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June 2005 Archives

They Learned Comedy From the 'Girls'

June 27, 2005 12:00 AM

The shoulder-padded Miami singles who were the subjects of the classic 1980s sitcom "The Golden Girls" may just be the predecessors of the women of Wisteria Lane. At a panel of comedy writers last week at the Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills, "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry and "Arrested Development" creator Mitch Hurwitz discussed the state of comedy in prime time today. While they are now celebrated comedy showrunners, both began their careers as writers for "The Golden Girls," which they said was an important training ground. Mr. Cherry said the show's veteran cast was so good "You knew it was your fault" when a joke didn't work. Mr. Hurwitz said he was greatly influenced by "Girls" executive producers Paul Junger Witt and Tony Thomas (son of TV legend Danny Thomas) and their ability to craft comedy. -CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA

Teach and Entertain

The In Tune Foundation Group and Passport Entertainment have struck a deal with Viacom to produce at least 26 episodes of a weekly syndicated show tentatively titled "In Tune TV," said executive producer Gene Maillard, CEO of In Tune, a nonprofit group. The half-hour will feature popular musicians and will air Saturdays beginning Sept. 10 on Viacom-owned stations and some others. The show, which meets Federal Communications Commission standards as an educational program, will approach music from an enlightened perspective, Mr. Maillard said, noting it will be supported by distribution to classrooms of In Tune Monthly, a magazine for kids 12 to 18. The goal is to use fun and entertaining methods to teach basic life skills through music and popular culture. "We want to be the coolest television show in America," he said. The musician Zarah is set as host. She said she has been positively influenced by music: "I think music has healed a lot of my past." -CHARLEY DANIELS

A Slow Rise at Promax&BDA

Executives looking to move up in the promotion industry last week learned to avoid the elevators at the Marriott Marquis in New York, where Promax&BDA held its 2005 conference. In the past year the hotel has undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation. However, due to a lingering strike by the elevator engineers union, the modern control system for a bank of revamped elevators was only partly installed. Most attendees rode escalators up the first eight floors. For those with higher aspirations, the problems were greater. For instance, guests trying to get to Promax and TelevisionWeek's presentation of the 2005 Awards of Distinction in a suite on the 45th floor faced long waits for the few working elevators. Some were sent to 8, then rerouted to 43 via a freight elevator loaded with linen carts. Hotel management apologized in advance to attendees, offering prizes ranging from a New Year's holiday stay at the hotel, to iPods and free drinks (the drink prizes seemed the most appreciated). Next year's Promax&BDA will again be at the Marriott. Things can only improve. Look for photos from the Campaigns of Distinction Awards presentation in the July 11 edition of TVWeek. -JON LAFAYETTE

Big & Rich on the Streets of Deadwood

June 20, 2005 12:00 AM

HBO's offbeat Western "Deadwood" is set in Deadwood, S.D., in 1876. Now the historic town is the site of a very different show. Country sensation Big & Rich (John Rich and Big Kenny), whose best-known song is "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," is planning a concert performance on the streets of Deadwood that will air on cable channel CMT. Mr. Rich and Mr. Kenny have already made Deadwood their adopted hometown, memorializing it in the song "Deadwood Mountain" and using it as the location for their current video, "Big Time." While HBO has no involvement in the concert or CMT show, two actors from "Deadwood" are making appearances. John Hawkes (who plays Sol Star) and W. Earl Brown (who plays Dan Dority) will be featured guest performers in the concert. -JAMES HIBBERD

Lacking Reality

The Web site is defunct, the Santa Monica, Calif., offices closed, the phone disconnected. Reality Central, at least as a 24-hour cable channel, is no longer real. "It was shot in the head by a Fox," said a source, referring to Fox Cable Networks using its leverage with cable operators to launch the Fox Reality Channel. Reality Central was announced first, in 2003, but gaining carriage proved elusive. The network, headed by President and CEO Larry Namer and Chairman Kay Koplovitz, initially rode a wave of publicity tied to the reality craze, showing up at cable conventions with semi-famous reality show contestants. As it became clear in 2004 that Fox would be the only reality channel to win carriage, the start-up changed its name to Reality 24/7. Now, according to Mr. Namer, who is running parent company RTV Media out of his L.A.-area home, the network is negotiating with a Canadian company for additional funding while reinventing the concept as a video-on-demand service. It wouldn't offer reality shows but rather a mix of news, gossip and faux game shows about reality programs and contestants. For instance, the stars of "Fear Factor" might compete against the stars of "Survivor." Mr. Namer hopes to launch the first product this fall. -JAMES HIBBERD and ALEX BEN BLOCK

Stern's TV Home

While shock jock Howard Stern is set to move early next year to Sirius Satellite Radio, which will allow an uncensored format, there are mixed signals about the future of the TV version of his daily radio program. His current TV home, E! Entertainment Television, and male-oriented Spike TV are both bidding for the show, with negotiations going into overtime, sources said last week. All parties are staying quiet, but sources said Mr. Stern wants to revamp the series regardless of which network airs the program. Mr. Stern has been highly rated for E! but selling ads has been a challenge. Mainstream advertisers shy away due to the often raunchy content. That leaves advertisers such as the "Girls Gone Wild" video series, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. Last year the Stern E! show garnered only $6,000 for an average 30-second spot, well below what the ratings seem to rate. Spike TV, which may be a better demo match, is already in business with Mr. Stern, and parent Viacom has shown a recent willingness to spend on programming. Last year Spike TV ordered 13 episodes of "Howard Stern: The High School Years," an animated show scheduled to debut in 2006. -JAMES HIBBERD

Highest Bidders Get to Walk on 'Housewives'

June 13, 2005 12:00 AM

How much might someone pay for a walk-on role in ABC's hit comedy "Desperate Housewives"? What if we threw in some good wine from Frank Family Vineyards-owned by former Disney TV chief Rich Frank (who with ABC exec Stephen McPherson created a new wine included in the package)-a hotel stay, a limo and a gourmet dinner in L.A.? (Blink, April 4). How about $300,000 and $280,000? That is what the two winning bidders paid at Auction Napa Valley, an annual charity event held at Meadowood in St. Helena, Calif., on June 4 that raised a record $10.5 million. Jay Leno and Teri Hatcher helped the auctioneer push up the price. When bidding stalled at $250,000, Ms. Hatcher teased the crowd: "There's a lot more that I'll do for more money." The winning bidders were Stratton Sclavos, CEO of Internet services firm VeriSign, whose wife, Jody, will get the TV appearance; and Gerret and Tatiana Copeland of Wilmington, Del., who own the Bouchaine Vineyards in Napa Valley. Mrs. Copeland said it will probably be she who uses the "Desperate" moment, though it could be her husband, who is a DuPont heir. "It was worth it because we know where the money goes [for health care, children, housing]," said Mrs. Copeland, who admitted the price was high, but said, "You get caught up in the thrill of the moment." She told Ms. Hatcher she hopes her scene will be with the "hot gardener."-ALEX BEN BLOCK

Lawsuits Can be Scary

The deluge of paranormal reality shows, including Sci Fi's "Ghost Hunters" and Court TV's "Psychic Detectives," has given entertainment industry lawyers a whole new dimension of liability to worry about: paranormal-related damages. When drafting participant contracts for his upcoming as-yet-untitled TLC ghost hunting reality show, executive producer Thom Beers ("Monster Garage") said his attorneys had to devise legal language to prevent lawsuits by owners of supposedly haunted structures, should Mr. Beers' team of investigative ghostbusters stir up otherworldly trouble. "It did take some time to figure out," Mr. Beers said. "The lawyers came up with indemnifying the network against 'damages caused by supernatural activity or poltergeists in association with activities in the house.'" Blink loves that the lawyers included both supernatural activity and poltergeists, just in case litigious plaintiffs decided to exploit some sort of afterlife terminology loophole. -JAMES HIBBERD

Indie's New Home

Coming Soon on the Independent Film Channel: the new IFC Center. It is a movie Mecca opening June 19 on the site of the old Waverly Theater in Manhattan with custom-made seating for 210. IFC General Manager Evan Shapiro is moving the site of the network's show "At the Angelica" to the center and renaming it "At the IFC Center." IFC's news operation will relocate from the Arclight Theater in Los Angeles. "We will cover what happens at the IFC Center because what happens at the IFC Center is news," Mr. Shapiro said. The channel and the theater will work in tandem on some scheduling, such as a Spaghetti Western Month on IFC and at the theater, planned for September. There will be a cult series that will run either monthly or as a once-a-year special. Sounding like a kid who can have all the candy he wants from the concessions stand, Mr. Shapiro gushed, "It's wonderful that the network and the entertainment group have this wonderful bricks-and-mortar version of the brand." -JON LAFAYETTE

Tipster Helps Web Site Give Kelley Dose of Reality

June 6, 2005 12:00 AM

"Boston Legal" exec producer David E. Kelley is being served a hard dose of reality. The former lawyer's first foray into unscripted TV has been tarnished by a mean-spirited tipster. An untraceable e-mail sent May 26 to about 100 industry figures e-mail claimed to reveal the winners of Kelley's upcoming NBC reality series, "The Law Firm." The e-mail was sent using a fee-based Web site that helps hide the real author. The site, still in the development stage and looking for publicity, then posted the spoiler on its homepage and awarded the sender its weekly "best anonymous e-mail" $100 prize. A spokeswoman for Kelley productions sounded disgusted by the stunt but declined to comment about the potential impact on the show or its ratings. Lawyers from 20th Century Fox Television ("Law Firm's" producer) have requested the tipster's identity, but web site creator Howard Baer told them, "Absolutely not," adding: "We don't know if this person did anything illegal." A Fox spokesman speculated the tipster was involved with the show, which has completed production. Mr. Kelley and Fox refused to confirm or deny the validity of the leaked list. An NBC spokeswoman said it shouldn't be considered credible. She noted the summer series, slated for a July 28 premiere, will proceed as scheduled. --NATALIE FINN

Know When to Compute Them …

In another likely sign of the apocalypse a start-up production company is mounting the 2005 World Series of Poker Robots-a competition in Las Vegas in which computerized robots face off later this month in a 72-hour Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament in front of a live audience and-concept co-creator Darren Shuster hopes-a television audience, though there is no deal as yet. Like mechanical BattleBots, each robot has its own programmer and backer who competes for a $100,000 prize put up by online gambling site GoldenPalace.net, which in the past sought media attention by buying a grilled cheese sandwich that supposedly carried an image of the Virgin Mary, and last month, Britney Spears' purported home pregnancy test. It hopes to steal some thunder from the World Series of Poker, which will be held at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas that week and will air in July on ESPN. Mr. Shuster, who said the GSN network has shown interest, insisted this is not just a publicity stunt: "Of course, GoldenPalace wants the publicity. What are they putting up the 100 grand for? It's called sponsorship. But this is not their company and this is going to happen." --JAMES HIBBERD

Special Delivery

The healthy birth last Wednesday of Lola Sheen means there shouldn't be any disruption in the production of the upcoming UPN dramatic series "Sex, Lies & Secrets," billed as an edgier version of "Friends." It stars an ensemble cast, including Lola's mother, "Wild Things" star Denise Richards. Lola joins sister Sam, born 15 months ago. Dad is Charlie Sheen, star of the hit CBS comedy "Two and a Half Men," about a man whose brother and nephew move it with him. Mr. Sheen was reportedly in the delivery room for the birth, even though Ms. Richards, 34, and Mr. Sheen, 39, separated in March and are seeking a divorce. The parents expressed delight at the arrival of Lola, who weighed 6 pounds 10 ounces. Production on "Sex, Lies & Secrets" is scheduled to start next month. Ms. Richards plays Jolene, who lives in Silver Lake, a trendy neighborhood near downtown L.A. No date has been set for the premiere, but the show should get sampled. It will air Tuesday nights right after one of UPN's most popular series, "America's Next Top Model." --NATALIE VERDUGO