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January 2006 Archives

Ahead of the Curve and Around the Bend

January 30, 2006 12:00 AM

Here at TelevisionWeek, we pride ourselves on breaking news. But never have we been more ahead of the curve than last week, when every major U.S. media outlet reported what we've known for 11 years: The WB and UPN are going to merge. That's right-in 1995 TVWeek (then called ELECTRONIC MEDIA) published a front-page exclusive on the pending UPN and WB merger. Describing the talks as "very preliminary," the article details a clandestine meeting between executives from Viacom, Time Warner and then-station owner Chris-Craft Industries. "The two together would make for a very, very unique and powerful network almost immediately," one source said. But as another source noted, "In theory, everyone agrees [the merger is a good idea], but as a practical matter, it is just not easy to pull off." The article was written by Thomas Tyrer, whose foresight has since been acquired by Fox Cable Networks Group, where he's senior VP of corporate communications. When contacted about the article, Mr. Tyrer said, "Any good reporter knows it's usually only a small matter of time-11 years in this case-to ultimately be proven right." -James Hibberd

MTV Likes 'Gay Mates'

If MTV's latest pilot sounds like a flashback to 2004, there's good reason: MTV has ordered "Straight Dates by Gay Mates," a reality show in which a pair of gay men help straight women find love. The pilot is based on a British series by the same name and was first optioned by Bravo in 2004 during the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" heyday. With the option expired, executive producers Vin Di Bona and Peter Schankowitz (for Vin Di Bona Productions) and Richard Hastings and Tony McAvoy (for Prospect Television) have teamed with the William Morris Agency to help bring the project to MTV, which presumably will take a young-skewing and more contemporary approach. -James Hibberd

Ex-NAB Candidate May Represent … Cablers?

In a rather startling change of stripes, Mitch Rose, The Walt Disney Co. lobbyist who lost his bid to head the National Association of Broadcasters late last year, is launching his own consulting firm next month in Washington-and one of his first clients will be the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, industry sources say. Neither NCTA nor Mr. Rose would comment last week on their new relationship. But Mr. Rose is widely perceived to be a hot prospect in media industry lobbying circles because he is a former top aide to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee. Indeed, Sen. Stevens made no secret of the fact that he wanted the NAB to hire Mr. Rose as the association's top executive-a position that ultimately went to GOP insider David Rehr. Mr. Rose was reported to be a prospect for NCTA's top executive slot in 2004, before the cable TV industry association hired another Republican insider, Kyle McSlarrow, as president and CEO. -Doug Halonen

A Little SAG's a Good Thing for 'Runway' Designer

January 23, 2006 12:00 AM

We won't know who gets to make acceptance speeches at the 12th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards until the ceremony is simulcast live Jan. 29 at 8 p.m. (ET) on TNT and TBS, but we already have a winner: Nick Verreos, the infectiously ebullient designer competing in the second season of Bravo's fashionable hit "Project Runway." He has been asked to design a gown for Brenda Strong, who plays the voice (and first fatality) of ABC's "Desperate Housewives"-the cast of which is nominated for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series. Mr. Verreos won the challenge to design a frock for My Scene Barbie in "Runway's" third episode with a kicky geometric-print skirt topped by a bright green halter that will be sold on a limited edition of the doll. "Runway"-smitten Blink can hardly wait to see what he turns out for Ms. Strong and is already clapping as enthusiastically as Mr. Verreos did last week when introduced to Sasha Cohen, the Olympic figure skater and model for whom the "Project"iles designed last week. -Michele Greppi

E! Red Carpet Ratings Flat

E!'s high-profile landing of Ryan Seacrest may have affected the network's budget (the deal is worth an estimated $21 million over three years), but so far the addition of the host with the most gigs in broadcasting hasn't had an impact on the network's ratings. The entertainment channel's Golden Globes red-carpet coverage, led by Mr. Seacrest, was down 4 percent among total viewers and up 3 percent among 18- to 49-year-olds compared with 2005. The network did make real gains among younger viewers, however, posting a 15 percent increase among 18 to 34. An E! spokesperson pointed out that the awards were held on a Monday night, rather than on Sunday like last year, so a decline had been expected. Let's hope its Oscar coverage shows a more dramatic bump, lest E! CEO and President Ted Harbert end up pining for the bargain-basement glory days of Star Jones. -James Hibberd

Cameras on the Bench

It's such a simple sports coverage idea that one wonders why nobody thought of it before: interviewing players during the game. Not before it starts, at halftime, or after it's over-but during. Sure, players want to, you know, pay attention to the action and all, but as Fox Sports Net West has found, such on-the-fly reactions make for good TV. "It's more immediate, for sure; nothing is more live than this," said FSNW producer Bob Borgen, who got the Los Angeles Kings to allow cameras on the bench during game play this season. Mr. Borgen hopes the innovation will help draw viewers to the ever-struggling National Hockey League. Though it's too early to tell whether the more reality-TV style will take off, FSNW said that networks OLN and NBC are now asking the Kings for similar access. -James Hibberd

Stock Questions Asked by Ringers?

January 16, 2006 12:00 AM

Publicists cringe whenever an audience of critics falls silent during the Q&A portion of their TCA panels. So BET took the rather unusual preventive measure at its early morning panel last week of stocking the audience with staff members armed with polite questions for their panelists should critics fail to be appropriately intrigued. Critics who got word of the tactic were less than amused, while publicists for other networks were outraged-if only because a competitor got away with it. "BET goes to great expense to fly our celebrity talent from around the country for the TCA media tour," a BET spokesman said. "In the event that we have time remaining in our presentation window, or if a panelist has not been given an opportunity to speak, we try to have a question or two ready to generate more dialogue. … The questions are simply a last-resort precaution against a celebrity gracious enough to make themselves available feeling like their presence was a waste of time." A TCA spokesperson said: "It's not something we encourage, and we will be sharing our thoughts on the matter with BET."-JAMES HIBBERD

There She Is, Miss America ...

The Miss America Pageant has once again turned on its heels. After being dumped by ABC in 2004, the 50-year-old institution was shopped to cable networks as a six-episode reality series and sold to CMT last year. At the time, Art McMaster, Miss America's president and CEO, told TelevisionWeek, "We consider ourselves the first reality TV [show]," and added: "Last year we realized our once-a-year show wasn't cutting the cake. We saw reality shows like 'American Idol' passing us by. We feel America has got to get to know our contestants." The plan was for cameras to track beauty contestants from state contests through regional competitions, culminating in the traditional live two-hour finale. At TCA last week, however, CMT unveiled a Miss America that was, well, exactly the opposite: a traditional two-hour event that promises to continue in the show's tradition, with no quizzes and with a swimsuit competition. This time out, Mr. McMaster said of the show in its classic form, "People want to see the Miss American Pageant. You can play all these games and have all these gimmicks, but people want to see the pageant." A CMT spokesperson had two words to explain the about-face: "Focus group." -JAMES HIBBERD

… But Is She Country?

A picture of a cowboy wearing a sash, lipstick and a Stetson topped by a tiara has to cause chuckles. But the folks at Great American Country insist they're not trying to poke fun at rival CMT. In fact, in a new trade ad GAC doesn't mention CMT by name or that CMT will be carrying the Miss America Pageant in July. But GAC does call itself the authentic country music network. "While some networks broaden their programming to attract new viewers, we believe GAC-just like HGTV and Food Network-will attract more viewers by focusing on what they are most passionate about," said John Baird, executive VP of affiliate sales and management for Scripps Networks. Recent deals with Cox and Charter have pushed GAC over the 40 million subscribers mark (CMT has almost 80 million) and GAC has added advertisers, including the Ford customer parts and service division. -JON LAFAYETTE

New TLC Series Are Child's Play

January 9, 2006 12:00 AM

At the Television Critics Association's semiannual press tour, TLC plans to announce a pair of reality shows set to debut later this year: "Honey, We're Killing the Kids" and "LA Riding Club." "Honey" (BBC Productions, 12 episodes) uses computer imaging and measurements conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health to show parents the probable fates of their obese kids-a sort of "Scared Straight" for parents who won't stop buying the Lucky Charms. "Riding Club" (PB&J Productions, 10 episodes) is a docu-soap reality series about privileged Los Angeles youths who compete in equestrian events. The series will have plenty of company on the slate at TLC, which has ordered about 15 series since Executive VP and General Manager David Abraham took the reins last April. -James Hibberd

'Arrested' for Beard

TV viewers in Los Angeles are most likely to recognize John Beard as the news anchor at the Fox owned-and-operated station KTTV, but nationally Mr. Beard is most likely best known as the unnamed news anchor who regularly appears on the Fox Network's recently canceled comedy "Arrested Development." Mr. Beard, who appeared in the "Arrested" pilot and has reprised his role several times, is a "wonderful straight man," said David Nevins, president of Imagine Television, which produces the show, "but who knew he had impeccable comic timing?" In the last original episode of "Arrested" to air on Fox, Mr. Beard expanded his role by pretending to be a news anchor circa 1979, complete with wavy hair and wide tie. Mr. Beard wasn't brought back only because he was part of the network's extended corporate family, Mr. Nevins said, noting that "Arrested" creator Mitch Hurwitz "doesn't go back to the same actor unless they are nailing it." If Mr. Beard is tired of the whole news thing, the veteran newscaster might just find a career waiting in Hollywood. -Christopher Lisotta

'Moons' Rise for ABC Family

ABC Family has been very selective about its dramas, developing few, picking fewer. But this week the network is set to announce its fourth original, "Three Moons Over Milford" (executive produced by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Gary Rosen). The quirky drama is about a small town's reaction when the world is threatened by a cosmic explosion. Faced with possible extinction, the residents begin to live every moment to the fullest. Eight episodes have been ordered. In October the network greenlighted "Kyle XY" from Touchstone TV. The drama, about a suburban family that takes in a mysterious teen, is set to debut this summer. -James Hibberd

ESPN-ABC Sports' Parade Float Too Well Defined?

January 2, 2006 12:00 AM

One of the more unusual floats scheduled to appear today in the 117th Tournament of Roses Parade will be ESPN and ABC Sports' first-time entry, a rather odd-looking tribute to HDTV sportscasts in general-and to this year's USC vs. Texas Rose Bowl in particular. Themed "The Magic of Sports in High Definition," the Jetsons-esque monstrosity, er, contraption is 55 feet long by 18 feet wide and features two 50-foot-tall inflatable football players leaping out of an HDTV screen in front of-you guessed it-two live fans (one from USC and the other from Texas) seated in recliners. Even though, like all of the Rose Parade floats, it is covered with thousands of flowers, it surely is a sight only a true sports fan could love.-Tom Gilbert

'Rita Cosby Live & Direct' Marketing

The raspy voice answering the phone at the Pikesville, Md., home of Ralph and Tia Davis these days might sound a tad familiar. That's because it belongs to MSNBC's Rita Cosby, who for about a month has been delivering a personalized outgoing message-and a plug for "Live & Direct," at 9 p.m. (ET) weeknights-just because the Davises asked her, in an e-mail, to do it. Mr. Davis even helpfully supplied the script she read into their answering machine. "Rita thought this was absolutely hilarious," said "Live & Direct" executive producer Angie Dorr. Mrs. Davis has been so faithful a fan since Ms. Cosby was a weekend fixture on Fox News Channel that Mr. Davis began imitating the newscaster's voice, which always sounds like she's about to lose it. But Ms. Cosby's distinctive voice is getting a real workout as members of the Davis family's circle (she is in real estate and he is an information network architect) check out the one-of-a-kind message. "People call and hang up all the time," Mrs. Davis told Blink. -Michele Greppi