Open Mic

Something Smells Wrong about the Latest 'As The World Turns' Stunt Casting

Jonathan Reiner Posted July 1, 2009 at 2:58 PM

Today is the 108th anniversary of the birth of prolific soap creator  Irna Phillips (on TV alone, she concocted “Guiding Light” and “As the  World Turns”, and had a hand in “Days of Our Lives” and “Another  World”, among others). An appropriate time, then to ponder the  incredibly strange happenings at stalwart soap “ATWT” (you know... the  CBS golden oldie soap that isn’t going off the air Sept. 18th).

With “GL’s” impending end, there is no denying that the entire soap  genre -- especially “ATWT,” given its anemic ratings -- is in danger  of extinction while Obama is still in the White House. One would think  that CBS and Procter & Gamble (which owns the 53-year-old soap) would  be circling the wagons and crafting compelling, character-driven drama and romance for its current cast, designed to keep longtime fans  watching and, just maybe, attract some lapsed viewers.

One would think.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The past few years have seen an outbreak of stunt casting at “ATWT,” including an unseemly number of  former “General Hospital” stars making less-than-memorable impressions  on viewers.

Today brings news (via Soap Opera Digest) that Emmy-winning former  “General Hospital” star Stuart Damon (ex-Alan Quartermaine) is joining  ATWT in a new role. “ATWT” needs a lot of things -- but one of them isn’t another “GH” actor in a new role.

The soap has almost ten actors on contract with more than 20 years  experience -- how about telling stories for those characters (and  their kids) rather than cast a big-name actor from another network in a role that no one cares about?

Call me old-fashioned, but this trend of bringing on big names in new roles (which, to be fair, isn’t limited to “ATWT”) reeks of “Celebrity  Apprentice” or some other attempt to revive a foundering reality  franchise.

I’m mixing my catchphrases, but the tribe has spoken -- and we’re not happy. 

Nielsen, Nets Need to Get Real When It Comes to Measuring Success

Jonathan Reiner Posted June 22, 2009 at 9:48 AM

Tags: Nielsen

Forgive me for the gap between entries, but I’ve been busy with work, school, repairmen, veterinarians and life. The good news is that I’m all caught up on my favorite reality shows thanks to my trusty DVR and the best invention of the 21st century (so far): the marathon!

My point (and I do have one) is that in 2009, life often gets in the way of our viewing habits -- but it doesn’t mean we love our shows any less. Just the opposite, in fact.

True, I’m not parked in front of the TV when a show premieres, like I was in the ‘70s with “Happy Days” or the ‘80s with “Dallas” -- but new technological innovations and online components (as well as social networking) allow me to savor and obsess over a show like never before.

For example:

--I am bringing the 30-minute preview of Bravo’s “NYC Prep” to my high school reunion this weekend (via my iPhone) so the Bronx High School of Science class of ’89 can laugh and scoff at those uppity preppy kids (like we did back in the day).

--Once again, my favorite part of MTV’s “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” is the obligatory reunion, where dirty laundry is aired and paraded (and pivotal moments are recalled via flashbacks). Now I have a jonesing for past challenges; thank God they’re on itunes!

--Everyone has an opinion about last week’s finale of Bravo’s “Real Housewives of New Jersey”, and they’re not afraid to share it on Facebook. Thanks to the marathons (and re-runs of the finale) I can relive all the big-haired bodaciousness while messaging with friends. I must sound like a teenager, but it’s fun sharing laughs about reality TV with disparate people from across my address book!

--Even execs are getting into the action: “She’s Got the Look” honcho Allison Grodner posted a note on Facebook reminding her peeps to watch episode two on TV Land last night; I had forgotten all about the bitchy cougar-fest (DVR didn’t, thank GOD), and now I’m catching up on all the delicious action.

Unfortunately, Nielsen doesn’t measure the depth of viewer loyalty. In Nielsen’s universe, a 25-year-old girl who does homework with “American Idol” on in the background is more desirable than a 35-year-old man who loads watches and re-watches marathons or buys episodes on itunes and watches the show so often he can recite the dialogue word for word. That’s not right.

In a time when everyone is fighting for eyeballs and ad dollars, we need someone (anyone!) to step up to the plate and overhaul the way viewership is measured. Our lives are changing like never before, and we need a system that recognizes those innovations and assigns value to the lengths we’ll go to enjoy our favorite shows.


'I'm A Celebrity' May Have Killed My Love of Reality TV

Rick Ellis Posted June 5, 2009 at 8:55 AM

Tags: I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!

I'm not one of these TV critics that loathes most reality television.
Sadly, I watch more of it than is probably good for my soul or my waistline.

I'm the guy who watched Fuse's "Redemption Song" and Fox's "Hells'
Kitchen." I've sat through entire seasons of CMT's "Gone Country" and
The CW's "Sylista." In other words, I have developed a high threshold
for having my chain yanked by manipulative editing and cheesy dialogue.
I tend to suspect everything I see is staged and that nothing is quite
the way it appears on the screen.

And yet, after only four episodes I find myself throwing up my hands and
surrendering on the idea of making any sense of the creative train wreck
that is NBC's "I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!" I'm not quite sure
what show the network thought it had on its hands at this time last
week. But after four surreal and awkward episodes, it's a show that
manages to be both outrageous and often oddly boring.

I'm a fan of the concept for the show. I enjoyed ABC's take on it
several years back, but that network had the same problem encountered
this time around by NBC. Odds are that any celebrity willing to spend a
few weeks in the rain forest probably isn't being fully utilized by
Hollywood. Which may explain the peculiar mix of quasi-names that
inhabits NBC's version. Not to be cruel, but if one of the biggest
"stars" in your show is Stephen Baldwin, then something has gone
horribly wrong during the creative process.

Most of the week's press coverage has centered on Spencer Pratt and
Heidi Montag-Pratt. They're best known for appearing on MTV's "The
Hills," and I would assume that NBC's deal with MTV to re-air episodes
of "I'm A Celebrity.." has something to do with their appearance on the

The Pratts have been a force of nature in the first four episodes. And
by that I mean that they've created a lot of hot air and damage to
everything surrounding them. They threatened to quit twice before the
first live segment even aired, and that included a surreal phone
conversation between Spencer Pratt and NBC's Ben Silverman. The couple
then returned to the show, then quit again. They then asked to return
and are now involved in some odd set of "rules" that require their
former cast mates to vote them back onto the show.

If all of this makes your head hurt, then welcome to my world. I
certainly can't figure out how much of the events are legitimate and how
much is just some weird mind game perpetuated by the Pratts’ and/or NBC.
In many cases, the events have been so strange that I can't decide if it
would be worse for it all to be fake or actually true. Is Spencer as
really as big of a windbag as he appears? You would hope not, but if it
is an act, why would he think this approach is good for his career? If
this quitting-then-returning-then-quitting routine isn't sincere, then
what sort of idiot thought it would be a great way to manipulate the
audience? So Daniel Baldwin shows up as a new contestant, and
Spencer/Heidi still come back anyway?

At some point, all the erratic twists and turns just seem pointless and
manipulative. And NBC's decision to hold off the final 'will they
return' decision until next week was the final straw. I understand that
"reality" TV may not be scripted in the traditional sense. But like its
scripted TV brothers, all good reality shows have recognizable plot arcs
and a somewhat believable back-story. "I'm A Celebrity" is just a mess,
and since I can't trust anything I see on the screen, what's the point
of watching anymore?

At this point, I wish the show's producers would just come on the show
Monday evening and lay it all out there for the audience. If the Pratts’
erratic behavior is legitimate, then show some of what's been going on
off-camera. And if it was all some awkward attempt at building buzz for
the show, then throw out some mea culpas and get back to the show.

Either way, I just want to go back to my semi-cynical belief in reality
TV. I don't mind being lied to. I just want the lies to be believable
enough that I don't feel like a chump for continuing to watch.

Read more Rick Ellis at


'The Goode Family': Right, Left or Just for a Laugh?

Kate O'Hare Posted June 4, 2009 at 7:34 AM

Tags: The Goode Family

Last week, ABC premiered the "The Goode Family," the new animated series about the Goodes, a middle-class clan that twists itself into knots trying to be politically correct about everything in life, to the point where one gets the feeling that medieval monks had an easier time figuring out the rules of salvation than this bunch.

And, since this comes from the same team that produced Fox's "King of the Hill," which gently lampooned the details of daily life in small-town Texas, the show has some fun with the Goodes and their obsessive striving to achieve organic perfection.

Responses to the show varied, from delight that someone was finally making fun of eco-sanctimony to puzzlement at why such well-meaning, harmless people should be made the butt of jokes, to one that felt the need to point out that "King of the Hill," which premiered days after Bill Clinton took office for his second term in January 1997, was axed days after the last presidential election (no doubt a huge factor in the decision. Yep, huge.)

This has left the "Goode" team a little confused, including executive producer John Altschuler, who just wants to make people laugh. I sat down with him at a press event on Saturday, and he reacted to the reaction to his little comedy.

'60 Minutes': #13 With a Bullet

Aaron Barnhart Posted June 2, 2009 at 4:08 PM

Tags: 60 Minutes

Not bad for a 40-year-old TV show. Buoyed by what has always buoyed "60 Minutes" — high-interest news stories and great lead-ins from sports — the CBS newsmagazine finished 13th in the Nielsen ratings last season, best since 2000. Also heartening, the show grew its audience among key demographic groups, not just geezers.

You have to credit not only Jeff Fager, the show's EP, for freshening up the show's list of star presenters while not sacrificing the meaty stories about the global war on terror and the environment. You also, though, have to credit Sean McManus, who has taken full advantage of his dual role as president of CBS news and sports to ensure that as much of the desirable sports audience is handed off to "60 Minutes" as possible Sunday afternoons.

It wasn't a perfect season — I think we all could've done without that Lesley Stahl freakout over the Windows computer virus - and lauding Ken Lewis as the smartest big banker in America didn't quite go according to plan either ... Lesley.

Still, I wouldn't think of not watching. And in this sea of video choices, that says something. It says that I'm getting old.


Edd Hall Recalls Glory Days with Jay Leno

Adam Buckman Posted May 31, 2009 at 2:18 PM

Tags: The Tonight Show


Among those who were in the audience tonight for Jay Leno’s final “Tonight Show”: Edd Hall, Leno’s announcer for the first 12 of his 17 years as host of the NBC late-night show. Besides making the show’s introductory announcements, Hall, now 50, was frequently seen on the show participating in comedy bits.

He reports he was invited to attend Friday's final show and the after-party at an undisclosed location (he disclosed it to me, but swore me to secrecy). The show also sent him a souvenir.

“They invited me to the show and to the party and they sent me a little yearbook,” he said this morning on the phone from L.A. after I contacted him via his personal Web site, “Apparently they made up a yearbook of the show over the past 17 years with pictures. It’s fun.”

He said he was looking forward to running into Leno and bandleader Kevin Eubanks, but he was also hoping to see Branford Marsalis, the Leno “Tonight” show’s first bandleader who left in 1995. (As it happens, Marsalis will likely not be there — a tour schedule on his Web site,, indicates he’s in Europe this week.)

Hall told me he misses “The Tonight Show,” but doesn’t regret moving on in 2004 to pursue a career as a freelance voiceover artist. His voice is heard in dozens of commercials and he was also the announcer on the syndicated series “Crosswords,” Merv Griffin’s last quiz show.

So why did you leave “The Tonight Show,” Edd?

“[The job] was only a few hours a day, but it was everyday, so I couldn’t take on any other work,” Hall said.

“It was one of those things where you get into something and you do it over and over again for a long time [and] you just kind of go, You know what? It’s OK. I can try something different,” he explained, noting that he had spent nearly 25 years in late-night TV.

What many people may not know about Edd Hall (including me) was that he had started his career in late-night as an NBC page in New York in 1979, working on “Saturday Night Live.” He eventually worked for David Letterman when Letterman hosted NBC’s “Late Night.” Hall was a graphics producer and an occasional announcer on comedy bits for Letterman’s show, which was how Hall eventually came to be hired for Leno’s “Tonight Show.”

“I had a bunch of work that I had done for Letterman so we [Hall and his manager] put together a little tape and we sent it over [to NBC] and they called me in.”

It was a dream job. “I loved driving on to a lot and there was my parking space with my name on it,” Hall said. “I’ve missed coming to the show everyday. I didn’t think I would, but I miss doing that. It’s a great gig.”

As for his decision to move, he says now: “At the time, it was exactly what I needed.” 

A version of this post originally appeared on Buckman's blog, TV Howl. 


Brit Sci-Fi Roundup: Latest on 'Who,' 'Torchwood'

Jace Lacob Posted May 30, 2009 at 10:59 PM

Tags: Doctor Who, Torchwood

The TARDIS is about to get another traveler.

21-year-old unknown Karen Gillan has been cast in season five of “Doctor Who,” where she will star alongside incoming series lead Matt Smith, who replaces David Tennant as the Doctor when Tennant departs the series later this year.

Filming on season five of “Doctor Who” is set to begin this summer and the series is expected to debut on BBC One next spring.

Gillan is no stranger to “Doctor Who,” however, and appeared early on in season four in the episode "The Fires of Pompeii," where she played a soothsayer on the much-beloved British series. She has previously also appeared in such programs as “Rebus,” “Harley Street,” “The Kevin Bishop Show,” and “Stacked” and can be seen opposite James Nesbitt in the upcoming feature film “Outcast,” written and directed by Colm McCarthy.