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November 2005 Archives

Spanking the Censors

November 28, 2005 12:00 AM

Writer-producer Tom Fontana, who has been raising the bar on TV since writing on "St. Elsewhere," will take a break from his negotiations with The WB censors long enough to get dressed up and accept the Real Deal Award at Scenarios USA's annual benefit Wednesday in New York. Scenarios USA is a nonprofit organization that connects teen writers with professional filmmaker mentors who help the teens create short films. Co-founder Maura Minsky cited Mr. Fontana and his series, including "Homicide: Life on the Street" and "Oz," for having "broken boundaries with their honest depictions of human interaction. We especially look forward to his new [midseason] series 'The Bedford Diaries,' which takes place in a sex education class and therefore touches upon many of the issues we address in our work." Those hopeful words come just as Mr. Fontana is wrestling with addressing the topic of masturbation in a "Diaries" episode about sexual abstinence without using that most clinical word-or any of the euphemisms rejected by WB censors. "We came up with a list of pretty funny alternatives," said Mr. Fontana, whose personal favorite was "spanking the monkey." He praised The WB creative executives with whom he's dealt, but is, to say the least, bemused about the Catch-22 in which he's caught: doing a series about sex education but being forbidden to talk about some things. "We're fighting the good fight," he said. "I just didn't think I'd have to."-Michele Greppi

Spot-less Gastineaus

This week's season premiere episode of E!'s "Gastineau Girls" will be televised without commercial interruptions, thanks to an advertising deal with America Online to promote AOL content, including a weekly podcast being recorded by Lisa and Brittny Gastineau that will be available on AOL's podcast hub. As part of the ad buy, a meeting the Gastineau girls had independently with AOL Music to set up the podcasting deal will be featured in the premiere. In future episodes they will be seen doing the podcast. AOL, which will launch its own broadband video-on-demand network of classic TV shows in January, will air clips from "Gastineau Girls" to promote the premiere, but not the entire episode, as it has in the past with programs including "Jack & Bobby" and "Project Greenlight." -Jon Lafayette

Wedding Bells at WE

WE: Women's Entertainment has acquired the 2003 NBC series "Race to the Altar," one of several programs the network will premiere next month. "Altar" is a seven-episode series following eight engaged couples as they compete to win a fantasy wedding. WE is expected to announce the acquisition this week. In December WE will debut another nuptials-themed show, "Katrina Weddings: A Second Chance" (a special in which a wedding planner helps two Gulf Coast couples), plus the original movie "Charles & Camilla: Whatever Love Means," the series "I Can't Believe I Wore That ..." (profiling fashion faux pas of yesteryear) and "Daddy's Spoiled Little Girl" (profiling the daughters of celebrities). -James Hibberd

G4 Beats 'Lost'

The most downloaded video podcast on iTunes last week wasn't "Desperate Housewives," "Lost" or "The Simpsons" but … a G4 show? Incredibly, yes. The Comcast-owned network's "Attack of the Show," which features gaming news and interviews, hit the No. 1 spot last week. Of course, it did have the advantage of being offered for free-unlike its broadcast net competition, which typically charge $1.99 a download. But for a gamer net of modest viewership, that's still a reason to crow. After all, the show was only made available on iTunes the week before. "The instant popularity of G4's video podcasts is not surprising, as we know our young male audience craves cutting-edge entertainment and technologies," said Gaynor Strachan Chun, senior VP of marketing for G4. -James Hibberd

Two Tales of a Pope

November 21, 2005 12:00 AM

With the passing of Pope John Paul II earlier this year, the broadcast networks wasted no time getting the late pontiff's life story ready for TV. ABC and CBS each have biopics profiling the life of the late pope, born Karol Wojtyla, a former actor who entered the seminary during the Nazi occupation of Poland and rose in the church during Communist rule. But with such a sweeping life to depict, how do you tell the story? ABC's two-hour movie starts with John Paul II's (Thomas Kretschmann) historic visit to Jerusalem in 2000 and uses extensive flashbacks as the pope prays. CBS's more ambitious four-hour miniseries (Cary Elwes and Jon Voight share the role) begins with the 1981 assassination attempt in Rome before moving to flashbacks and saves the Jerusalem visit for much later. ABC airs its

version Dec. 1, while CBS will run its miniseries Dec. 4 and 7. -Christopher Lisotta

NBC News in the Swim

NBC, like other broadcast networks, has seen the future and believes it clearly involves the Web. "NBC Nightly News" was the first show in the NBC News family to jump into the Internet stream when on Nov. 7 it took up a daily berth at 10 p.m. (ET) on MSNBC .com. The next two NBC News shows to be webcast for free will be "Meet the Press With Tim Russert," the king of the Sunday newsmaker shows, and "Today," the most-watched network morning show, said NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker in an address to Medill School of Journalism students at Northwestern University last week. Expected to go first-most likely within a few weeks, according to an NBC News insider-is "Meet the Press," because it will be the easiest to post on the Web. Streaming "Today" will be more complicated, owing to such challenges as rights issues surrounding the frequent music segments. If, as Mr. Zucker posited, "Nightly's" ratings have increased due to the newscast's being made available on-demand, just imagine how "Today" must be anticipating every single additional Web viewer in its fight to expand its lead over ABC's "Good Morning America." -Michele Greppi

A Creative Voice Silenced

Nickelodeon prides itself on being a friendly environment for creative talent, but it does have its limits. Carlos Ramos, creator of the network's new animated series "The X's," about a family of super-spies, told Nickelodeon he wanted to perform the voice of Glowface, the villain. The network denied the request, saying he had to audition like everybody else-even for his own show. The role eventually went to Chris Hardwick, who Mr. Ramos agrees nailed the part. -James Hibberd

A Producer for the Long Run

November 14, 2005 12:00 AM

This year, producer Rob Hyland will be in NBC's coverage of the Ironman Triathlon instead of behind the scenes. Mr. Hyland, a former Williams College football player, competed in the event in October. He said the Ironman telecast he saw 10 years ago was the reason he went into television. "I was planning on being an orthopedic surgeon, but I saw the 1995 Ironman on television and I was pretty amazed by it." Impressed by the way producers squeezed a 17-hour race into a two-hour program, he got a television internship that summer and stayed in the business. Mr. Hyland, a creative producer for NBC Sports, had run marathons and triathlons but never an Ironman. He finished the race in 10 hours and 54 minutes and was to appear briefly in the coverage that was scheduled to air Nov. 13. "I've covered the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Olympics, and to me the actual Ironman race day is one of the greatest days in all of sports, just being out there covering it. But actually getting to compete in it was 10 times better than I thought it would be," he said. Don't expect the 30-year-old to slow down yet: Next up, the Philadelphia Marathon on Nov. 20. -JON LAFAYETTE

Sony Is Way Into Greg

Relationships are hard. For writer and stand-up comedian Greg Behrendt, relationships are a ticket to success. Once a struggling rock star wannabe, Mr. Behrendt, a former "Sex and the City" writer, has made a name for himself as the author of the 2004 best-selling advice book "He's Just Not That Into You." This year, aside from writing a feature screenplay based on his book for Drew Barrymore's Flower Films, he also made a talent hold deal with Sony Pictures Television to create and host his own syndicated talk strip. Sony had no comment, but sources close to Mr. Behrendt said the author (who is now promoting his next book, "It's Called a Break-Up Because It's Broken: The Smart Girl's Break-Up Buddy") is fleshing out the strip's format for a fall 2006 launch. The project could well be Sony's joint syndie strip with Tribune. Here's hoping Mr. Behrendt's relationship with Sony is a lasting one. -CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA

Real Live Poker

As a televised live event, six guys sitting around a table playing cards lacks the drama and suspense of ... well, just about every other professional sport. Still, when you have the famously whiny Phil "Poker Brat" Helmuth Jr. versus the equally whiny Mike "The Mouth" Matusow, the chips will surely fly. This week Fox Sports Net will announce a four-hour live poker tournament, "The FullTiltPoker.net Invitational Live From Monaco," set to air Nov. 24. The program marks the third live poker event in TV history. Completing the matchup live on the felt with Mr. Helmuth and Mr. Matusow will be Chris "Jesus" Ferguson, Dave "Devilfish" Ulliot, John Juanda and Phil Ivey. At last: Poker pros taking bathroom breaks in real time! -JAMES HIBBERD

Sleuthing Out the Future of NBCU's Trio's Channel

November 7, 2005 12:00 AM

Last week NBC Universal announced Sleuth, a new digital crime-and-mystery cable network set to launch Jan. 1 with repurposed broadcast fare such as "Miami Vice," "The A-Team" and "Knight Rider." But the real whodunit is figuring out what the announcement means for NBC's stepchild network Trio, which continues to pester NBCU cable entertainment chief Jeff Gaspin by virtue of its ongoing existence. Sources said NBCU plans to give Sleuth a distribution jump-start by rebranding Trio's channel space, just as Viacom sacrificed VH1 Mega Hits to make room for Logo earlier this year. The theory adds that Trio, whose Web site home page looks like a 2003 time capsule, might continue rerunning episodes of its ironically titled "Brilliant But Cancelled" in perpetuity via a broadband space. When asked about the purported plan, an NBCU spokesperson said: "We will have an announcement about Trio in three weeks." -James Hibberd

Start Yourself Over Online

Game show fans have always been able to get a home version of their TV favorites, but now a syndicated self-help strip is giving viewers a chance to re-create themselves without signing up for a multiweek stint on the show. NBC Universal's "Starting Over" launches its "Tell Your Friends You're Starting Over" program Nov. 14, which allows viewers and their friends to log on at the show's Web site and set up an e-mail-based support group. The program triggers regular e-mail checkups and updates, with occasional input from the "Starting Over" life coaches. Successful program participants will be mentioned on the air. Of course, the program won't have the capability of yelling at viewers looking to lose weight when they raid the fridge for a late-night snack. -Christopher Lisotta

TiVo for Two

Seems the video iPod is breathing new life into TiVo. The original digital video recorder still has a swarm of devotees willing to develop product extensions for free. Take Will Wagner, who, working from his garage in San Francisco with two other programmers, developed software that lets TiVo users with TiVoToGo capability automatically send recorded shows to a video iPod or a Sony PlayStation Portable or Palm device. "It's cool to see it in users' hands. We don't really have the wherewithal to sell it," Mr. Wagner said. Mr. Wagner's approach is not uncommon; astute hackers have been building TiVo add-ons for years-to wit: caller ID on the TV. But Mr. Wagner's software, available at TVharmony.com, can be used by the tech-savvy and -not-so-savvy. TiVo declined to comment on the new software. In the past the company has not endorsed such home-grown efforts, but neither has it stopped them if they don't run afoul of the law or copyright. After all, in a few years those loyalists may be the only users TiVo has left. -Daisy Whitney