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October 2006 Archives

Pulling the Right Strings

October 30, 2006 12:00 AM

What's the best way to ensure a series' renewal? Put a network executive-very politely-into your show. For the Nickelodeon puppet series "Mr. Meaty," about two burger-slinging teens working in a food court, series creators Jason Hopley and Jamie Shannon came up with a recurring character, a corporate executive for the Mr. Meaty franchise, based on Nick development and production head Marjorie Cohn. Not surprisingly, the creators said, "She's the most beautiful puppet we have and the only one who can actually smile." -James Hibberd

Broadcasters in Catfight Over Tigers

Despite being American League champions and World Series participants for the first time in 22 years, the Detroit Tigers may not even show up on Detroit's local broadcast television next season. The team and cable partner Fox Sports Net Detroit, which handled the broadcast deal with Granite Broadcasting-owned WMYD-TV for this season, have begun preliminary talks with stations interested in televising games for 2007, said Karen Cullen, VP of corporate communications for Tigers owner Ilitch Holdings. The sticking point in negotiating a broadcast television deal is the Tigers' success: The team believes its games are worth more, but station executives are skeptical of any significant boost. There's a very real chance the Tigers could be off the free local airwaves in 2007, as they were in 2004 and 2005, those involved said. WMYD struck a one-year deal with FSN initially for 15 games, then three more, for this season, said Greg Hammaren, VP and general manager of FSN Detroit. "Under the right conditions, we would continue the over-the-air arrangement," Mr. Hammaren said. "Will it happen again next year? I'm not sure yet."

-Bill Shea, Crain's Detroit Business

Freston, Well Done

Erstwhile Viacom CEO Tom Freston was roasted at the Pierre Hotel in New York last week before a crowd that included most of the senior executives of Viacom—even Mr. Freston's replacement, Philippe Dauman—plus senior News Corp. executives led by Chairman Rupert Murdoch and a CBS Corp. group headed by CEO Les Moonves. Mr. Freston, who agreed to be honored by the Center for Communications before he was canned by Viacom for not developing the company's broadband strategy aggressively enough, took some particularly harsh licks from News Corp. Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin, who said, "I don't think there's anyone who thinks Viacom treated Tom fairly. Tom's continued success will haunt Viacom for years," then added: "But enough about Tom Cruise. We're actually here to talk about Tom Freston, and Tom Freston is an asshole." Mr. Chernin also quipped that it was difficult for Mr. Freston to be "screwed over by a guy so old he needed a little blue pill to do it," referring to Viacom's octogenarian chairman, Sumner Redstone. Also ribbing Mr. Freston were Debra Lee, CEO of BET; and Judy McGrath, CEO of MTV Networks, who noted the recent interest in "Tom's package," and also in his severance. Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert congratulated Mr. Freston for ruining America's youth and economy by creating the MTV generation. But Mr. Colbert also saluted Mr. Freston for exporting MTV abroad. "What's awful in America is fantastic when we do it to foreign countries," he said, delighting in the idea that members of the Taliban might be attempting stunts from "Jackass." When Mr. Freston took the stage he said he had finally bought a computer, something he'd "never gotten around to" at Viacom. While "swimming the Internet," he said, he had found some "amazing stuff," and urged people to check out a site called—MySpace.com. -Jon Lafayette

'Runway' Finale Flies Into Record Books

October 23, 2006 12:00 AM

The third-season finale of "Project Runway" sashayed to a Bravo record of 5.4 million viewers Wednesday night, capping a season in which the series also went into the cable network's record books as its most-watched-ever (averaging 2.41 million viewers), according to Nielsen Media Research. The highly anticipated hour also ranked as the No. 1 program on cable that night. In its three short seasons, "Runway" has become a certified pop culture phenomenon. Writers have mused prose-aically about how it reflects the New York ethos, ego and id in ways no other reality show has. The showing of the finalists' collections on the runway has become the hottest ticket during Olympus Fashion Week in New York. No one even bothers to pretend to be too jaded to care anymore, and the result is a crush as big (and insistent) as any of "The Sopranos" season premiere parties ever provoked. Well-regarded Washington Post fashion writer Robin Givhan penned a column Friday about why winner Jeffrey Sebelia was the right choice. (For an opposing—and correct—view, consult this week's Insider column on Page 8.) "Runway" mentor Tim Gunn sat in for Regis Philbin as Kelly Ripa's co-host on "Live" Friday morning, and made it work so well no one would have suspected it was his first time in that role. Mr. Gunn's body language was priceless when Ms. Ripa confessed she owns the sartorially indefensible Ugg boots in several colors. Reflecting on the series' success, Bravo President Lauren Zalaznick said, "Trying to deconstruct the reasons for something that's become a 'phenomenon' is tough—the formula of a hit is all the definable, controllable things—great story, great characters, great execution, great marketing, great press—with an essential dash of the uncontrollable things—chemistry, emotion, creativity, and zeal. And that's why we're all in this business, so we can pretend we can control the controllable things but always know we'll never know the unknowable ones. All of it together is no less than wonderful."- Michele Greppi

Now, It's What You Know

Once upon a time, back in the days of The Big 3 and only The Big 3, it was nearly impossible to break into the television or film biz unless you had nepotism (or some very well-placed friends of your parents) on your side. Apart from film appreciation or traditional broadcast journalism courses, very few colleges offered instruction in such useful disciplines as scriptwriting or production or the business of film and TV. Well, times have changed: the first edition of "Television, Film and Media Programs," a joint effort of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation and the Princeton Review, offers the lowdown on no fewer than 556 such programs at colleges and universities ranging from Arizona State to Western Kentucky. The book, which features a foreword by HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht, also includes thumbnail profiles of 16 industry professionals, a step-by-step guide from high school graduation through higher education to real-world job search and a useful glossary. Apparently the chapter devoted to the value of nepotism was omitted, but a word to the wise: It still don't hurt.-Tom Gilbert

All 'Sleeper Cell,' All the Time

As part of an ongoing strategy to find new ways to take advantage of the shifting new media landscape, Showtime is making its entire "Sleeper Cell" miniseries available on-demand to coincide with the first episode's premiere. The tactic affords VOD subscribers the option of binge-viewing the entire eight hours when the show debuts Dec. 10, which is typically an option only after a series is released on home video. Even though "Sleeper" airs nightly instead of weekly, this could open the door to other networks experimenting with such an all-at-once release schedule. "We thought about the fact this is a show where you're gripped from episode to episode … having them all on demand allows [viewers] to personalize their viewing experience," said Laura Laura Palmer, VP of distribution marketing for Showtime. -James Hibberd

Ebert on Recovery, Roeper on Guests

October 16, 2006 12:00 AM

In a column on his Web site and in the Chicago Sun-Times last week, film critic and "Ebert & Roeper" co-host Roger Ebert wrote that due to his battle with salivary gland cancer, he won't be back to full speed "until sometime early next year." The column discussed his prognosis, his supportive friends and family and what it has been like to pull back from his famously busy schedule. Richard Roeper wrote in an e-mail to TelevisionWeek that dealing with "Ebert" guest hosts while Mr. Ebert recovers is "kind of like playing shortstop and having a different second baseman in the lineup every week." With no permanent guest host named, Mr. Roeper wrote, the show will continue "to bring in new and interesting voices" (such as Jay Leno, Kevin Smith and Aisha Tyler) but with an eye toward Mr. Ebert's homecoming. "We're keeping the show afloat," Mr. Roeper said, "but I can't wait for the day when Roger returns." - Christopher Lisotta

Busy in the Bungalow

Dick Robertson has been busy on Memory Lane since he stepped down in August as president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. The legendary syndication executive, now in a producing/consulting deal with Warner Bros., moved into a bungalow on the Warner Bros. lot, which he festooned with TV memorabilia from over the years. He and his longtime executive assistant Barbara Tuuri co-hosted an "open bungalow" barbecue Oct. 6 to welcome old Warner Bros. pals to his new professional home. While settling in and researching the building's history, Mr. Robertson has been developing two history-based long-form projects, an animation project and a Warner's Internet initiative. Perhaps his most dear project: Preparing a bid for WTKR-TV in his hometown of Norfolk, Va., where his father was a broadcaster and his own firstgrade class once appeared on-air. The New York Times Co. said last month it is putting the station, along with the eight others it owns, on the block (TelevisionWeek, Sept. 18). LIN, CBS and Sinclair all own stations in the market, No. 42 in the country. Mr. Robertson may be up against those companies, which could create duopolies, as well as suitors willing to buy the station group as a whole. He is putting together an investor group. There is "maybe a one in a million we'd be able to get it," he said. But don't count him out. Mr. Robertson, who has sold billions of dollars' worth of TV shows, is known to underpromise and overdeliver. "I'm back to being the entrepreneur," he said. -Melissa Grego

`Runway' Chatter

"Angela needs to stay down home on the farm and grow roses, not sew them." That's according to "Robin," a "Project Runway" viewer who submitted her thoughts on the show to Bravo. Such sentiments will soon be featured on the show, scrolling across the new ticker that the network is slapping up for Tuesday's seven-hour "Runway" marathon in advance of the season finale the following evening. Since "Runway" viewers are a notoriously vocal bunch, sounding off on various online message boards about who should or shouldn't be booted off the show, the network is giving them a chance to submit their 2 cents online or via text message, to be posted on the ticker during the marathon. "People will be able to comment on what they see on the air. We can tie it exactly to content that's going on in the episode," said Lisa Hsia, senior VP of new media for Bravo. She said Motorola came on board to exclusively sponsor the ticker and if it's a success, Bravo may use it for other reality shows.-Daisy Whitney

Dreams of Green

They've had championships. They've had Hall of Famers. They've had victory cigars. But the Boston Celtics were the only NBA team without cheerleaders until this season. To mark this moment in history, NBA TV will televise a three-part series, "Dreaming Green: The Making of the Celtics Dancers," beginning Oct. 23. The series follows the five-city search for dancers and their final auditions at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Ledyard, Conn. (Dancers are fine, but if you want to see great legs in Boston, get some old pictures of Larry Bird in those Kelly-green short-shorts.) Meanwhile, NBA TV kicks off a new documentary-style series Tuesday called "The Run" that features NBA stars telling first-person stories about important moments in their lives as basketball players. In the first installment, LeBron James talks about being in the playoffs for the first time last season. Look for Dwyane Wade and Elton Brand in upcoming episodes.-Jon Lafayette

Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands

October 9, 2006 12:00 AM

Sometimes, if you want to get something done, you gotta do it yourself. That's what two amateur filmmakers from Wisconsin did with the second and third installments of what's quickly becoming a cult classic in the viral video world: The story of Chad Vader, the lesser-known grocery-store manager brother of "Star Wars'" Darth that runs on YouTube and on Splu.net. YouTube doesn't offer pre- or post-roll ads in front of its videos, so Chad's creators sold a static two-second ad to Buycostumes.com to run in front of the third episode, in which the Sith Lord's brother has been demoted to lowly night-shift manager. The video's creators, Aaron Young and Matt Sloan, said Buycostumes paid about $3,000 for the ad and a mention in the credits of episode two. That about covered the costs of the shoots, Mr. Sloan said. What's more, ABC's "Good Morning America" reported that the yet-to-be-released fourth episode of "Chad Vader" is among a handful of videos slated to be featured on its "Watercooler" segment on Wednesday, though the date is subject to change. The first three episodes have generated more than 3.5 million views online. -Daisy Whitney

In Their Faces

Bravo is turning up the heat on its online efforts to promote the second season of "Top Chef," but competitor Food Network's staffers won't have to turn on their computers to get the message about the show-they can just look out the window: A billboard touting "Top Chef" as the "#1 Food Show on Cable" is going up next door to Food Network's studios in New York's Chelsea district. How's that for tweaking a rival? Butter wouldn't melt in the mouth of Bravo Senior VP Marketing Jason Klarman as he downplayed any such thoughts. "We're just marketing our show," he said, pointing out the many food markets and restaurants in the area. In other promotions for the show, Mr. Klarman has created partnerships with MySpace.com, where fans can enter a contest to work with judge Tom Colicchio at his restaurant in New York; Yahoo.com, which will preview the first 10 minutes of the show's first two episodes; Chow.com, which will have interviews with the exiting chefs; and TV.com and iVillage. Those sites will drive viewers back to Bravotv.com. With the premiere airing after the finale of "Project Runway," Bravo will use traditional media to support episode two. In addition to NBC Universal's cross-channel spots, Bravo is buying time on syndicated shows, satellite, spot cable, radio and print. It's also got promotional deals with Zagat, Fresh Direct and sponsor Sears in the mix. "We're launching in the middle of the new fall season," Mr. Klarman said. "We really need to make a statement." -Jon Lafayette


Don't you just hate those industry people who wearily say, "I've got to go to Mipcom again this year," as if it were some sort of punishment to visit Cannes for a week, stroll along the Croisette on your way to "work" and dine on some of the world's best food, year after year, at the company's expense. One of the folks who hasn't grown tired of the L.A.-Cannes circuit is John Ridgway, creative director of video design and music branding firm Novocom, who this week is celebrating his company's silver anniversary with his 25th consecutive trip to the Mipcom international TV market. "I never complain about traveling once a year to the French Riviera because I'm a real Francophile. First of all, you can't get a bad meal there. And the French make a concerted effort of protecting a culture and language that are worth protecting." There really can be a downside to the trip, however; take it from independent publicist Patricia Frith, another L.A.-to-Cannes-and-back veteran who, between MIP-TV and Mipcom, has also made the haul 25 times: "Since there's no direct flight, you always end up losing your luggage at some point. Having to do a meeting in the clothes you traveled in is not nice." -Tom Gilbert

Only Traffic Can Get Dr. Phil to Slow Down

October 2, 2006 12:00 AM

Most people kick back if they have a week off from work. But Phil McGraw and his wife, Robin, spent their hiatus week from shooting episodes of his talk show "Dr. Phil" visiting 10 cities in 11 days to promote the show's new season. In New York on Sept. 18, Mr. McGraw was a guest on four shows, which turned into a logistical nightmare when a presidential motorcade wreaked havoc on Manhattan traffic. Aside from New York and stops in Pittsburgh, Dallas, Minneapolis, Chicago and Baltimore, Mr. McGraw hit Detroit, where his show migrated to WWJ-TV. In addition to donating musical instruments to Detroit's Youth Foundation (and red hockey jerseys emblazoned with WWJ-TV's "62" channel number), he held two "Get Real" events and pushed copies of Ms. McGraw's new book, "Inside My Heart: Choosing to Live With Passion and Purpose," at a bookstore in Ann Arbor, Mich. No doubt, somewhere between Dallas and Minneapolis, the McGraws began to feel as though they needed a hiatus from their hiatus.-Christopher Lisotta

Calling All Carters

E! has set up a hotline to the Carter brothers. To promote its upcoming reality series "House of Carters," starring tabloid-friendly pop singers Nick and Aaron, the network will install a phone line on which fans can try to reach one of the brothers or, barring that, leave a message. Select messages will be posted online, and Nick and Aaron will occasionally take calls-unless, of course, they're from Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, Willa Ford, Paris Hilton or Hulk Hogan. "House of Carters" premieres Oct. 2. Starring along with Aaron, left, and Nick are sisters Bobbie Jean, second from left, Angel and Leslie.-JAMES HIBBERD

'Ugly Betty's' Pretty Ratings

The breathless anticipation of early ratings for the debut of "Ugly Betty" last Thursday extended far beyond ABC. It appeared that if one previewed the Cinderella-meets-Devil-wearing-Prada comedy, one was immediately so emotionally invested in it as to need fast ratings proof that it had hit its mark with the public and was getting off on a good foot. "Ugly Betty" indeed was off to a running start with 16.3 million total viewers, a mere half-million behind the CBS veteran "Survivor: Cook Islands," which averaged 16.8 million total viewers as the four ethnically divided tribes were merged into two melting-pot tribes in which the Anglo contestants were vastly outnumbered. (That didn't stop Aitu's Jonathan from trying to control the castoff vote at tribal council. Boy, was he surprised!) "Survivor" had the stronger performance in the most important prime-time demo, 18- to 49-year-old viewers (see story, Page 5), but "Betty" still showed lots of promise in the demo. Which led the wags of Blink to this conclusion: "There is a God, and She has a unibrow." -Michele Greppi

Upscale Young Viewers Go for 'Anatomy'

For years NBC was the home for a demographic that keenly interests advertisers: upscale young adult viewers. But starting last season, ABC was able to take the title of top network among the well-heeled demographic from NBC. And the trend continues: For the first week of the 2006-07 season, ABC once again took the lead. The top-rated show for the week ended Sept. 24 in adults 18 to 49 with a $100,000-plus income and four-plus years of college was ABC's "Grey's Anatomy." ABC's "Desperate Housewives" was second in both categories, followed by the highest-rated debuting show of the week, "Housewives" lead-out "Brothers & Sisters." CBS took fourth place in the category with "CSI," while NBC rounded out the top five with its new Sunday NFL football telecast. Despite the dominance of ABC at the top, NBC had cause for cheer from its new Monday series from writer Aaron Sorkin, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," which ranked No. 6 among the demo. Despite losing to its time-period competitor "CSI: Miami" in the overall adults 18 to 49 demographic, "Studio 60" far outperformed "Miami," which ranked a distant No. 17 in the $100K-plus 18 to 49 group. At the end of the day, the rich may boost the fortunes of "Studio 60" and the very rich Mr. Sorkin.-Christopher Lisotta