers have true talent and that has obviously translated to the consumer." If Ms. Pepper's simple yet elegant design is an absolute must-have for 2005, fear not-it's available at select Banana Republic stores in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. -CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA