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March 2006 Archives

Last Danza for Tony

March 27, 2006 12:00 AM

Who's the boss? Station owners-as Tony Danza discovered last week, when he learned of the impending demise of his syndicated talk show. Speaking directly to his studio and television audience Friday, Mr. Danza said it was unlikely his Buena Vista Television strip would return in the fall for a third season. Advising viewers to "enjoy the rest of the run," Mr. Danza said his personal effort to find a station in New York for the fall had failed. "We are going to finish real strong and enjoy what we have left," he said. The future of "The Tony Danza Show" has been in question since December, when it became clear the show was being bumped from its New York and Boston slots on ABC owned-and-operated stations and being replaced with King World's "Rachael Ray." -Christopher Lisotta

Hollywood Squares

The future of the Hollywood trade media wars will be televised. TV Guide Channel is set to announce "Square Off," a weekly industry debate series starring Variety critic Brian Lowry going toe-to-toe with Hollywood Reporter Features Editor Andrew Wallenstein. The program is executive produced by Scott Sternberg and Peter Guber. Mr. Guber currently co-hosts the AMC weekend showbiz talk show "Sunday Morning Shootout" with Variety Editor in Chief Peter Bart. "As a brand we cover the stars, we cover the shows, but we haven't yet covered the industry itself," said Ryan O'Hara, president of TVGC. "This show rounds out our portfolio." Each week's panel will include guest pundits such as actors, network executives, directors and other industry reporters. TVGC has ordered 37 one-hour episodes, breaking the network's record. Oh, and who broke the news about "Square Off" last year, despite all that trade reporting talent on board for the show?

Yep: TVWeek. -James Hibberd

Love Springs

Lifetime's upcoming improvisational comedy "Lovespring" is tapping name brands to lure name brands. "Will & Grace" star Eric McCormack is executive producer, and the show is trying to line up appearances by Mr. McCormack, Sean Hayes and Lori Loughlin. Dave Foley, Fred Willard and Megan Mullally might appear as well. "Because of the dating agency format, where they're trying to find clients partners, it's easy to bring in various guest stars as clients," said Lifetime Entertainment President Susanne Daniels. To make it all seem real, "Lovespring" is shot in an actual Los Angeles-area office park-in fact, at the production company's own offices. -James Hibberd

Comedy Central Cooks Up a Cover

March 20, 2006 12:00 AM

Is Comedy Central losing its sense of humor? "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone roasted Scientology in a November episode on the network, prompting recording artist (and Scientologist) Isaac Hayes last week to quit his role as Chef on the show. On his way out the door, Mr. Hayes slammed "South Park" for being disrespectful of religion. Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone said the show has mocked various religions for a decade and Mr. Hayes took offense only when it was Scientology's turn. Amid the rancor, Comedy Central backed off its plan to re-air the episode last Wednesday. Industry bloggers such as Defamer.com painted the move as the result of a power play by couch-jumping Scientologist Tom Cruise (Comedy Central is owned by Viacom, whose properties also include Paramount Pictures, which is releasing Mr. Cruise's "Mission Impossible: 3"). But in a bit of PR eloquence that spins so fast it's practically a blur, Comedy Central described the decision not to re-air the offending episode and to substitute others that feature Chef heavily as an impromptu tribute to Mr. Hayes' character: "In light of the events of earlier this week, we wanted to give Chef an appropriate tribute," the statement read. Asked if the network will ever re-air the Scientology episode, a representative replied, "I can't go there." The episode is not the first "South Park" half-hour to be pulled by the network. Another recent religion-themed episode, "Bloody Mary," was not re-aired during the 2005 holiday season after a flurry of protests by Catholic organizations. -James Hibberd

Getting Stern With Moonves

Hundred-million-dollar breach-of-contract lawsuits are usually no laughing matter, but Warner Bros. Chairman and CEO Barry Meyer couldn't help poking fun at his former colleague and new business partner, CBS Corp. President and CEO Leslie Moonves, during last Wednesday's pre-upfront presentation for their new network, The CW. Mr. Meyer broached the subject of CBS's suit against radio shock jock Howard Stern, who left the company's radio division for Sirius Satellite Radio in December. In response to the suit, Mr. Stern has been attacking Mr. Moonves personally, going so far as to call him "a bully" on CBS's own "Late Show With David Letterman" last Monday. "I had a Howard Stern joke … I probably had 10 Howard Stern jokes," Mr. Meyer joked, with a laughing Mr. Moonves standing beside him at the presentation. "It was too easy, so we're going to have a little contest at the end-everyone can put their Howard Stern joke in a little hat at the back, and we'll pick out the best one and go from there." Mr. Moonves didn't seem to mind, maybe because the suit has already benefited CBS. Thanks to Mr. Stern's appearance, "Late Show's" ratings were up last Monday.

-Christopher Lisotta

Bringing Down the House

Sometimes, selling advertising can be like selling real estate. To close a big deal with Century 21, CNN account executive Ashley Olsen went to a meeting dressed like a real estate agent, complete with jacket and badge. The presentation also included a 4-by-8 blueprint of a house in which different rooms described CNN assets and services that could be used to deliver the Century 21 message. It must have worked: Recently CNN announced a year-long deal making Century 21 the exclusive real estate sponsor of "Open House." While location, location and location are the three most important things in real estate, Century 21 bought billboards on cable, spots in streaming video and banners on the Web. The multiplatform deal also lets Century 21 use selected real estate-related articles from CNNMoney.com on its own Internet and intranet sites. -Jon Lafayette

Gordon Gets Message on '24's' Dead Reckoning

March 13, 2006 12:00 AM

Fox's "24," which prides itself on taking risks and surprising its audience, took a big chance last week by killing off one of its major characters, computer expert Edgar Stiles, played by Louis Lombardi. In various chat rooms fans expressed negative reactions to the death, and no one is more aware of that than Howard Gordon, the show's executive producer and showrunner. As he told TelevisionWeek in our weekly after-show audio briefings (available free at TVWeek.com-click on the box at upper left labeled "Executive Briefing"), "I knew he was beloved, but I didn't know until he was gone how very beloved he was. And I guess that's how it is in real life too. It's really a testament to how Louie created this part and played this role." And with "24," now in its fifth season, doing even better in the ratings than last year, Mr. Gordon is also well aware of just how risky it was to kill Edgar. "We always have to renew [our] contract with the audience that anything is possible. … I hope we didn't cross that line of pissing off the audience. I don't think we did." Also available at TVWeek.com's Executive Briefing are weekly chats with "American Idol" exec producer Nigel Lythgoe. -Chuck Ross

One for the Shoppers

TV One is shopping for viewers at Wal-Mart. The network , which targets African Americans, has made a deal that puts segments of its programming on the in-store Premier Retail Networks, which serves 6,000 stores, including Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Circuit City and Costco, and reaches 250 million viewers each month, according to Nielsen Media Research. Also on the network is programming from Telemundo and Teen Vogue, targeted to specific audience niches. "The folks at TV One are the experts for this audience," said Tom Sebastian, PRN's senior VP of broadcast and programming. Among the TV One shorts running on PRN since last month are cooking tips from Gerry Garvin, host of "Turn Up the Heat With G. Garvin," and already the network is tasting success. "There's an absolute positive rub-off," said Keith Bowen, executive VP of advertising sales and marketing for TV One. "People who haven't had an opportunity to find us on the dial are now seeking us out."-Jon Lafayette

PBS Kids Idol?

Judges embark on a multicity talent search to find a single performer to appear on television in front of millions of devoted fans. Is that a logline for Fox's "American Idol"? Nope. It describes PBS Kids' national search for a new preschool host, a search that has gone better than expected. More than 1,500 applications from educators, children's performers, comedians and actors were submitted within PBS Kids' initial three-week window. "I have been amazed by the talent," said PBS Senior Director Stephanie Aaronson, noting that at auditions at WNET-TV in New York the host hopefuls were more likely to be teachers and indie film talent, while the L.A. auditions brought out more traditional TV actors. Best of all for PBS Kids, plenty of hopefuls have what it takes to succeed with their audience. "Many were very charming and authentic with great on-camera appeal to engage kids and build trust among parents [and] caregivers," she said. -Christopher Lisotta

Duck! It's 'Hardball'

March 6, 2006 12:00 AM

MSNBC's Chris Matthews will throw out the first hardball of the 2008 presidential election season when he sets up Friday in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., the site of the Southern Republican Leadership Convention-a political beauty pageant for candidate wannabes from 13 states. Mr. Matthews will do live shows at 5, 7 and 11 p.m. (ET) Friday, webcasts on MSNBC.com and work the crowd of some 2,000 party faithful and hopefuls. But he's also planning to make time for a little fun with the Peabody's most famous residents: a paddling of ducks that spend the day in the lobby fountain. "The duckmaster is going to explain how they train the ducks and get them to come down on the elevator and go to the fountain," said Tammy Haddad, "Hardball" executive producer and MSNBC prime-time political director. She joked that while the political publication Hotline will take the first straw poll of the 2008 presidential season, "Hardball" also will watch the ducks for political preferences: "We'll see which candidates they most respond to." Indeed, a producer will blog about the ducks, whose second march of the day will occur some 45 minutes into the 5 o'clock show (slo-mo repeats are promised during the later shows). "Even though it's a very important weekend and historically quite significant, we can have a little fun with politics," Ms. Haddad said. "That's what we do at 'Hardball.'"-MICHELE GREPPI

A Pro Court

Court TV is carving up its trial niche into ever-smaller slivers. Last year the network introduced its first online product, a $5.95 monthly subscription service called Court TV Extra, to deliver additional trials via the Internet. And starting with the latest Vioxx trial that begins today, the network will reach further into the new longtail of content when it introduces Court TV Pro. The new online service will offer even more finely targeted trials-business-oriented ones priced a la carte for legal professionals and financial analysts (think cases with lots of money at stake). Court TV Pro is a joint venture with Courtroom Connect, a tech services firm for the legal industry that will wire the courtrooms. Court TV will provide the marketing heft and online shelf space on its Web site. The network will also package CDs and DVDs with courtroom testimony and transcripts from the trials. The Court TV Extra service, which launched May 2005, has grown its subscription numbers eightfold, the network said. -Daisy Whitney

Mixed Signals

Deborah Taylor Tate, the Federal Communications Commission's new Republican commissioner, told broadcasters attending the National Association of Broadcasters state leadership conference in Washington last week that she welcomed opening a dialogue with them. But the open-door policy did not extend to the press in attendance. In an apparent effort to avoid reporters seeking clarification of her remarks, she left the Mandarin Oriental Hotel ballroom by a side door-then declined comment when reporters caught up with her anyway. One of her legal assistants, Andrew Law, even threw a forearm into the chest of a TVWeek reporter who attempted to board the elevator with the departing commissioner and her staffers. Mr. Law subsequently declined to comment on the encounter. And to think Ms. Tate said during her remarks to the NAB that video game violence "concerns me as a mother."-Doug Halonen