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July 2006 Archives

Blink: The News Behind the News

July 31, 2006 12:00 AM

`Ugly Betty' vs. `La Fea Mas Bella'

Ben Silverman, one of the executive producers of ABC's Friday 8 p.m. (ET) drama "Ugly Betty," knows he's going to have tough competition when the show debuts in the fall. While inside-the-box thinkers are looking at CBS's "Ghost Whisperer" and Fox's "Nanny 911" as threats, Mr. Silverman sees a bigger threat-from Univision. The Spanish-language broadcaster is currently running the Mexican telenovela "La Fea M%E1;s Bella," which for the week ended July 24 propelled the network to No. 1 among women 18 to 34 weekdays at 8 p.m. Both "Betty" and "M%E1;s Bella" are adaptations of the Colombian powerhouse "Yo Soy Betty, La Fea," and "M%E1;s Bella" will be running until at least a few weeks after ABC premieres "Betty." But Univision's success could benefit Mr. Silverman if even part of the audience wants to see his English-language "Betty" story. "If I can capture half that audience," he said, plus pull in some other viewers, "we are going to win." Viva Betty!

Hyping `Heroes'

Using a Web site to hype your new fall show is nothing new for broadcast networks, but NBC is wasting no time in building fan momentum for its new superhero drama "Heroes." Taking a page from the creators of ABC's "Lost" and the show's official fan site, Fuselage.com, "Heroes" creator Tim Kring has already set up a site for the future viewers of his show, at 9thwonders.com. The site is run by Craig Byrne, who started a similar Web page for The CW's "Smallville," and features commentary from the show's writers and artwork from Tim Sale, whose paintings are being used on the show. The Web is not the only place NBC is working "Heroes" or the artistry of Mr. Sale. At the Comic-Con comic book convention in San Diego two weeks ago, NBC handed out free copies of a limited-edition "Heroes" comic book from Mr. Sale and Mr. Kring. In what must be seen as a good sign by Mr. Kring, copies of the comic book are being offered online for as much as $35. Here's hoping the series lives up to the interest in the Web site and the comic book.

Net's Latest `Tube' Rube

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has been brutally derided on the Internet for his not-entirely-elegant statement in a Senate committee meeting that the Internet is "not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. Those tubes can get filled." The tape of his remarks has been turned into an Internet song (Myspace.com/tedstevensfanclub) and two segments on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." So how does Sen. Stevens, 83, feel about the ridicule? "It's a free country," he said, adding that if he were offered a guest shot on the TV show, "I'd consider it." Sen. Stevens made the statement as his committee considered adding a net neutrality requirement to legislation that would ease the way for telephone companies to offer cable TV without having to go city by city for franchises. A spokesman for Comedy Central had no immediate comment on whether Mr. Stevens would be asked to appear.

-Ira Teinowitz

Shooting the Sheriff

July 24, 2006 12:00 AM

Producer Scott Sternberg ("Sunday Morning Shootout") heaved a big sigh of relief last Tuesday: After a week's delay and much to-do, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department finally greenlighted his plan to create a reality TV series chronicling the trials and travails of the cadets at the Sheriff's Academy. Mr. Sternberg's was not an easy journey; after first approaching the sheriff and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors three months ago, he was surprised to learn that another producer, Shane Conrad of 44 Blue Productions, also had contacted the department about doing a reality show, that one tracing the daily activities of detectives and officers. In a happy outcome for all, Mr. Conrad also got the go-ahead. Mr. Sternberg is stoked, because after encountering the cadets on-site, his inspiration doubled: "When I visited the L.A. Sheriff's Academy I was amazed by the intensity and difficulty of the exercises cadets had to complete. It made you understand just how hard it is for people to earn their badges, and just how much drive each trainee needs to complete the course. Witnessing the academy training process has made me even more eager to move ahead on this project. I am delighted that the Board of Supervisors gave us the go-ahead on this; it will make for great TV." Neither project is attached to a network yet; Blink's taking bets on which will sell first-and where.

-Tom Gilbert

Boston Show Copy-Wronged By 'Tucker'

July 17, 2006 12:00 AM

MSNBC's no-longer-bow-tied Tucker Carlson moved to an afternoon time slot, shortened the show's title to "Tucker" and added a new segment in which he throws stones at folks in the media-from CNN's Anderson Cooper for interviewing celebrities to HDNet's Dan Rather for being too emotional on "Larry King Live." Mr. Carlson's title for the new segment? "Beat the Press." Oops-that title was copyrighted in the summer of 1994 and was used on a 10-minute pilot in 1995 by Emily Rooney. Emily, of course, is the daughter of "60 Minutes'" Andy Rooney and the sister of ABC News correspondent Brian Rooney, as well as a highly regarded local news executive who served a stint at ABC News as Peter Jennings' "World News Tonight" executive producer before returning to Boston. Since 1997, Ms. Rooney has been doing award-winning media criticism under the title "Beat the Press" as part of the Friday night editions of "Greater Boston," a weeknight magazine show she executive produces for pubcaster WGBH-TV. Last Friday night she took aim at Mr. Carlson and his new segment: "Carlson's producer says they've never heard of our show," Ms. Rooney said in the piece taped for broadcast. "Fair enough. But have they ever heard of Google?" Blink called Ms. Rooney to inquire about her reaction to being wronged on her copyright. She said the WGBH lawyers had been notified, then delivered a rueful punch line on the issue to Blink: "I certainly welcome media criticism on a national level, but Tucker Carlson's segment needs some fine-turning." There was no comment from MSNBC by deadline.

-Michele Greppi



Scrambled but Not Poached

Two years ago ABC made headlines when it promoted its debuting "Desperate Housewives" on dry cleaning bags. This year CBS is taking things further with its fall 2006 promotional campaign, or as the network is calling it, "egg-vertising." With the help of the laser-marking firm EggFusion, CBS is inscribing its logo and promotional slogans for its prime-time series on supermarket-bought eggs in September. Usually reserved for freshness dates, the laser marking will promote seven shows and the CBS Monday comedy block. Some examples: "CBS Mondays: Leave the Yolks to Us" and "Shark: Hard-Boiled Drama." If you find yolky puns less than egg-citing and even a bit egg-scrutiating, be warned before picking up a dozen Grade-A's: CBS is marking more than 35 million eggs for the campaign.

-Christopher Lisotta



CEO Finalists at Hallmark

Who will be next to wear the crown at Hallmark Channel? Some people in the know are saying that the headhunter hired to find a replacement for CEO David Evans is down to a short list and that a successor will be named in the next four to six weeks. Candidates from the outside are said to be former Court TV CEO Henry Schleiff, former Nickelodeon boss Herb Scannell and former President of Warner Bros. Domestic Pay TV, Cable and Network Features Ed Bleier. Internal candidates include interim CEO Paul FitzPatrick, programming chief David Kenin and head of ad sales Bill Abbott. A Hallmark spokesman had no comment.

-Jon Lafayette



TCA Photo Shootout

Negotiations between wire services and networks over photographer access at Television Critics Association presentations are usually private affairs, but a conflict between the Associated Press and Fox went public last week. AP had requested access to shoot at Fox's press tour sessions scheduled for July 24 and 25, but was turned down by the network's photo department and instead was offered the use of photos Fox would take at the event. Fox has taken issue with wire services such as AP, which have sold shots internationally that were taken at Fox events despite prohibitions from the network. AP's L.A. Administrative News Editor Steve Loeper and his entertainment photo editor fired off an e-mail to Fox saying that without photo access, no AP reporters would attend Fox's TCA events. Mr. Loeper also copied the e-mail to some TV trade reporters, and the AP even moved a story on the disagreement, a call Mr. Loeper said he did not make. The two sides are now talking, but Fox is wondering why the disagreement went wide in the first place. "This whole matter would have been resolved with one telephone call to me," said Joe Earley, the network's top PR executive, "and it likely will be. But for some reason they chose to try and make this a big press story." Mr. Loeper had no apologies for alerting the trade press. "We wanted to send a message to the industry," he said. "We're very concerned about this trend."

-Christopher Lisotta

Designers Up for Adoption

July 10, 2006 12:00 AM

Bravo is letting viewers "adopt" contestants from the new season of Emmy-nominated "Project Runway" -- at least in a new media way. Fans of the show will be able to pay $1.99 to get a better idea of what their favorite aspiring designer is thinking and what's happening behind the scenes via text messages, an average of three per week. Of course, once a contestant is eliminated, the messages stop. But big fans can adopt as many designers as they want. The fee also covers "Project Runway" computer wallpaper and voice ringtones. And viewers who adopt the winning designer will receive a special download that is still being designed. "'Project Runway' is absolutely made for this kind of campaign," said Lisa Hsia, senior VP of new media for Bravo. "Our viewers are incredibly passionate about this show, and they have an insatiable appetite when it comes to knowing every single detail about our designers, challenges, host and judges." -Jon Lafayette





A Case of Stick-to-Itiveness

Not only does Vin DiBona have the longest-running show on ABC, he has also had what could be the longest-running courtship in TV history-nearly three decades. The "America's Funniest Home Videos" producer finally tied the knot July 1 with Erica Gerard, also a TV producer (MPH Entertainment), during a black-tie ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. In gestures that poked fun at the couple's 29-year, on again-off again courtship, guests were presented with souvenir linen handkerchiefs embroidered with the word "Finally" and later received crystal clocks bearing the legend "It's About Time." And, in a tip of the hat to their careers-they first met while working together on TV documentaries in the late '70s-the couple provided programs specifying the occasion as an "airdate," with production credits listing participants, including reader Henry Winkler, in order of appearance. The couple is currently working on a new co-production: their honeymoon in Italy. -Tom Gilbert





An Unsettling morning Call

Bill Lawrence, the creator of the Emmy-nominated NBC comedy "Scrubs," got into an argument with his wife very early last Thursday morning when they were awakened by the call intended to let him know his creation had been nominated for best comedy. The ringing phone annoyed his pregnant wife-actress Christa Miller, a frequent guest on the show-because she thought one of Mr. Lawrence's East Coast college buddies, who apparently have trouble understanding the West Coast is in a different time zone, was calling to shoot the breeze. They chose to ignore the call, and Mr. Lawrence worried that when he played the message later it would indeed be one of his friends. Thankfully the call was Emmy-related. "We had to apologize to each other," Mr. Lawrence told TelevisionWeek, but in short order the couple got into it again over whether Ms. Miller should buy an expensive maternity dress for the Emmys ceremony in August. -Christopher Lisotta





D-Lister Bags an Upgrade

Kathy Griffin, the star and executive producer of Bravo's reality series "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List," can no longer claim she's at the bottom of the Hollywood food chain. Ms. Griffin, who has made a career out of skewering A-list celebrities and bemoaning her own lowly star-power status, found out last week she was nominated for an outstanding reality series Emmy. That kind of recognition bumps one up at least a few letters. While other first-timers gushed about how thrilled they were to be considered Emmy-worthy, Ms. Griffin e-mailed her publicist from her latest stand-up gig, Rosie O'Donnell's annual gay family cruise, to ask a question about one of her fellow category nominees: "Do I get the same gift bag as Cesar Millan, The Dog Whisperer?" Blink thinks you do.

-Christopher Lisotta





Bravo Elevates Exec Quartet

Speaking of Bravo, at press time the cable network was planning to announce today four staff promotions among its programming and production team: Frances Berwick has been appointed executive VP; Andrew Cohen has been upped to senior VP; and David Serwatka and David O'Connell are now VPs. -James Hibberd

Koonin's 'Nightmare' Traffic

July 3, 2006 12:00 AM

Steve Koonin, general manager of Turner Broadcasting's TNT and TBS, just lost a wager.

Mr. Koonin bet his promotion department that no one would notice that a big fold-out ad in Entertainment Weekly for the upcoming Stephen King anthology series "Nightmares & Dreamscapes" notes that the show is sponsored by Hyundai yet features a picture of a Pontiac.

Mr. Koonin, the former marketing whiz at Coca-Cola, said there was no mistake.

A Pontiac Firebird is almost a character in one of the stories, "The Road Virus Heads North." In the show, Tom Berenger-who is shown driving a Chrysler-is pursued by a menacing Firebird depicted in a painting that he bought.

"It would have been very difficult to say we're going to switch Stephen King to a Hyundai because we sold it," he said. "Nobody promised them product placement exclusivity and more importantly, they wouldn't want us to rewrite a classic piece like 'Road Virus.'"

A spokesman for Hyundai, sponsor of the series' commercial-free premiere episode on July 12, did not return calls.