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April 2006 Archives

Sing Us a Song, You're the Motorcycle Man

April 24, 2006 12:00 AM

On this week's episode of "American Chopper," the brawling Teutul family builds a vintage Indian Bobber for traffic-accident-prone Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Billy Joel. The Teutuls-Paul Sr. and Paul Jr.-visit the piano man's home and motorcycle collection and need to finish the new bike in time to unveil it during one of Mr. Joel's concerts. The bike is likely to be a collector's item, though it would probably be best if it stayed on display. Mr. Joel was involved in car accidents in 2002, 2003 and 2004. He also had a motorcycle crash in 1983. For Mr. Joel, being on basic cable is now a family affair. His wife Katie Lee Joel is host of Bravo's popular "Top Chef," and what she brings home from the set is probably a lot less dangerous. -Jon Lafayette

Digitally Mastered Day Off

In a what may be a sign that the Apocalypse, when it comes, will be digital, the "Today" show is conducting its first contest in which only videos produced with digital cameras or cellphones are eligible to compete for a day of "Freedom From Your Job." Essays and videos (limited to less than one minute or 8 MB), had to be delivered via cellphone or computer by the April 19 submission deadline. Three finalists will be posted this week on MSNBC.com, where viewers can vote for the person they feel is most deserving of a day off from work and a day (and a night) on the high seas with "Today" and Barry Manilow-the singer will be doing a live concert for NBC's morning show from the Royal Caribbean ship Freedom of the Seas. The winner also will get a two-night stay in New York. All of this fun will take place during the May sweeps, of course. -Michele Greppi

Out With the Old, in With the … Old

Since January new broadcast network The CW has been spending time and money getting its name out there and playing down the soon-to-be former monikers The WB and UPN. But one WB programming block will keep its old name despite moving to The CW this fall-the five-hour Saturday morning children's programming schedule Kids WB! "We took a look at the brand, and it has the highest positive Q score among kids 6 to 11 among any of the broadcast nets," said Betsy McGowen, who last week was named senior VP and general manager for Kids WB! on The CW. Plus, NBC and CBS are revamping their Saturday morning blocks for the fall, which means Kids WB! goes into the new season as a known quantity for viewers. "In a changing marketplace, rather than having to build a new brand along with everyone else, we come out of the starting gate with a brand that is already recognized," Ms. McGowen added. Here's hoping no change is a good thing for The CW. -Christopher Lisotta

And Cable Created the Earth

April 17, 2006 12:00 AM

Self-congratulatory corporate videos are de rigueur at trade conventions, but the big-budget, six-minute epic that opened the general session at last week's National Show in Atlanta was so unintentionally high camp that attendees couldn't help but laugh out loud. Titled "Cable: A Great American Success Story," the video told the story of cable, starting with the industry's vintage stock-footage roots. "She was born from a ragtag group of dreamers," the gravel-voiced narrator intoned. "Scrappers who felt there should be more coming from the TV than three repetitive channels with a scratchy, pasty picture." Other gems followed: "Cable. She succeeded the way America did." "Cable made a simple square box into a life-breathing source of wisdom." "Cable didn't bring us the computer: Cable made it sing." Then the video's arch-villain is presented: phone companies, which are entering the video delivery game, here depicted with Orwellian black-and-white images of evil-looking rotary phones. "How many years were we forced to use a dreadfully slow rotary dial? How many decades before we got a phone in any color but black? Gray thinking, zero innovation, just plodding through life." The video concludes in a sleekly furnished Home of the Future, where a family in matching slick black jumpsuits enjoys cable-fed videoconferencing. A National Cable & Telecommunications Association spokesperson said the video is part of a multimillion-dollar, multiyear pro-cable campaign and is being shown at industry events and in meetings with public officials. See the video at NCTA.com and salute cable in all "her" glory. -James Hibberd

Star Search, 2006 Style

The masterminds of such riveting do-it-yourself online fare as pushing a buddy down a flight of stairs in a shopping cart, stealing food from a Taco Bell drive-through or lip-synching a pop song in their apartment could become the next big TV stars. With the rise of online homemade video outlets like YouTube.com and Break.com, some cable networks have begun to scout online user-generated videos for talent. For instance, in early April Tony DiSanto, executive VP of series development and animation for MTV and MTV2, informed his programming development staff that they should spend a half-hour each day scanning user-generated sites for the cream of the crop. "As a development executive you have to keep your ears to the pavement, and this is now one of the areas you have to pay attention to, just like going to comedy clubs, listening to music, hearing pitches. Now you have to look at the laptop on your desk as a daily avenue to seek stuff out." MTV has already mined some online talent. MTV2's "The Andy Milonakis Show" grew out of a homemade Web show two years ago. -Daisy Whitney

Candidate Matthews?

Is MSNBC and syndicated talk show host Chris Matthews looking to add the title U.S. Senator to his resume? You might have thought so after reading a banner headline (with no story) last week on the political Web site HuffingtonPost.com. According to the site, Mr. Matthews, formerly a speechwriter in the Carter White House, a Senate staffer and a top aide to the late former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, was considering an independent run for Senate in Pennsylvania. Other political sites and blogs picked up the story, pointing out he'd be a pro-choice alternative to the likely Democratic nominee Bob Casey and Republican incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum. Some suggested the bid might help his brother, Republican Jim Matthews, who is running for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. The normally garrulous Mr. Matthews gave an uncharacteristically brief response through an MSNBC spokeswoman on the subject: "I'm not running." Blink thinks the pay cut alone makes the move unlikely. -Christopher Lisotta

Non-Toon Cartoon

April 10, 2006 12:00 AM

Cartoon Network has an innovative solution for boosting its sagging ratings. Producing better cartoons? Nope. Producing non-cartoons. The network announced last week it has begun taking pitches for live-action programming and hired Ramsey Naito as VP of long-form development. Only problem: Networks that significantly alter their programming or format run the risk of angering cable operators for deviating from their agreed-upon programming mission. "This is going to be a problem," said cable distribution consultant Cathy Rasenberger. "To add live action to a network that's defined by cartoons may be impossible to do given the content restrictions in their agreements. Allowing this is totally up to the operators. It just sounds like a major deviation." The Mostly Cartoon Network released this statement: "Cartoon Network airing a few live-action movies is not a departure or re-direction of the network strategy," and noted one of their projects is a live action-animation hybrid. But cable operators were split on whether such changes could cause a conflict. "We always closely watch what programmers do, especially if they make changes that take them away from how they sold us the service," said David Grabert, spokesman for Cox. "We have no position on Cartoon at this time. This is the first we've heard of these plans, but if we feel like they're going too far, we'll let them know." A spokesperson for another multiple system operator said Cartoon was off the hook. "Their contract with us doesn't stipulate against live action," the spokesperson said. "As long as the change doesn't alter the spirit of the channel, they're fine." -James Hibberd

Computer Geeks

For decades, people who wanted to be on the syndicated game show "Jeopardy!" had to first meet with one of the show's contestant coordinators. But for three days last month, "Jeopardy!" hopefuls were allowed to start the process from their own homes. For the first time, the show offered its 50-question, 50-category introductory test online, which garnered nearly 100,000 potential contestants. That's a big number for the show, which traditionally meets around 25,000 hopefuls a year through its coordinators and their traveling cycle of regional contestant searches. The rest of the process will be done the old-fashioned way, with face-to-face auditions. But with so many people taking the test, "Jeopardy!" may implement a random selection process or add audition sites. Most important for the show, the test went off as flawlessly as host Alex Trebek's delivery. Show spokesman Jeff Ritter said, "There were very few glitches and complaints." -Christopher Lisotta

'Idol' Online for Cash

Die-hard fans of Fox's top-rated music reality phenomenon "American Idol" also have made the show's Web site one of the most popular online TV sites. With more than 4 million unique visitors in February, AmericanIdol.com has attracted users by offering video clips, blogs and advice from the show's stylists. In Hollywood's latest version of self-congratulation, the Web site is asking fans to make 10-second video clips to explain why they are addicted to the site. As part of the AmericanIdol.com Video Contest, one video will be shown on the site during "Idol's" finale week in May, with the winning videographer taking home a $5,000 prize. No word on whether Simon, Paula and Randy will judge the videos. -Christopher Lisotta

Old MacDonald Had a Call Letter Recall

April 3, 2006 12:00 AM

The WB's comedic drama "Pepper Dennis" profiles the personal and private life of a Chicago TV reporter who is a member of the fictitious WEIE-TV news team. Casting model-turned-actress Rebecca Romijn was a no-brainer. Casting the call letters for the station wasn't so easy. Initially, co-creators Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts wanted WEYE-TV and the sign-off "Eye on Chicago," but those didn't clear with the network, perhaps because CBS's longtime logo is an eye. In the interest of saving time, Ms. Berg and Mr. Harberts asked the network for call letters that would clear, and the similar "WEIE" was at the top of the list. That the suggested station name brings to mind the lyrics to "Old MacDonald" was an added appeal for the creators. "We probably do too much wordplay for our own good," she said. The sign-off also transitioned, becoming "Windy City News Now." "Pepper" debuts April 4 at 9 p.m. (ET).

-Christopher Lisotta

Those Were the Days

If you're nostalgic for interoffice affairs, three-martini lunches, sexual liberation and selling cigarettes, "Mad Men" will be your kind of show. The one-hour pilot AMC commissioned from Radical Media about Madison Avenue in the '60s follows Don Draper, the 30-something creative director of the Sterling Cooper agency, "a white, old-fashioned advertising firm that's about to be left behind," according to Matt Weiner, the writer-director. Mr. Weiner, who created the dramedy, has a more blunt description: "A lot of f**king and drinking and very, very wry and funny." And ironic, he said: "The people are aware of the fact that what they're doing is bulls**t." If it sounds a bit "Sopranos"-like, there's a reason. After years of passing around the script to no avail, it landed in the hands of "Sopranos" creator David Chase, who hired Mr. Weiner to write several episodes of the HBO mob drama in seasons five and six. Rob Sorcher, AMC's exec VP of programming and productions, started out as an advertising copywriter at Benton & Bowles, "a place that still had all those guys from a previous era." Despite its setting, he said, the show offers a social commentary for today. And AMC is optimistic "Mad Men" will elicit high interest among advertisers. "I just know that everybody in the Mafia's watching 'The Sopranos,'" Mr. Sorcher said.

-Abbey Klaassen and Lisa Sanders, Advertising Age

'24' to FSN Prime Ticket's Rescue

As part of its rebranding from FSN West 2 to FSN Prime Ticket, the sports cable channel is enlisting the help of an elite resource: the fictitious government agency CTU from Fox Network's drama series "24." Promos announcing the name change feature L.A. Clipper Elton Brand calling "Agent Curtis Manning" (the show's Roger Cross) on the actual "24" set, warning him of a "situation" in Los Angeles. Agent Manning enlists the help of the band Queen to play "an appropriate sports anthem," and band member Brian May suggests "We Will Rock You." All this preparation culminates April 3, when "a game will be played, and a new identity will be born" during a televised L.A. Dodgers game, with the promo characters, real and fictional, coming together with Dodger legend Tommy Lasorda to help launch the new FSN Prime Ticket name. Here's hoping nothing "24"-like actually happens at the game.

-Christopher Lisotta