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October 2005 Archives

Sci Fi Orders Third Round of 'Battlestar'

October 31, 2005 12:00 AM

Though it will come as a surprise to no one, Sci Fi Channel is readying a third season of its grim space opera "Battlestar Galactica." The series fell off somewhat during its second season-dropping from an average of 1.7 million 18- to 49-year-old viewers last year to 1.5 million. But the program still helped lead Sci Fi to consistent Friday night victories over all of basic cable, besting runners-up TNT, USA Network and Spike. Sci Fi had no comment as the renewal deal was still being finalized. Last week the network announced fellow Friday night dramas "Stargate SG-1" and "Stargate Atlantis" were renewed for 20 episodes each and noted that the 10th-season renewal of "SG-1" makes it the longest-running science fiction television program of all time, outlasting "The

X-Files," "Twilight Zone" and every iteration of "Star Trek." -JAMES HIBBERD

'Shadow' Emerges From NBA TV

NBA TV is adding reruns of "The White Shadow" to its lineup, marking the first time the network has carried a scripted series. Not coincidentally, 20th Century Fox is putting out on DVD the first season of the show-which ran on CBS from 1978 to 1981 and features Ken Howard as a former Chicago Bulls player who takes a teaching job at an inner-city high school. In addition to running five episodes beginning with the pilot on Nov. 2, NBA Entertainment has created "White Shadow" DVD commercials and a two-minute vignette about the series that will appear during the episodes, in addition to opening and closing billboards promoting the DVD. NBA TV will also telecast live a "White Shadow" event being held Nov. 9 at the NBA Store in New York. While Fox is paying the NBA for the promotion, Steve Herbst, VP and general manager of NBA TV, said the network is "wading into the world of scripted programming and we think 'The White Shadow' would be a great place to start." -JON LAFAYETTE

ESPN Follows the Script

After striking out with scripted series on poker and football players, ESPN's original entertainment division is now looking to basketball players, boxers and NASCAR drivers. The sports network has in development three scripted projects: "Hit Men," described as "'Playmakers' in the boxing world"; an untitled project going behind the scenes of NASCAR auto racing; and another untitled project about a basketball team in a juvenile detention center. None of the series has yet been greenlighted and the direction of the programming division is unclear in the wake of Mark Shapiro's September departure as head of programming. Mr. Shapiro's duties were assumed earlier this month by Executive VP of Content John Skipper. ESPN had no comment on the projects. -James Hibberd

The World Is Flat Matt's

October 24, 2005 12:00 AM

"Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?" begins its seventh annual race around the globe Monday, Nov. 7, but several hundred pint-sized flat Matts already have hit the road to get "Today" viewers in the mood for Mr. Lauer's annual mileage marathon. In the spirit of the phenomenon spawned by popular kids' book "Flat Stanley," in which a paper-thin boy is mailed to visit his friends, The NBC Agency recently began mailing some 600 1½-foot-tall cardboard cutouts of Mr. Lauer to NBC stations and other points throughout the country and world. The mini-Matts are accompanied by instructions to take still or moving pictures of Flat Matt in interesting locations-in Paris, for example, Flat Matt got a bike ride along the Champs-Elysees-and send the photos to the network in New York for promotional use. In addition to spots on NBC, NBC Agency East Coast Senior VP Frank Radice is buying off-network TV promotional time in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Mr. Radice and Agency senior writer-producer Miranda Patterson Taylor are encouraging NBC affiliates to be creative with Flat Matt. At least one is said be planning a Flat Matt scavenger hunt, with the winner going to New York to see "Today" in person. -MICHELE GREPPI

Inferno of Rock

This year's version of rock 'n' roll heaven felt more like the fiery pits of hell. The 2005 Austin City Limits Festival, sponsored by the PBS concert series "Austin City Limits," which just launched its 30th season, barely escaped Hurricane Rita, and thankfully, the bands played on. "ACL" is the longest-running concert music program on U.S. TV, offering uninterrupted sets by an eclectic mix of artists ranging from country to rock. Hurricane Rita threatened the Texas coastline just hours before the festival began, but ended up missing Austin. Instead festival goers and performers alike got hit by 108-degree weather and winds that turned Zilker Park into a dust bowl. Still, some 75,000 fans a day flocked through the blazing heat to watch 130 bands on eight stages. The lineup included Coldplay, Oasis, Death Cab for Cutie and Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand (who appear on the TV series Nov. 19). Conditions got so severe that people-with face kerchiefs, umbrellas and water bottles and wearing as little clothing as possible-started to wish it would rain. -Contributed By HAYLEY TAYLOR BLOCK

VH1 Angling for More 'Brady'

VH1 is in negotiations for a second season of its reality series "My Fair Brady," which documents the relationship between former "Brady Bunch" star Christopher Knight and first-season "America's Next Top Model" winner Adrianne Curry. The series has been an under-the-radar success for the network this summer, averaging about 1 million viewers despite being outpublicized by media reports on VH1's other, lesser-rated, docu-soap, "Breaking Bonaduce," which has chronicled Danny Bonaduce's on-screen mental collapse. If only VH1 could do "Breaking Brady," ratings might really take off. -JAMES HIBBERD

A&E Rolling on Auto Series

A&E has followed bounty hunters, magicians, tattoo artists, Mafia princesses, morticians and airline workers. What's next? Car salesmen. A&E is very near a green light for "King of Cars," a docu-soap reality series following the staff of a Dodge dealership in Nevada. A&E first profiled the company in an episode of its program "It's a Living." Sources said the show will have a sort of "Boiler Room" quality, with a staff of young Turks vying for the next big sale. The series will be produced by Hybrid Films, which also makes "Dog the Bounty Hunter" for the network. A&E had no comment, though the network is presumably hoping for high mileage and low maintenance. -James Hibberd

One Degree of Separation

Turns out that Catherine Martin, the White House aide who is among those reportedly interviewed by the special prosecutor's team investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, has a special connection at the top of the Federal Communications Commission: She is the wife of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin. There's no indication that Ms. Martin, a White House deputy director of communications, is in hot water herself over Ms. Plame's outing. But she was previously a top communications adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, and the special prosecutor's office appears to be focusing its investigation on the Vice President's Office. Ms. Martin did not return calls last week and Mr. Martin declined comment. -DOUG HALONEN

Getting the Message and Making the Call

October 17, 2005 12:00 AM

It was the telephone number heard round the "Supernatural" world. A voice-mail message heard at the end of the Oct. 4 episode by the hunky haint-hunting Winchester brothers (played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) included an 866 number that fans quickly began dialing. Upon making the call, more than 25,000 callers heard Mr. Ackles' voice saying: "This is Dean Winchester. If this is an emergency, leave a message. If you're calling me about 11-2-83, please page me with your coordinates." As visitors to the "Supernatural" Web site now know, not only are the numbers the date on which the brothers' mother died in a paranormal fire and the combination that unlocks an interactive element on The WB freshman series' Web page, they also are a coded message to the boys' mysteriously missing father. Eric Kripke, writer and one of three executive producers of "Supernatural," promises more such "Easter eggs" because "the message board response to the phone number was overwhelming." In the meantime, fans who were brave enough to leave a message shouldn't wait by their phones for a return call from Dean Winchester. "We wouldn't be able to shoot [Mr. Ackles] for four weeks if he had to call everybody back," Mr. Kripke said. -Michele Greppi

Katrina Spawns Programming

Hurricane Katrina continues to be a Category 5 programming topic for cable networks, with another documentary special forming off the coastline of TLC. The "life unscripted" network has commissioned "Katrina's Children: Lost in the Storm" from NBC News Productions, which also produced "BTK: The Killer Next Door?" for the channel. The one-hour program follows 9-year-old storm evacuee Charles Evans, who made appearances on "Today" and the Emmys, as well as other children relocated due to the storm. -James Hibberd

SoapNet Spices Things Up

To get ad sales simmering, SoapNet is inviting media buyers to a series of cooking lessons in New York this week and next month.

To ensure the flavor of the pitch stays strong, the network will provide racks of spices, with a label on each vial that offers a taste of daytime drama.

One vial is marked "Bay leaves and she's not coming back." Another vial is "Sinnamon." A third is marked "Whoregano." Apparently the network ran out of jokes, labeling its sixth vial "Paprika: the unfunny spice." -Jon Lafayette

BBC Fiddles While 'Rome' Burns

October 10, 2005 12:00 AM

HBO has shown confidence in its $100 million drama "Rome" by granting a renewal despite the series' lukewarm Nielsens. But HBO's co-production partner on the project, the BBC, is not quite so bold. The BBC is refusing to fund the epic drama's second season until after it begins airing "Rome" later this month in the United Kingdom and the broadcaster is able to gauge viewer reaction there. The BBC's share of the first season's budget was reportedly $15 million. The decision leaves HBO to fund the second season solo, at least for the time being. "We're confident they're going to join us as co-producers for second season," an HBO spokesperson said. Et tu, BBC? -JAMES HIBBERD

Leading the TiVo Charge

When TiVo instituted a $150 service cancellation fee for the first time last month, TiVo loyalists barked, likening the DVR maker to cellphone companies and DSL providers that assess similar fees. On message boards including tivocommunity.com and pvrblog.com, TiVo enthusiasts talked amongst themselves about the curious move by the leading DVR brand, which desperately needs to corral customers now that DirecTV has cut ties. "[TiVo is] repeatedly showing themselves incapable of controlling any sort of spin in the media, mainly because they don't seem able to look forward and comprehend what [the] decisions they make now will do to their image," posted Doug Swallow, who said he owns four TiVos, on tivocommunity.com. But TiVo spokesman Jeff Weir said the people posting on message boards represent a small impassioned segment of TiVo's 3 million users and that their frustration is not pervasive. He added that as TiVo customers contact customer service with questions about the policy, the company explains that the fee does not apply to existing customers. The cancellation fee was instituted for new customers because TiVo is currently offering a $150 mail-in rebate that makes the box available for $49.99.-DAISY WHITNEY

Getting the Message

Music video channel Fuse will become the first U.S. cable network to make use of short message service technology, a staple of European shows that allows two-way cellphone text messaging to be displayed on-screen with programming. The messaging service will be utilized with a trio of new Fuse shows-"Perfect Pair," "Dumped" and "Heavy Texting"-to debut this month. Fuse and MTV already have used text messaging services to enable viewers to submit on-screen messages that are scrolled during shows such as MTV's "Video Clash" ("Ying Yang Twins rule" … "Ashlee is hot," etc.). Compared with current text messaging services, SMS can be a more rapid two-way radio-style interaction. Viewers willing to spend 50 cents a pop, for instance, can text message their names to "Dumped" and will receive a reply with a "numerology-based forecast" of how long their current relationships will last.-JAMES HIBBERD

Dr. Do Good Does the Right Thing in New Orleans

October 3, 2005 12:00 AM

As Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Sheldon Hawks on CBS's "CSI: NY," Hill Harper's life revolves around the deceased. But off-camera, the actor, author and businessman is busy making things better for the living. Mr. Harper, 32, is a partner in two New Orleans hotels, Loft 523 and the International House, and when Hurricane Katrina left 83 employees essentially jobless, Mr. Harper and his partners continued to pay their full salaries and benefits-even those of the 16 who remain unaccounted for-hoping to set an example for other businesses. "If people don't know they have a job when they come back, they'll stay away," Mr. Harper said. "It's definitely costing us money. We think it's worth it because it's an investment in the community and the future." Mr. Harper has always had an eye on the future, spending as much time speaking at schools as he does in forensics labs prepping for his "CSI: NY" role. Inspired by his talks with school kids, the Ivy League grad has written "Letters to a Young Brother," a motivational book for young men in the style of Ranier Maria Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet." Mr. Harper said that his book, scheduled for an April 2006 release, is intended to help fill a void in literature for young people. "There's really a lack of guidance and information for a lot of young men," he said. "A lot of the stuff they get fed is pretty negative. I asked myself, 'What can I do. ...?' You don't think of young guys as the book-buying public." But "if you don't write books for them, they won't read them." -NATALIE FINN

'Bowling' for Bravo

Last week Bravo announced its acquisition from a number of sources of 131 theatrical titles, including "Vanilla Sky," "Chicago" and "Training Day." But the network's most intriguing catch wasn't on that list: The NBC-Universal-owned network has purchased the exclusive broadcast rights to Michael Moore's 2002 documentary "Bowling for Columbine" from MGM/Sony. Bravo plans to premiere Mr. Moore's acclaimed yet controversial exploration of gun violence in America Oct. 18. A network spokesman said Bravo considers it so important it waited to announce the acquisition of "Bowling" separately. "It's truly the crème of the crème as it fits our mandate for movies or programming that, whether you agree with them or not, presents an outlook or point of view," said Bravo President Lauren Zalaznick. "Art is supposed to be a respite that makes you stop and think." -JAMES HIBBERD

Blunt Talk

When Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, was forced to step down last week as House majority leader after a grand jury indicted him for alleged campaign finance violations, Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., muscled his way into the job on an interim basis with help from fellow conservatives. His appointment brought rave reviews from the watchdog Parents Television Council, because the lawmaker is viewed as a strong ally of the group's campaign to crack down on what it perceives as indecency on TV. In his previous leadership position as House majority whip, Rep. Blunt helped corral votes for the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which raised the cap on Federal Communications Commission indecency fines from $32,500 to $500,000. The bill also made on-air talent-not just station licensees-subject to levies and includes a three-strikes-and-you're-out provision that puts broadcasting licenses in jeopardy. Thanks in part to his efforts, the BDEA was approved by the House in a 389-to-38 vote. "Parents, families, educators-and every American who turns on a television or radio-deserve this bill," Rep. Blunt said on Feb. 16, 2005. "It's time to return the public airwaves to the taxpayers who support them." The Senate has yet to act on the measure because of an ongoing debate over whether to extend indecency prohibitions to cover violent programming and cable TV, which is currently exempt from FCC indecency regulations. -DOUG HALONEN