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.



July 2005 Archives

Tom Wants to Sleep in Your Spare Bedroom

July 25, 2005 12:00 AM

TBS has signed actor Tom Arnold for a reality series pilot called "The Replacement," in which the comic actor travels the country filling in on specific jobs-camp counselor, best man at a wedding-or helping with odd jobs, such as putting together a bachelor party. Mr. Arnold will move into the home of each person he "helps," bringing along his big-screen television and favorite lounge chair. The pilot deal comes on the heels of rave reviews for Mr. Arnold's recent turn in the Lions Gate film "Happy Endings" and his getting cut out of his contributing role on Fox Sports Net's "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." Mr. Arnold's first series was "The Roseanne Barr Show," where he played husband to his then real-life spouse Roseanne Barr. He then moved on to character parts in movies "True Lies," "Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery" and "Nine Months." He also had a short-lived 1997 WB sitcom, "The Tom Show."-JAMES HIBBERD

Fireworks Pop; Concerts Flop

The Live 8 concerts were expected to set off ratings fireworks over the Independence Day holiday, but for the most part they fizzled on TV. While the concerts showcased online AOL Television, with multiple feeds of straight concert coverage, they were less successful for MTV and merely a ratings blip on ABC. That put a special twinkle in the eye of Viacom and CBS topper Leslie Moonves, who told a gaggle of reporters at a CBS dinner in L.A. last week that the big winner that night was CBS's "Boston Pops Fireworks," which, as Mr. Moonves noted, offered music performed on the Charles River Basin and Esplanade and about 23 minutes of fireworks. The event, known as the Boston 4 Celebrations, drew about 7.7 million viewers. That was up about 11 percent from last year. By comparison, ABC's Live 8 special attracted about 2.9 million viewers. Mr. Moonves also provided a back story. Several years ago CBS's Boston affiliate WBZ-TV asked the network to pick up the annual Independence Day celebration on a five-year contract. Mr. Moonves was skeptical about the number of viewers it would attract. He agreed to put it on once, in 2003, and said it would get a full five years only if it did better than a 10 rating, which he felt was unlikely. It did a 12 and has been a staple on CBS ever since. -ALEX BEN BLOCK

Be Your Own 'Iron Chef '

Food Network has found that viewers are using the "Iron Chef America" format as a recipe for parties and projects at home. So the network is using the phenomenon to promote itself and the show. Foodnetwork.com has an area called How Do You Iron Chef? where viewers are invited to send videos and descriptions of their own efforts in competitive cooking. "The response has been bigger than we expected," said Susie Fogelson, Food Net's VP of marketing. More than 1,100 videos have already been sent in by cooks as diverse as a 14-year-old in Cleveland and a Coast Guard unit in San Francisco. As people tell their friends, it becomes viral marketing for the network. "It's definitely helping," said Doug Parker, director of Foodnetwork.com. "This is our version of the Subservient Chicken," said Ms. Fogelson, referring to Burger King's Web marketing mascot. Food Network's version is undoubtedly tastier. -JON LAFAYETTE

Defining the Space Shot

July 18, 2005 12:00 AM

When the Discovery shuttle finally returns America to space, NASA will have 19 high-definition cameras on the ground and aboard nearby aircraft to capture the scene. There will also be a crew from Mark Cuban's HDNet at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to show the launch live. After the launch, the NASA HD footage becomes public domain. Discovery HD Theater plans to review those 19 caches of film and use the footage to put together a moment-by-moment re-creation, scheduled to run on the network during August. This isn't a first for the channel. Discovery HD Theater uses NASA footage regularly in specials and weekly three-minute interstitials about space exploration called "Exploring Our Universe." The channel also used NASA HD footage from the Mars Exploration Rover Mission earlier this year in a special. -DAISY WHITNEY

'Prison' Shooting

Networks often look for authentic locations, but Fox took production of its new drama "Prison Break" to the level of maximum security. "Prison," set in Chicago, is the first network drama since CBS's "Early Edition" to shoot totally on location in the Windy City. The producers took advantage of an actual prison now available for film and TV shoots. Joliet Prison, about 40 minutes outside Chicago, was recently mothballed by the state of Illinois and the inmates moved to a newer facility. The photogenic buildings are the backdrop used extensively in the shoot. A 20th Century Fox spokesman called the structure "ominous" and a "stone fortress" that adds to the show's authenticity. Blink hopes no one accidentally gets locked in overnight. "Prison" debuts Aug. 29 with a two-hour episode. -CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA

Gay Cable's New Star: Pat Buchanan

Politics makes strange bedfellows. The same is true for the new gay and lesbian channel here! TV, which is set to premiere "Birch & Company," a talk show hosted by Elizabeth Birch, a well-known activist involved in gay and lesbian political issues. Her debut show features Rosie O'Donnell, a logical choice. But in her second show she goes one-on-one with conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, no friend to the gay and lesbian community. Producer Rick Scott said in a press release he was "amazed" at the number of political figures, particularly from the right, who have agreed to appear on the show. Commentators Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson, as well as left-leaning Howard Dean, Al Gore and Ted Kennedy, are all confirmed guests. "Birch" premieres Aug. 12. -CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA

Comedy 'Master' Still Desperately Funny

July 11, 2005 12:00 AM

For more than four decades he has performed in comedy clubs, had hit recordings and starred in three popular TV series. But these days Bob Newhart may be better known as "Morty" on ABC's "Desperate Housewives," a role he reprises this fall. Now PBS's "American Masters" series presents "Bob Newhart: Unbuttoned" July 20. The program name is an allusion to his Grammy-winning 1960 comedy album "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart." His appearance in the series puts him in the same league as other featured "masters," including Charlie Chaplin, Lucille Ball and Buster Keaton. "It's a little mind-blowing," Mr. Newhart, 75, said. "I started out as a stand-up comic years ago. I even flunked out of law school. I never thought I'd be considered a master." Mr. Newhart is about to begin work on the second installment of TNT's drama spoof "The Librarian," in which he will star with Noah Wyle, and he is working on an autobiography due next summer. He joked that he may call it "10 Days to a Slimmer You!" because diet books do so well. But he is serious about how happy he is to be part of "Housewives:" "It was a kick," Mr. Newhart said. "I think [California Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger would give up the governorship to be on an episode." -NATALIE VERDUGO

Life in the Slow Lane

HBO's "Entourage" provides an insider's look at life in Hollywood's fast lane. Now HBO is offering a comedic spoof on the series dubbed "Entourage: The Lost Screen Tests" that is one of the first original offerings available only on HBO on Demand. Beginning this week, the pay cable service's 8 million video-on-demand subscribers will be able to see four short films that first run an actual scene from the series with stars such as Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon and Jeremy Piven. The scene is then repeated, but recast with faded TV stars such as Gary Coleman, Jimmy Walker, Erik Estrada and Pat Morita. The typical bawdy profanity of "Entourage" is hilariously amplified when delivered by the likes of Estelle Harris, who played George's mom Estelle Costanza on "Seinfeld," shown in the wheelchair pushed by Renee Taylor of "The Nanny" and accompanied by "Rappin' Granny" Ellen Albertini Dow. The idea is to promote the VOD service and draw new fans to sample the show. "HBO on Demand gives us an opportunity to create extended original content that helps make the service more attractive for those who don't use it and is great for fans of the show who do," said Courteney Monroe, HBO's senior VP of advertising. -JAMES HIBBERD

'H&R Cellblock' Scam Exposed

Credit investigative reporter Doug Smith of Fox-owned WTVT-TV in Tampa, Fla., for exposing a scam that cost the IRS and American taxpayers about $68 million last year alone. Known among prisoners as "H&R Cellblock," the rip-off involves prison inmates filing false 1040 tax returns with phony information on bankrupt companies to get refunds of up to $5,000. WTVT's report got the attention of Democratic Florida lawmakers Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Jim Davis, and resulted in a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing in late June that put the IRS on the hot seat. Sen. Nelson, who has called for the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, to conduct its own investigation, credited WTVT with doing a "great public service." Mr. Smith responded: "The most gratifying part of investigative reporting is when the story becomes a catalyst for change." -DAISY WHITNEY