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September 2007 Archives

CumeGate: Everybody Regrets 'Heroes' Double-Dip (Maybe Even NBC)

September 28, 2007 4:26 PM

cheerleaderblog.jpg“We never asked Nielsen for this,” says NBC’s research expert Alan Wurtzel. “Everybody got the notice in July that Nielsen was changing their rules. Nobody should have been surprised.”

“This,” of course, is CumeGate -- NBC opting to take advantage of a new Nielsen rule that allowed the network to get a single, cumulative rating for two airings of its “Heroes” premiere (from Monday’s debut and from tomorrow’s encore).

The move resulted in NBC’s competitors and advertisers crying foul all week, accusing the fourth-place network of double dipping to boost their premiere rating. The protests to Nielsen were so vehement, even mainstream press got into the fight, delving into the rather wonkish, headache-inducing underworld of Nielsen number-crunching idiosyncrasies.

The heart of the complaints goes like this: We don’t care if NBC wants a cume number to present to advertisers as long the original rating is still reported.

“NBC didn’t do anything illegal, they’re using a rule,” says Fox’s scheduling head Preston Beckman. “NBC has every right to run the show with the same commercials and have some kind of cume rating. It’s Nielsen’s obligation to still supply the industry with a separate program rating for both nights – because then NBC is using the rule to change their rating for the week.”

Another annoyance among rivals: Few can ever use the rule the way NBC did. Since the measure only applies for shows repeated within the same Nielsen week and carrying the exact same advertisers, the “Heroes” premiere was perfectly positioned to take full advantage. The show was singularly sponsored by Nissan, debuted at the top of the Nielsen week and repeats Saturday during a low-rated hour. ABC executives noted they couldn’t possibly double-dip Sunday night’s “Desperate Housewives.”

Nielsen has heard the complaints very, very clearly. Spokesperson Ann Elliot says they’re re-evaluating the policy. Nobody thinks the rule will stay the same. Shows will probably be allowed to encore within any seven day period for a cume with the original night’s numbers likely still reported as usual.

“We’re definitely going to take into consideration everything we’ve heard this week and, yes, we’ve certainly heard a lot,” Elliot says. “We didn’t tell NBC how to use this new processing approach because we thought that would be inappropriate. NBC took a creative approach and used it staying within the bounds.”

Asked if anybody besides NBC has given positive feedback about the rule, Elliot says, “I don’t think anybody has come out and said ‘this is great.’”

NBC paints a different picture, saying the network was merely complying with a change that everybody knew about; a shift that’s necessary given the way viewers increasingly watch television outside of traditional live premieres.

“We didn’t tell Nielsen how to calculate this, they told us,” Wurtzel says. “The fact that people were surprised stuns me on a whole bunch of levels. What Nielsen did is absolutely appropriate.”

Wurtzel’s right that getting Nielsen to combine ratings from more than one source is a necessary digital-era goal, the problem for NBC was the move played so weak.

Instead of headlines about “Heroes” coming back stronger than ever, reporters waded hip-deep into eye-crossing Nielsen processing issues, a place nobody wants to spend their time.

Combined with “Heroes’” jarring and off-note product placement in the opening minutes of the season premiere -- where Claire (The Cheerleader) practically did hand springs for a new Nissan (“Oh Dad! The Rogue!”) – the network needs to be careful not let its eagerness to appease advertisers overshadow its best brand.

Return of 'Grey’s Anatomy' and 'CSI' Top Thursday

September 28, 2007 11:23 AM

Grey's AnatomyABC’s top-rated “Grey’s Anatomy” returned with the highest-rated premiere of the new season, but the network’s Thursday-night lineup endured time-period declines that allowed CBS to edge out a victory for the night.

Having shed two of its regular cast members this season, “Grey’s” came back to an 8.7 preliminary rating among adults 18 to 49. “Grey’s” was the highest-rated show of the evening, though down 21 percent compared to last year. Lead-in “Ugly Betty” was down 24 percent, earning a 3.8. Freshman premiere “Big Shots” earned a 4.7, placing it in the upper echelon of new series premieres, but the show lost a precarious 46 percent of its lead in and fell 26 percent in its second half hour.

Though ABC had the highest-rated show, CBS was taking a victory lap this morning. After getting beat up in the press all week for declines on returning veteran series, executives were relieved their lineup’s performance came back strong despite heavy competition.

Resolving a cliffhanger from May, “CSI” returned to an 8.0 rating, up 4 percent from last year. At 8 p.m., “Survivor: China” won its hour with a 4.6 and fell only 8 percent from last week’s premiere. At 10 p.m., “Without a Trace” matched last year’s 4.8.

Unlike Wednesday, when a 9 p.m. time-period struggle resulted in a ratings battlefield littered with casualties, last night three major shows managed to post top-shelf returns during a heavily contested hour.: Despite going up against "Grey's" and "CSI," NBC's one-hour version of "The Office" at 9 p.m. matched the show's series high with a 5.1 and was up 19 percent over its 8:30 p.m. debut last year.

Overall, NBC was in third place for the night. The premiere of “My Name Is Earl” earned a 3.7, down just a tick from last year. The return of “ER” was a disaster, falling 40 percent to 4.1, and finishing last in the hour.

With all the competition, Fox’s game show lineup was pummeled. “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” posted a 2.0 and “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” had a 1.8.

The premiere of The CW’s “Smallville” was down slightly from last year to a 1.9. A “Reaper” encore at 9 p.m. had a 1.0—pretty good considering the lethal time period and that the Tuesday premiere only got a 1.5.

Tonight: Return of the Real 'Grey's Anatomy'

September 27, 2007 5:49 PM

Kate Walsh and Isaiah Washington have left their protected Thursday night home to brave the harsh elements, protected only by their Wednesday night freshman dramas. So will viewers still flock to “Grey’s Anatomy” in the same massive numbers as last season?

Also, ABC hopes to convince viewers of its female-centric ensemble drama to stay tuned at 10 p.m. for a program whose working title was “Big Dicks”—it’s now called “Big Shots.”

Also, NBC tries its one-hour “Office” trick. Longer means funnier, right?

'Kitchen Nightmares' Lawsuit Episode Airs

September 27, 2007 3:07 PM

Kitchen NightmaresLast night Fox aired the infamous episode of “Kitchen Nightmares” that prompted a lawsuit accusing star Gordon Ramsay of faking scenes.

As the chef warned, the episode contained revolting footage of spoiled pantry food at an insect-plagued New York eatery. With the restaurant’s employees appearing to agree to Ramsay’s findings, the episode should remove suspicions that the sanitation issues may have been staged by producers of the show.

The lawsuit’s plaintiff, Martin Hyde, was the general manager of Dillon’s restaurant and lost his job during the production. Hyde says the restaurant’s sanitation problems were the fault of a kitchen manager who was fired a week before the show was taped. Without the other manager around, Hyde says Ramsay targeted him instead.

With an owner and several managers shown running the restaurant, the show did seem to stretch in blaming Dillon’s assortment of sanitation, culinary and customer service problems on a single person. At one point, a co-worker is shown defending Hyde, then she was silenced by Ramsay.

The episode concluded with an upbeat ending that led viewers to believe Ramsay’s makeover was successful.

The lawsuit claims the restaurant was shut down by the New York City Board of Health about a week after taping.

Fox Plans DVD Release of ‘Family Guy’ ‘Star Wars’ Parody

September 27, 2007 12:17 PM

Family GuyWhy is Fox being stingy about making its record-setting “Family Guy” season premiere available online?

Because producer 20th Century Fox Television is readying a special DVD of the “Star Wars”-themed episode, sources confirm.

The DVD will feature an extended cut of the episode, which is titled "Blue Harvest,” and an assortment of extras.

The release date and features are still under discussion, but here’s the current plan: Extras include about three minutes of additional footage, bringing the show’s running time to about 47 minutes; commentary by creator Seth MacFarlane and other “Family Guy” staff; two minutes of footage converted to 3-D and viewable with 3-D glasses; interviews with MacFarlane, “Star Wars” creator George Lucas and others; and a booklet about the episode’s artwork.

The downside for “Family Guy” fans: The DVD might not come out until next year. The studio was originally looking to fast-track the release. Now the tentative release date is January.

‘Bionic Woman’ Highest-Rated New Show So Far; Beats ‘Private Practice’

September 27, 2007 10:29 AM

bionicwomanblog.jpg Finally, the buzz paid off.

After a slew of much-hyped new shows premiered to merely average ratings, NBC’s heavily marketed “Bionic Woman” conquered a tough field of new and returning shows to win the Wednesday night battleground.

"Bionic" earned a 5.5 rating among adults 18 to 49, topping the premiere of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" spinoff "Private Practice," which earned a 5.1. "Bionic" is the highest-rated freshman premiere so far this fall, with "Private" coming in second. "Bionic" won its hour despite "Private" having a stronger lead-in and ranks as the highest-rated Wednesday-night NBC series premiere since "The West Wing" in 1999.

“Bionic” fueled the debut of NBC’s cop drama “Life,” which earned a strong 4.1 rating to win the 10 p.m. hour and rank as the third best-rated new show. “Life” topped the season premiere of “CSI: NY” (3.7, down 26 percent from last year) and the debut of ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money” (3.6, down 22 percent from the premiere of “The Nine” last year, which benefited from a stronger “Lost” lead-in).

The “Bionic” vs. “Private” showdown wounded the rest of the 9 p.m. field. CBS’ “Criminal Minds” was down 22 percent from last year to a 3.5, Fox’s “Kitchen Nightmares” dropped 22 percent in its second week to a 2.4 and The CW’s “Gossip Girl” fell 25 percent to an anorexic 1.2.

At 8 p.m., the “Dancing With the Stars” results show won the hour (an on-par 4.0), followed by the second week of “Kid Nation” (2.8, dropping 10 percent). NBC’s “Deal or No Deal” (2.6) and Fox’s “Back to You” (2.8, down 10 percent) and “Til Death” (2.4) followed. The CW’s “America’s Next Top Model” stayed strong with a 2.4.

Overall, ABC nudged out NBC for the nightly win by a tenth of a point, followed by CBS, Fox and The CW. Among total viewers, ABC's Wednesday night victory was more pronounced, and "Private" topped "Bionic" in overall audience.

Ever since the May upfronts when networks unveiled their fall schedules, Wednesdays have been the most-discussed night, given the intense array of competition. “Bionic” has topped buzz-tracking measures all summer, while the reputation of “Private Practice” was dented by a backdoor pilot that aired in May. In the past week, however, any sense that buzz produces viewers seemed to go out the window as the drumbeats of publicity for CBS’ “Kid Nation,” NBC’s “Chuck” and The CW’s “Reaper” went largely unheeded.

The only safe bet for breakout numbers seemed to be with returning hits, such as NBC’s “Heroes” and Fox’s “House.” Both “Bionic” and “Private” (the latter of which, had it aired on any other night, would have likely dominated headlines this morning) show that freshman premieres can still draw significant tune-in.

Updated at 11:05 a.m.

Tonight: The TiVo Buster

September 26, 2007 5:52 PM

Sept. 26, 9 p.m.: NBC's "Bionic Woman" vs. ABC's "Private Practice" vs. CBS's "Criminal Minds" vs. Fox's "Kitchen Nightmares" vs. The CW's "Gossip Girl."

Network oddsmakers are putting their chips on "Private" to beat key contender "Bionic." "Science fiction," said one analyst, holding his fingers a few inches apart, "compared to 'Grey's Anatomy' spin-off," spreading his hands wide. ("Heroes" notwithstanding, of course).

Other burning questions include how CBS’s "Kid Nation" wrangles week two, if viewers will check out ABC's "Dirty Sexy Money" and whether NBC viewers will stick around after "Bionic" for a show that sounds like a breakfast cereal.

Why Tonight’s 'Bionic Woman' Doesn’t Matter But Next Week’s Does

September 26, 2007 12:21 PM

NBC’s “Bionic Woman” pilot has never quite been good enough. Parts have been re-shot. A part has been re-cast. An executive producer has been hired and fired.

The pilot is, in other words, like Jamie Sommers—an assembly of pieces by a team that keeps trying to build something that’s better and stronger.

The result has arguably been seen by more people than any other broadcast show before its debut—either downloaded illegally on BitTorrent or legally on Amazon. Free pilots normally don’t negatively impact premiere ratings. But an argument can be made that a fair chunk of potential “Bionic” fans have already seen the first episode and the resulting word of mouth is a resounding “Eh...”

The second episode and beyond is a whole ‘nother story. This is the potential fresh start to a still-promising series where the writers and producers either improved on their pilot awkwardness, or didn’t. Remember, last season “Heroes” didn’t really hit its stride for several episodes.

Beyond the creative, the second episode is also an industry keystone. Next week introduces controversial former “Grey’s Anatomy” cast member Isaiah Washington as a supporting character.

NBC Co-Chair Ben Silverman’s seemingly spur-of-the-moment decision in July to add the actor to the cast was a pure mad-scientist move, a so-crazy-it-just-might-work act of executive chutzpah that sent the industry and media into a puzzled spin. Did he cast Washington for the publicity? To irk and counter-program ABC, whose “Grey’s” spinoff “Private Practice” is scheduled against “Bionic”? Or simply because, as Silverman says, Washington is a good actor?

For all the Clinton-esque media gawking that the charismatic executive has inspired, Silverman’s NBC programming report card is still largely blank. Whatever logic powers Silverman's bionic decision-making process, viewer response to Washington will be one of the first primetime trials of his NBC tenure.

‘House’ Breaks Records; ‘Cane’ and ‘Reaper’ Post Average Debuts

September 26, 2007 11:55 AM

houseblog.jpgThe return of “House” was Fox’s highest-rated drama premiere in nearly seven years.

“House” came back with a 7.7 rating among adults 18 to 49—the best showing ever for the show without an “American Idol” lead-in. The show was up 7 percent over its premiere last season and boasted the biggest premiere rating so far this fall.

New series, however, continued to struggle for break-out viewership, with CBS’s “Cane” and The CW’s “Reaper” posting average returns.

“Cane” placed second in the 10 p.m. hour with a 2.9, building slightly on its “The Unit” season premiere lead-in (2.8). “Cane” was down 19 percent in the demo from the premiere of last year’s “Smith” in the time period and matched the November premiere of “3 Lbs” in the slot.

“Reaper” had a 1.5 rating (and a 1.8 among the network’s 18-to-34 target demographic), matching its “Beauty and the Geek” lead-in. The network points out that “Reaper” improved its time period by 7 percent compared to the “Veronica Mars” debut last year and built slightly among 18-to-34.

Overall Fox took the night with the season premiere of “Bones” (3.2, up 19 percent from last year) and “House.”

NBC and ABC tied for second place. NBC had a two-hour “Biggest Loser” (3.0) and the premiere of “Law & Order: SVU” (4.8, slipping 8 percent from last year but firmly winning the hour).

ABC aired part two of their “Dancing With the Stars” premiere (4.7, dropping 19 percent from Monday’s launch), followed by the season premiere of “Boston Legal” (2.5, the show’s lowest premiere ever).

CBS came in third place with the most consistent viewership across the board, with the premieres of “NCIS” (3.1) and “Unit” (2.8), both slightly down from last year, and “Cane” (2.9).

The CW was last with “Beauty & the Geek” (1.5, dipping slightly from last week) and “Reaper” (1.5).

Fox Pulls 'Nashville' For 'K-Ville' Repeats

September 25, 2007 5:46 PM

Looks like Fox isn’t going let “Nashville” coast after all. After two episodes, the network is pulling the Friday night docu-soap reality show in favor of “K-Ville” repeats for at least two weeks. The show debuted to a 1.0 rating among adults 18 to 49, then dropped to a 0.8 last week.

“K-Ville” repeats will run in the slot Sept. 28 and Oct. 5, then Major League Baseball will take over. Fox claims “Nashville” will return Nov. 9 (which is a shame – a network officially canceling a fall show on the first day of the season has a nihilistic ring about it).

No word whether Fox will make like NBC’s “Heroes” and take advantage of Nielsen’s new repeat-cume-ratings combo opportunity.

Also: Tonight is the debut of The CW’s much-loved “Reaper.” Since the re-shoots, the pilot has the bonus entertainment value of Bret Harrison’s hair and eyebrows switching from brown to dark blonde every time he shares the frame with newly cast love-interest Missy Peregrym.

Also: Rouse the Emmy voters, ABC’s “Boston Legal” returns. Plus, CBS’s reasonably entertaining “Cane” debuts. The show is burdened with the lamest marketing tagline of the fall season – “Power is Sweet” – while “Reaper” has the arguably the best – “Meet Satan’s Biggest Tools.” Not that such things count for much, but you gotta give points for style.

Plus, the return of Fox’s “Bones” and “House;” CBS’s “NCIS” and “The Unit.”

ABC Edges Out NBC’s ‘Heroes’-Heavy Monday

September 25, 2007 12:14 PM

All of NBC’s buzz-building billboards, Comic-Con screenings, fan outreach and online pilots to promote its Monday-night lineup were edged out by the prospect of Mark Cuban waltzing.

ABC earned a narrow victory for the first night of the fall broadcast season with “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Bachelor,” while the return of NBC’s “Heroes” was the highest-rated show of the evening.

The 90-minute “Dancing” had a 5.8 preliminary rating among adults 18 to 49, up a tick from year’s premiere, followed by a 3.5 rating for “Bachelor,” up 13 percent from last year. ABC boasted it was the only network to enjoy across-the-board gains last night compared to last season.

NBC came in second with its trio of hero-driven dramas, a mere tenth of a rating point behind ABC. The premiere of “Chuck” garnered a solid 3.6 rating, but was down 18 percent from the premiere of “Deal or No Deal” last fall. “Heroes” came back strong with a 6.5, up 10 percent from last year’s premiere and its best rating since last March. Viewership dropped for the debut of “Journeyman,” however, which had a 3.7—disappointing considering its lead-in.

There won’t be any national ratings for “Heroes” later today, because NBC has opted to take advantage of a recent Nielsen rule change that allows broadcast networks to add an encore presentation and mix together the ratings for both airings. NBC will re-air “Heroes” on Saturday and add its viewership to the current “Heroes” tally. This is the first time a network has opted for this and some competitors are annoyed, feeling the move allows NBC to double-dip for a number.

CBS was third with the premieres of “How I Met Your Mother” (3.2, down slightly from last year), “The Big Bang Theory” (a respectable 3.7), “Two and a Half Men” (4.7, down a tick) and “Rules of Engagement” (4.4, also down a notch). At 10 p.m., “CSI: Miami” dropped 21 percent from last year’s premiere to a 4.6.

Fox came in fourth, with “Prison Break” holding up admirably in its second week with a 3.1 rating. At 9 p.m., “K-Ville” got k-illed with a 2.3 rating, down from last week’s 3.3.

This morning Fox’s competitors are chortling over a promo that ran during last night’s “Prison Break” that called “K-Ville” the “No. 1 new drama of the season” among adults 18 to 49. Given only two new dramas actually aired before Monday night, this claim essentially brags that “K-Ville” beat The CW’s “Gossip Girl.”

Speaking of The CW, the network came in fifth with repeats.

Also: The networks are pointing out the latest DVR-penetration estimates, which have increased to 19.4 percent. Instead of “flat is the new up,” one network analyst said he expects the premiere week mantra to be: “Down 10 percent is the new flat.”

Fox’s Eco-Party Report: A Tree Grows in WeHo

September 25, 2007 10:23 AM

If you’ve ever had an obnoxious friend who flirts with your dates and never picks up the tab, then finds religion and becomes serenely polite and empties his pockets for homeless panhandlers, then you know what it’s like to watch rascally Fox’s abrupt embrace of Rupert Murdoch’s eco-initiative. You respect and appreciate the effort, though you may have a hard time taking it all entirely seriously.

For its part, Fox leaves few stones unturned (or unprotected) when hosting its eco-themed events. On Monday night, the network hosted its second-annual eco-charity party at Area nightclub in West Los Angeles. From the e-mailed party invite: "Parking Password: 'Cool Change.' No other parking pass is required (we're saving paper)."

Arriving at the party, I was very much looking forward to using a secret parking password – “Cool change! [wink]” -- but the parking attendant didn’t ask for one.

Inside, Fox executives and talent mixed it up with the usual bar-and-buffet and casino games, with the eco-themed addition of a good-cause donation booth and charity spin. Executives were in high spirits following the performance of Sunday night’s “Family Guy,” which gave the network a clear win after a week of decent but unspectacular premieres.

On the way out, partygoers were handed gift bags made from recycled Fox billboards. The bags contained one of those energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs that “An Inconvenient Truth” recommended, a candle made from soybeans (no, it doesn’t smell like burning edamame) and a bottle of Icelandic Glacial bottled water.

The Icelandic Glacial bottled water has a picture of an iceberg on it. One can’t help but imagine a bottled-water company siphoning up the remains of a melting polar ice cap, then selling it to eco-conscious shoppers at Whole Foods for $2.80 a quart.

Finally, partygoers were given a tree. Not a house plant. A petite, potted tree.

“This will eventually grow into a tree that’s 25 feet high,” says the Fox staffer as she hands out the pots, not realizing how frightening a prospect this is to the apartment and condo dwellers of West Los Angeles.

Now at home, the tree sits on the coffee table like a challenge. Water me, see what happens…

Tonight: 'Heroes' Starts the Fall Season

September 24, 2007 4:09 PM

Just how important is tonight for NBC?

It’s the official start of the fall broadcast season and NBC premieres “Chuck,” “Heroes” and “Journeyman.” That’s half the network’s new dramas and its biggest returning show.

The giant “Heroes” buzz machine is dimmed only by its May season finale, which disappointed some viewers (muddled writing, character fates unclear, anticlimactic staging). The relentless summer marketing for the show has likewise felt like the old song, “How can I miss you when you won’t go away?”

Still, industry oddsmakers predict a home run. The fate of “Chuck” and “Journeyman” are less certain. “Chuck” has the buzz; “Journeyman” has the lead-in.

Aside from NBC, executives at other networks, in a weird way, are also rooting for “Heroes.” With broadcast ratings continuing to degrade and “flat is the new up,” nobody wants to see a smart, young-skewing sophomore drama that’s mostly done everything right come back to a Nielsen face-plant. If “Heroes” drops, what does that mean for the industry as a whole?

Also tonight: Eyes will be on Fox’s “Prison Break” and “K-Ville” to see how last week’s performance holds up against heavy competition. ABC gets into the fall game with the return of “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Bachelor.” CBS’s comedy block returns with the addition of “The Big Bang Theory.”

NBC, Fox Dominate Sunday

September 24, 2007 1:11 PM

NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” continues to climb, but premieres on the CBS and The CW fumbled in the overnight ratings.

NBC’s presentation of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys vs. Chicago Bears earned a 7.0 among adults 18 to 49, winning the night. It was the best Sunday game so far this month for NBC and was up 28 percent compared with last year’s comparable Broncos-Patriots game.

Fox came in second with some NFL overrun, followed by high-quality numbers for its animated comedy slate. “The Simpsons” was down 11 percent from last year’s premiere, but still managed its best rating in eight months (4.7). “King of the Hill” had its best rating in nearly four years (3.7). The one-hour “Star Wars”-themed episode of “Family Guy” scored its best rating since the show returned to Fox in 2005 (5.5). “Family Guy” was the highest rated non-sports programming of the night.

CBS was a distant third with the season premiere of “60 Minutes” (2.3), the finale of “Power of 10” (a series-low 1.7) and the premieres of “Cold Case” (3.0) and “Shark” (a series-low 2.7).

Compared to last year’s CBS lineup of “The Amazing Race,” “Cold Case” and “Without a Trace,” that’s down significantly. The network pointed out that NBC’s football ratings were ginormous and the shows were debuting out of season instead of in-season.

Another factor was the premiere of Ken Burns’ documentary “The War” on PBS. Although 18 to 49 ratings are not yet available, PBS said the two-and-a-half-hour premiere was seen by an impressive 7.3 million viewers, which likely impacted CBS’ viewership.

ABC was fourth with repeats and season-setup clip shows from “Desperate Housewives” (3.1) and “Brothers & Sisters” (1.7).

The CW was fifth. The premieres of newsmagazine show “CW Now” (0.2) and user-generated home video clip show “Online Nation” (0.3) crashed spectacularly. Repeats followed.

Also: The premiere of Fox’s Friday night docu-soap reality series “Nashville” was largely overlooked last week due to Emmy mayhem. Sometimes a network launches a show with low expectations and the program takes them by surprise. In this case, Fox launched “Nashville” and got roughly what they expected, though not as much as they’d hoped.

The Sept. 21st premiere earned a 1.0 rating. Last Friday, that dropped to a 0.8. The show isn’t doing any favors for partner “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader,” which had its worst performance to date on Friday (1.3).

Before holding any death vigils, sources say Fox plans to keep the series on the air for the time being. With fellow musical reality show “The Next Great American Band” hitting Friday nights starting Oct. 19 and some Major League Baseball games also coming soon, the network sees little point in yanking the show prematurely from its perch.

‘Family Guy’ Producers May Take Whack at ‘Empire Strikes Back’ Next

September 24, 2007 12:30 PM

Sunday night’s one-hour “Star Wars” parody episode of Fox’s “Family Guy” was such a ratings success that producers are considering devoting an episode to “The Empire Strikes Back” next year.

The season premiere featured characters from “Family Guy” performing a compressed re-enactment of the 1977 film, using the original sound effects and John Williams’ musical score.

Posting a 5.5 preliminary rating among adults 18 to 49, the episode was the highest-rated “Family Guy” since the show returned to Fox in 2005 (full weekend ratings will be posted soon). A spokesman for 20th Century Fox Television said there’s no official announcement on a sequel, but doing “Empire” next year “seems likely.”

In an interview conducted before the episode aired, executive producer Chris Sheridan said the staff wants to do “Empire” if Sunday’s episode performed well. The parodies could give “Family Guy” an annual format-breaking event like “The Simpsons’” popular Halloween episodes.

But if you missed last night’s episode (titled “Blue Harvest”—the production code name of “Return of the Jedi”), future viewing opportunities are scarce. The day after airing, “Family Guy” episodes typically are available on Fox’s video player, or for purchase on Xbox 360 and other electronic retailers. For the time being, Fox is holding back “Blue Harvest” and has no current plans for an encore presentation. Fox also kept the episode off iTunes, where it uploaded premiere episodes for several other shows last week. (Note: A reader pointed out in the blog comments that Adult Swim airs "Family Guy" encores. According to the network's Web site, "Blue Harvest" is slated for Oct. 14 at 11 p.m.).

The parody was produced with the full cooperation of George Lucas. The unusual partnership between the envelope-pushing cartoon and the famously protective “Star Wars” creator was part corporate synergy, part creative respect.

“This is a relationship that’s built over time,” Sheridan says. “There are a lot of ‘Star Wars’ fans on staff. We do ‘Star Wars’ references on the show. Lucasfilm has been a fan.”

Parody doesn’t necessarily require the permission of a copyright owner. When “Family Guy” had the idea to do a full “Star Wars” parody, with some scenes matching shot-for-shot the original film, producers sought out Lucas for a couple of reasons. First, Fox distributes the “Star Wars” films, so there’s an existing relationship to protect. Second, “Family Guy” wanted access to the film’s original sound effects and music.

Then things got a little tricky. “Family Guy” writers wanted to retain the show’s wicked (and sometime lurid) sense of humor, without alienating Lucas.

“‘Family Guy’ is a pretty edgy show. There was some thought of [what Lucas might think] in the process, but we wanted to stay true to our show,” Sheridan says.

There were a few minor concessions, such as getting rid of some double-layered incest humor between Luke Skywalker (played in the show by the family’s teenage son) and his sister Princess Leia (played in the episode by Chris’ mom).

“There was a couple things that they wanted us to tone down, but we’re used to getting those kind of notes from Standards,” Sheridan says.

UPDATE: Why is Fox being stingy about making "Blue Harvest" available online? Because 20th Century Fox Television is fast-tracking a special DVD of the episode, sources say. The DVD will feature an extended cut of "Harvest," possibly include an interview with George Lucas and other features. Running time and release date are not nailed down.

Amazon Customers Rate 'Chuck' Best of NBC's New Shows

September 21, 2007 3:00 PM

An unexpected byproduct of NBC offering its fall drama slate for free download on Amazon.com’s Unbox video service: The shows are being formally reviewed by customers, just like any other Amazon product, before most critics take their turn next week.

“Chuck” is receiving the highest marks, as of Friday earning four-and-a-half stars out of five. “Life” and “Journeyman” average four stars. The most heavily promoted show of the pack, “Bionic Woman,” is deemed worthy of merely three-and-a-half stars.

Some of the reviews, particularly on “Bionic,” give low marks due to gripes about the Unbox player. But the reviews provide a rough consensus of opinion on the strengths and weaknesses of the slate. Though NBC officially takes little notice of fan comments, sources said network executive are aware of the reviews and can’t help but read along as premiere week looms.

Unlike most Amazon products, the free downloads are not ranked by popularity. If the number of reviews are an accurate indication, “Bionic” is the most downloaded, followed by “Chuck,” “Journeyman” and “Life.”

Of course, fans critiquing pilot previews online is nothing new. But the established Amazon.com system of registered customers provides more credibility and organization than your typically chaotic message board.

This isn’t to say the Amazon.com system is anywhere close to foolproof. Though an NBC representative denied using viral marketers to post bogus reviews, some of the comments seem suspect. Take this first-time Amazon.com poster reviewing the upcoming cop drama “Life.”

“This show has something for everyone. Plenty of ‘eye candy’ thanks to Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi. Wonderful performances from Damian (as always!), from Sarah and from everyone in it. A very clever, well-written script that will appeal to people who like television that is intelligent, engaging, entertaining, suspenseful, humorous, ... I am so-o-o-o hooked! I'm looking forward to the official broadcast premiere on September 26, and for the weeks, months and years of Life that follow!”


'Survivor: China' Lowest Premiere in Series History

September 21, 2007 9:35 AM

Thursday night’s premiere of “Survivor: China” was the lowest-rated debut in the reality show’s history, declining a steep 25 percent from last fall’s “Cook Islands,” and down 14 percent from last spring’s “Fiji” edition.

The 15th edition of the show earned a 4.9 preliminary rating among adults 18 to 49 and was easily the highest-rated program of the night.

The curious thing about this: CBS would have been ecstatic to earn a 4.9 for Wednesday’s debut of “Kid Nation” — the network’s other challenge-filled 8 p.m. reality show premiering this week. Yet for the veteran “Survivor” series, this number is a disappointment. Success and failure are not about the ratings, they’re about the expectations.

CBS won the night with “Survivor” and repeats.

Fox was second, establishing their fall Thursday night reality block of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” (2.3) and “Don’t Forget the Lyrics” (2.9).

NBC was third, ABC fourth and The CW fifth with repeats.

Photo Finish For 'Kid Nation' and 'Kitchen Nightmares' in Reality Premiere Battle

September 20, 2007 9:13 AM

UPDATED 3 p.m.: Last night's trio of major broadcast network premieres resulted in a three-way tie for first place.

CBS's controversial "Kid Nation," Fox's Kelsey Grammer sitcom "Back to You" and Fox's reality makeover series "Kitchen Nightmares" all earned a 3.1 rating among adults 18 to 49.

The figures are based on the national Nielsen ratings, which bumped up "Kid Nation" a notch since this morning's preliminary tallies. A 3.1 rating is considered a gray-area premiere figure, neither impressive nor embarrassing, particularly for reality shows.

For CBS, the rating means "Kid Nation" won the 8 p.m. hour. For Fox, "Back to You" held even with CBS for the first half of 8 p.m. and was up 24 percent in the demo from last year's "Bones" season premiere.

At 9 p.m., "Kitchen Nightmares" won the hour, improving over last year's debut in the time period, but down from the Monday night season premiere of Gordon Ramsay's other Fox series, "Hell's Kitchen," in June.

Among total viewers, the showdown was slightly more diverse: 9.5 million watched "Back to You," 9.4 million tuned in to watch "Kid Nation" and 6.6 million checked out "Kitchen Nightmares."

Overnight reviews on “Kid Nation” -- which was not screened for critics -- were generally positive. The Los Angeles Times called it “artificial yet adorable.” MSNBC says the kids “were real and rather entertaining.” The New York Post said it was “just an average reality show, yet one that deserves another look.” But the Boston Globe says it’s “as much fun as baby-sitting overtired tots who've had one too many Sweet Tarts.”

The reality series, which has been threatened with advertiser boycotts due to accusations of child exploitation, aired with very few ads. The first commercial break aired after 8:30 p.m. CBS said the premiere was originally supposed to run as a 90-minute episode. Edited down for a one-hour time slot, the show was still longer than usual, clocking in at 58 minutes rather than the typical 44.

"An extended run of programming at top of a new show is a strategy we've used on previous reality shows such as 'Survivor,'" a CBS spokesperson said. "There was less inventory than usual due to the length of the episode. Next week we have a full commercial load."

Other premieres last night include The CW's "America's Next Top Model" (2.5) and "Gossip Girl" (1.7). None of the Wednesday premieres hit high Nielsen notes, or even topped Fox's "K-Ville" debut earlier this week.

Overall, Fox handily won the night with "Back to You," the season premiere of "Til' Death" (2.7 --down 13 percent from last year's premiere) and "Nightmares." The win should help bolster Fox for the upcoming Wednesday night battleground, which next week heats up with the premiere of heavy-hitting scripted shows like ABC's "Private Practice" and NBC's "Bionic Woman."

NBC was second with the time-period premiere of “Deal or No Deal” and the season finale of “Last Comic Standing” (2.9).

CBS was third with "Nation" and repeats.

The CW was fourth with the premieres of "Top Model" and "Gossip Girl," which helped lead the network to a three-way tie with Fox and NBC among The CW's target demographic of adults 18 to 34. "Model" was up 4 percent among adults 18 to 49 compared to last fall's premiere. The "Gossip" opening was modest, though had the highest retention ever of a "Top Model" lead-in among the network's key demo.

ABC was fifth with repeats and a "Grey's Anatomy" special (2.5) and "Primetime" (2.0).

Tonight: The Two KNs

September 19, 2007 3:29 PM

CBS’s “Kid Nation” has likely received more pre-air press than any other reality show since the network launched “Survivor” in 2000. The most recent wave of media reports have centered on CBS’s decision to not send the premiere episode to critics. For the network, that was an easy call. Reviews could only demystify the show, burst the bubble of anticipation that’s built up over months of high-drama publicity. Also, the network surely suspects critics have their minds made up about the show, and screeners would just provide another stick to beat them with.

As for the rating, the tracking research is all over the place, so predictions are tough. There’s an easy argument to be made for the show opening huge or soft. The critical response that follows is likely easier to foresee. Not because the show is good or bad, but because the reality boogeyman that’s built up in the minds of those following the controversy cannot possibly live up to what the show has always been: Kids completing a series of reality show challenges.

Fox’s “Kitchen Nightmares” hasn’t received nearly the same amount press as “Nation,” yet seems poised to deliver a solid rating.

Also premiering tonight: The CW’s “America’s Next Top Model” and “Gossip Girl” and Fox’s “Back to You.”

The CW’s Sleeping ‘Beauty’

September 19, 2007 11:59 AM

The CW has been in a self-induced ratings coma all summer, intentionally running on a strict repeat diet (burning off “Hidden Palms” doesn’t count) that has resulted in epic-low ratings as they bide their time for fall.

The strategy risks putting The CW back to square one as it tries to establish itself in its sophomore season. If last night’s return to originals with the two-hour premiere of “Beauty and the Geek” is any indication, that’s exactly what happened.

“Beauty” averaged a 1.7 rating among adults 18 to 49 (and a 2.0 among the network’s 18 to 34 target demo) and the network finished in last place for the night.

Those figures match The CW’s first Tuesday of original programming last fall—back when the network’s executives were telling reporters to go easy because viewers didn’t know where to find the channel.

“Beauty” has never aired in the fall before, but compared to January’s “Beauty” premiere, Tuesday night’s edition was down 22 percent among viewers 18 to 49 and down 31 percent in the 18 to 34 demo.

With great buzz on “Reaper” and good buzz on “Aliens in America” and “Gossip Girl,” The CW has some enviable product this fall. But it no longer has the mantra “We launched an entire network in nine months” to fall back on.

As for the rest of the Tuesday ratings field, NBC won the night with “The Biggest Loser” (growing from last week’s premiere to a 3.3). CBS was second with “Power of 10” (1.9) and the season finale of “Big Brother” (3.3, matching its season high). ABC was third with a pair of “Just for Laughs” episodes (1.8 and 2.2) and the special “Elvis: Viva Las Vegas” (1.8). Fox was fourth with repeats.

Fox's 'K-Ville' Premiere Tops Monday Ratings

September 18, 2007 11:08 AM

The first fall freshman drama series is out of the gate and off to a promising start.

The debut of Fox’s New Orleans cop drama “K-Ville” built on its “Prison Break” lead-in and won the night.

“K-Ville" earned a 3.4 rating among adults 18 to 49. The number built on the third-season premiere of “Prison Break,” which garnered a 3.2.

"'K-Ville' debuted to very solid numbers and we're very happy for Jonathan Lisco, Anthony, Cole and the entire cast and crew," said Fox Entertainment Chairman Peter Liguori. "We certainly can't rest now, but it's a great start."

The “Prison” premiere was down 14 percent from last year (which, in turn, was down from its debut season), yet narrowly won the 8 p.m. hour. Some feel “Prison” is so heavily serialized that, by this point, you’re either a fan or you’re not, so a third-season dip isn’t a surprise.

The premieres gave Fox a Monday-night victory, with CBS coming in second with repeats.

NBC was third with the season premiere of “Deal or No Deal” (3.1) followed by “Singing Bee” (2.8), then a repeat.

“Deal” was down a steep 30 percent from last year, yet had less premiere competition. NBC has done a terrific job promoting its fall freshman dramas, but the game show originals may have snuck up on viewers anticipating more summer repeats.

ABC was fourth with reality repeats and The CW was fifth.

Sci Fi Executives Weigh 'Battlestar Galactica' Options

September 18, 2007 7:53 AM

The Sci Fi Channel is wrestling with a pair of key decisions for its acclaimed “Battlestar Galactica” series: whether to break the highly anticipated final chapter into two 10-episode seasons, and deciding whether to greenlight a two-hour pilot for the long-gestating “Caprica” spinoff.

Sci Fi executives attending the NBC Universal pre-Emmy party at Spago in Beverly Hills Saturday said the decision whether to split the final season was an ongoing discussion, but at least one network programmer was firmly against the idea.

As is often the case with the lavishly produced series, the issue is “the money people,” as one executive put it. Since “Battlestar” eats a considerable portion of the Sci Fi programming budget, the network might be forced to spread the resulting product across two seasons.

Showrunner Ron Moore shrugged off the issue. “It doesn’t affect my job either way, since we’re shooting it straight through,” he says. “It might be better to get it all done [in the same year] for the fans so they don’t have to wait.”

Ideally, the programming department prefers to stick to its original game plan to wrap up the series in the first half of next year. HBO broke up the final season of “The Sopranos” across two years – which makes more sense for a popular series on a premium network that’s seeking to retain subscribers – but still managed to antagonize fans and lost some viewership.

With “Battlestar” fans already waiting about a year for the return of the series -- not counting the two-hour “Razor” stand-alone movie coming this fall -- returning with only 10 episodes could spark a revolt.

Moore’s storyline also could make fans demand rapid closure, one person close to the project says, since “when people see the ending of the 10th episode, they’re gonna freak out.”

The final decision might not come until January. A key factor is what new shows are in the pipeline that could be paired with “Galactica” – and how much those shows will cost.

One such title is the oft-discussed “Caprica” spinoff series. Most recently presumed a dead project, Sci Fi executives seem to have renewed enthusiasm for the idea, especially with the looming prospect of losing Moore following the conclusion of “Battlestar.” Moore has about four projects in development at NBC and a flurry of theatrical deals (more on that in a moment), and the network wants to find a way to keep the talented showrunner in-house.

Plus, executives say “Caprica” has the potential to retain and expand the passionate “Battlestar” audience. The tone is lighter and more of a character-driven drama than an action series. The network is considering ordering a two-hour pilot that could serve as a stand-alone event – just like the miniseries that launched Moore’s “Battlestar” remake. The movie would be accompanied by a consecutive DVD release.

Especially if the similarly conceived stand-alone “Razor” performs strongly, the thinking seems to be that a two-hour “Caprica” pilot could justify its expense. Worst-case scenario: The pilot is aired and sold as a DVD, recouping some costs. If the pilot is strong, then the network has a new series.

Either way, by the time “Battlestar” returns next year, Sci Fi Channel will have launched its high-definition simulcast channel, allowing viewers to finally see the show in HD during its premiere run.

As for Moore’s other anticipated sci-fi project, he says he just turned in his script for Universal's motion picture update of John Carpenter’s 1982 version of “The Thing.”

“I’m happy with it,” Moore says, and described the script as “a companion piece” rather than a remake of the Carpenter version. “That film doesn’t need to be remade,” he says. Moore’s script includes segments set long before the modern discovery of the shape-shifting alien in the Arctic, including an encounter with the Inuit natives.

Moore was Emmy-nominated for writing in a drama series, but he wasn’t very optimistic about winning. Up against the “Sopranos” finale, Moore wrestled with whether to write a speech.

“I’m very prepared to hear David Chase’s name float across the auditorium,” he said.

Emmy Ratings Lowest in at Least 15 Years

September 17, 2007 1:29 PM

Despite some critics calling the 59th Emmy Awards the most entertaining in years, the Fox telecast was the lowest-rated Emmy presentation since at least 1991.

Sunday’s awards telecast, facing heavy competition from NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” earned a 4.3 preliminary rating among adults 18 to 49. That’s down 17 percent from last year’s telecast on NBC.

The Emmys still won the night among non-sports programming, good enough to land Fox in second place.

The numbers continue the Emmys’ recent downward ratings spiral.

Fox’s Emmy red-carpet coverage garnered a 2.9, but that number is even more approximate than most due to NFL overrun coverage.

Fox wasn’t the only network taking a hit, however. Although NBC topped the night with its football game, Fox’s Emmy competition took its toll. The San Diego Chargers vs. New England Patriots match pulled a 5.8 rating, down 24 percent from last week’s game. The pre-show “Football Night in America” earned a 3.3.

CBS was third, with football a strong lead-in for “60 Minutes” (3.4), then “Big Brother” (2.6) and repeats.

ABC was fourth with repeats and a second-run movie. The CW was fifth with repeats.

Sally Field Speaks Out at the Emmys

September 16, 2007 8:25 PM

Sally Field gave a heartfelt affirmation of motherhood on the Emmy stage when accepting her award for ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" that segued into a criticism of the Iraq War.

“At the heart of [her character] Nora Walker, she is a mother,” Field said. “May they be seen, may their work be valued and raised, and to especially the mothers who stand with an open heart and wait – wait for their children to come home for from danger, from harm’s way and from war. I’m not finished. I have to finish talking … if the mothers ruled the world there would be no goddamn wars in the first place.”

When she said “goddamn” onstage, however, Fox censors apparently took the opportuntity to bleep the rest of her comments.

“I wanted to say someting about the mothers who wait for their military children to come home from harm's way,” she said backstage. “I said at the end that if mothers ruled the world, there would be no wars."

When asked if she minded that her comments may have been cut off, she said, “Oh well.”

“I've been there before,” she addd. “If [mothers] ruled the world we wouldn't be sending our children off to be slaughtered. I shouldn’t have said the ‘god’ before the damn.”


Fox has released a statement on Sally Field's Emmycast bleeping.

"Some language during the live broadcast may have been considered inappropriate by some viewers," reads the statement. "As a result, Fox's broadcast standards executives determined it appropriate to drop sound during those portions of the show."

The network hit the button three times last night -- when Ray Romano joked about Kelsey Grammer sleeping with his wife (in reference to his former co-star Patricia Heaton and her new show with Grammer, "Back to You"); when Katherine Heigl mouthed, "Oh shit" during her acceptance speech: and when Ms. Field used the word "goddamn."

A network representative said Fox did not censor Ms. Field's comments for their political content, noting she did talk about the war before she was cut off.

Updated at 10:06 a.m.

Yes, the Academy Really Does Like ‘Boston Legal’

September 16, 2007 8:16 PM

A gasp in the press room as James Spader wins best actor in a drama series, beating Hugh Lauire and James Gandolfini.

“I feel like I just stole a pile of money from the mob,” Spader says.

Al Gore’s Victory Lap Continues

September 16, 2007 7:28 PM

You had to know Al Gore was likely to win the Creative Achievement in Interactive Television category for his Current network when Emmy producers decided to move the wonky category from the Creative Arts ceremony to the main prime-time show (tough to imagine somebody taking the Emmy stage to accept an award on behalf of fellow nominees MLB Mosaic or the BIAP Fantasy Football Television Tracker). Gore is a mainstream celebrity now, and his global warming campaign fits with Fox’s eco-theme (an odd marriage that’s taking a while to get used to).

When he took the stage, Gore was in shouty mode rather than cool-thoughtful mode.

"We are trying to open up the television medium so that viewers can help to make television and join the conversation of democracy and reclaim American democracy by talking about the choices we have to make,” he shouted, to thunderous applause.

Then Gore added: "Current.com next month!”

Backstage, Gore was asked, as survivor of media firestorms, what Britney Spears could learn from him. He wisely avoided the question. Later, he was asked another stunt question. Somebody backstage has been asking winners the slippery and presumptive query: “What is your guiding light?”

“Boy I’ve never been asked that before,” Gore says. “The answer involves more than a catchprahse.”

(“My Name Is Earl” actress Jaime Pressly, by the way, answered the question with the stony reply: “The sun.”)

Best Reason to Change the Channel

September 16, 2007 7:08 PM

We’re deep into the bloated Emmy midsection, where categories like directing for a movie or miniseries tend to bog down the show. Thankfully, you can still catch the world premiere of the Sci Fi Channel original movie “Grizzly Rage.”

Listing guide description: “A bloodthirsty bear terrorizes a group of friends stranded in the forest.”

The even-better Sci Fi Channel Web site description: “Bears on a rampage teach a mountain town new kinds of fear.”

Poster: A roaring grizzly and the ad copy: “Now You’re in Trouble. You Made Him Angry.”

And the network wonders why “Battlestar” gets snubbed.

'Sopranos' Idolation Continues

September 16, 2007 6:56 PM

First the cast of musical “Jersey Boys” sings as part of a “Sopranos” tribute. Then the entire “Sopranos” cast and producers take the stage. They all stand there, smile, do little waves, then leave. The moment is curious. Like a USO show where celebrities are trotted out before pop culture-starved troops.

Emmy Networks: What’s at Stake

September 16, 2007 6:11 PM

HBO: Legacy. “The Sopranos” concluded in top form despite an ambiguous ending. The series has given the pay cable network a strong Emmy presence above its usual domination of the movie/miniseries categories. It’s time for Emmy to pay its respects.

NBC: Validation. The network’s comedies are arguably the best on television, yet NBC was fourth-ranked in the ratings last season. Most of its series nominations are in the comedy categories, and if “30 Rock” and “The Office” take home trophies, the wins might help promote the Peacock's Thursday-night lineup. And if by some miracle “Heroes” beats “The Sopranos” for the drama series Emmy …

ABC: Pride. ABC has 70 nominations, more than any broadcast network, but NBC is right behind with 69. Last year, NBC topped ABC, 14 wins to 11. ABC wants its nomination lead to hold up in order to prove the creative momentum that began with “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” is still in full force.

CBS: Representation. With 44 nominations, the Tiffany network has the fewest nods of Big Three broadcasters. If Neil Patrick Harris can win for supporting comedy actor, or “Two and a Half Men” can stage an upset for comedy series, their victories will keep chins held high at CBS as it launches its buzz-seeking efforts next season.

Fox: Promotion. Though Hugh Laurie winning for best actor or “American Idol” finally winning for reality competition would be nice, hosting the awards is Fox’s chance to promote its shows and newfound eco-agenda on the cusp of its usually lackluster fall.

Leave Seacrest Alone Guy

September 16, 2007 5:38 PM

There’s something patently impressive about Ryan Seacrest taking the Emmy stage for the first time moments after hosting the E! pre-show. Though Seacrest can do celebrity interviews in his sleep and is known for stuffing his schedule with on-air commitments, hosting the Emmy Awards is a globally telecast career keystone. Critics are sharpening their pens. To spend the several hours leading up to his performance doing another television show is an act of true nerve.

As Seacrest takes the stage, he seems excited but in control. He’s the opposite of an character actor. His face is opaque, you're never sure what he's thinking. It's a reason he's a solid broadcaster, but also a reason why he's a target for critics. They aren't sure he has feelings that can be hurt and hurl their snark extra hard.

Reports that he’d sing came to naught. And reports that he wasn’t going to do a monologue were seemingly Fox’s way of lowering expectations for a relatively brief attempt to warm up the crowd with a few light jokes.

“All of [the Emmy-goers] are talented, all are looking incredible and all passed on hosting this year,” he says. Then: “I’m the first host in history in the Emmys who cared enough to ask, ‘Who are you wearing?’”


September 16, 2007 5:37 PM

The animated duo of Stewie and Brian from “Family Guy” opened the show with a mocking song that managed to rhyme “Zach Braff” with “who reminds us a sitcom doesn’t have to make you laugh.” They then one-upped that by noting fourth-place NBC is reassembling the “Seinfeld” team, with Jerry appearing on “30 Rock” and “I hear Isaiah Washington is taking Kramer’s place.”

Seating Silverman

September 16, 2007 5:12 PM

There was some discussion last night at the NBC Universal party at Spago about Co-Chair Ben Silverman’s enviable array of Emmy seating choices. Silverman could (and some say should) sit with the rest of his NBC executive brethren. Or he could sit with the camera-ready nominees for “The Office” or “Ugly Betty” (both of which he executive produces and are nominated for outstanding comedy series).

The verdict was a compromise: Silverman sits with the nominees, but in the NBC “Office” camp.

Should “Betty” win, there’s the tricky etiquette question of whether the NBC executive should join the flock of “Betty” producers accepting an award for an ABC show. The consensus: Yes. Definitely. In fact, given recent jousting in the press, some at NBC relish the prospect of their programming leader taking the stage to represent their competitor’s hit.

Pre-Emmy Conventional Picks

September 16, 2007 4:10 PM

Surveying predictions from handicappers and critics, “Sopranos” is expected to dominate with its 15 nominations and pick up its second trophy for outstanding drama series. If “Sorpanos” wins, it will be the first time a series has won an outstanding drama Emmy for its final season.

The workplace-comedy three-way of “Ugly Betty,” “30 Rock” and “The Office” is at the heart of the comedy series category. Critics give a slight edge to “The Office,” which won last year and has only improved. But “Betty” is a heavily nominated series and could take the prize as well.

Outstanding drama actor is predicted to come down to Hugh Laurie (“House”) or James Gandolfini (“Sopranos”). Laurie was snubbed from a nomination last year, but critics say Gandolfini has the edge.

Drama actress is considered a tough category, with Edie Falco marginally expected to ride a “Sopranos” victory wave. But nobody counts out Sally Field (“Brothers & Sisters”), Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer”) or last year’s winner Mariska Hargitay (“Law & Order: SVU”).

Outstanding comedy actor is also a difficult choice, with Steve Carell (“The Office”) nominated twice without a win; Alec Baldwin is credited with making “30 Rock” a critical hit; Charlie Sheen (“Two and a Half Men”) has never won for the highest-rated comedy on the air. Critics are split on this one.

Outstanding comedy actress. Again, tricky, with most pundits’ chips going on “Betty” star America Ferrera.

Welcome Back

September 16, 2007 4:07 PM

Twenty minutes ago: A shuttle van stuffed with Emmy-goers who parked in the Shrine Auditorium’s cheap-seats garage stops at an intersection just in time to see a car slam full force into another vehicle that’s making a left turn.

The head of the impacted driver, a large woman, knocks violently against her door window as her airbag explodes. Her vehicle spins out of its orbit, its front end turned into an accordion. The Emmy-goers exclaim “oh my Gods” and profanities.

The woman’s car rolls, uncontrollably, out of the intersection. While the car’s still moving, a boy, about 10, jumps out of the passenger side, clutching his left arm. A traffic cop rushes over.

Over at the striking vehicle, angry teenage guys leap out, unhurt. Start screaming.

The Emmy-goers go quiet.

“That’s a bad omen,” somebody says.

The Emmys Haven’t Started and They’re Wrong Already

September 16, 2007 11:45 AM

Critics are quick to assume the Academy is incompetent/corrupt/archaic whenever there’s a schism between their favorite shows and the Emmy nominations, which is more than a little unfair.

Any system based on polling a select group of insiders is highly likely to result in a few unpopular and unconventional (or overly conventional) choices. A perfect system would result in an awards show that was entirely predictable and, therefore, entirely dull (well, moreso).

So the Emmy Awards is the like the joke about the restaurant patron who complains about the terrible food and small portions. Viewers and critics slam the Emmys for not honoring the most obvious artistic choices and for being too predictable.

That said: Before the show begins, lets recall a few of this year’s most surprising choices:

  • The Academy might as well have nominated Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken” for best drama considering how much they flummoxed critics by choosing ABC’s “Boston Legal.”
  • Flip side, same coin: The absence of NBC’s “Friday Night Lights” from the drama category sent critics into a depressive spiral. How many drums do they need to beat for people to pay attention to this show?
  • The ongoing snub of Sci Fi’s “Battlestar Galactica” and HBO’s “The Wire” for best drama also resulted in ‘oh the humanity’ hair pulling. A far bigger surprise would be either of show receiving major nominations considering their feeble ratings. Why do their ratings matter? Well, if most viewers don’t watch a show, then most Academy members probably don’t either. And it’s a tall order to expect somebody to honor a show they don’t regularly watch over the many shows they do.
  • The earnest-but-flawed HBO miniseries “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” receiving 17 nominations, more than any other program; USA’s “The Starter Wife” receiving 10. The admittedly egregious byproducts of movies and miniseries having their own separate categories while fewer-than-ever eligible productions are being made.
  • Acting snubs: Kyle Chandler of “Lights,” Michael C. Hall of “Dexter,” Mary McDonnell of “Battlestar,” Ian McShane of “Deadwood,” and so on. As The Bard wrote: “I could be bound in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space.” Great performances on low-rated shows make for uphill Emmy battles.

Sources: Britney Spears Not Appearing at Emmy Awards

September 15, 2007 2:49 PM

Show of hands: How many of you fell for this?

Contrary to several media reports, Britney will not appear on the Emmy Awards stage to apologize for her MTV Video Music Awards performance.

US Weekly first reported negotiations between the pop star and the show’s producers earlier this week, then posted a story late Friday to say the idea was nixed. But a source close to the production told TelevisionWeek that a live appearance was almost certainly never in the cards, and Britney’s spokesperson has insisted the performer has no plans to appear on the show. The original US Weekly story cited an “Emmy Awards source” – somebody who likely wanted to drum up publicity for the event, the ratings for which have sagged in recent years.

On Saturday the show’s host (and “Emmy Awards source”?) Ryan Seacrest told US Weekly an offer to appear is still on the table. "I am willing to give up my monologue, song and interpretive dance for her apology," he said.

So let’s deconstruct how little sense this story made and take all the fun out of it: At the VMAs, Britney wandered glassy eyed around the stage as if searching for her car keys. Why would the conservative Television Academy permit a rehab-fleeing music artist on stage at a live event to discuss her appearance on a basic cable awards show? And why would Britney want to apologize in the first place? Barring some last-minute unholy marriage brokerage between Fox, the Academy and Britney, this isn’t happening.

Another Emmy ratings-boosting effort with seemingly similar fingerprints that media outlets reported with straight-faced regard: Simon Cowell claiming to Fox News he was worried about Seacrest’s hosting performance.

Watching Cowell and Seacrest fight in the press, or on “American Idol,” is like watching a stunt show at an amusement park. Pretty entertaining, sure, but the fighters both know when the punches are coming.

The guerilla publicity efforts are not without cause. In recent years, Emmy ratings have been on a steady decline. Sunday’s telecast will will air three weeks later than last year (which is good), but also bumps against the NFL’s San Diego vs. New England game (which is bad).

Click here for TelevisionWeek’s live Emmy coverage from the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday night.

Your Emmy Night Plans

September 14, 2007 3:23 PM

Put a laptop on your coffee table as you watch the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox and hit “refresh” every few minutes to read the latest news and analysis live from the Shrine Auditorium right here.

‘Big Brother 8’ Takes Thursday

September 14, 2007 11:09 AM

The 25-minute presidential address carried on the top four networks punched a hole in the 9 p.m. hour, potentially skewing the preliminary ratings for the latter half of the night. The address rated about the same on all the networks, between a 1.5 and 1.8 rating among adults 18 to 49, with CBS performing best thanks to a “Big Brother” lead-in.

As the number of houseguests dwindle, the ratings for CBS’s “Big Brother 8” keep climbing. The veteran series earned its best Thursday rating this season with a 3.2 and led the network to win the night overall.

Fox’s “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader,” however, hit a series low to place a distant second behind “Brother” in the 8 p.m. hour. Fox also came in second place for the night.

NBC was third, ABC fourth and The CW fifth with repeats

Oh Yeah, MyNet ...

September 13, 2007 4:37 PM

The various parties that organize and distribute broadcast ratings data always include the major networks, but often ignore MyNetworkTV because, well ... how to put this. It’s like balancing your monthly budget at home. You’re always going to list your rent and phone bill, but you’re not necessarily going to include the car wash.

Last Monday, however, MyNet had a good news day. The third episode of their reality show "Jail" brought the most total viewers ever for a MyNet series, almost 2 million, to their 9 p.m. hour. At 9:30 p.m., the fourth episode performed nearly as well. The full hour ranked as the second most-viewed in MyNet history, running only behind a presentation of the movie "The Rundown."

Tracking the Fall Premiere Buzz: ‘Nightmares’ and ‘Moonlight’ Up; ‘Reaper’ Down

September 13, 2007 11:30 AM

The latest OTX research reports that track audience “buzz,” “awareness” and “intent to view” among the new fall shows have changed the competitive field in recent weeks.

In the top spot, NBC's “Bionic Woman” continues to lead among “intent to view,” the measure OTX claims best predicts premiere tune-in. No surprise there, considering the carpet-bombing of ads NBC has rolled out for the show.

The runner-up position is a three-way tie for Fox’s “Kitchen Nightmares” and ABC’s “Private Practice” and “Pushing Daisies.” “Practice” has gained since last month to get into this position, but the big headline here is fellow gainer “Kitchen Nightmares.” The Fox restaurant-makeover show has received a fraction of the press of “Bionic,” “Practice” and “Daisies.” To tie for second place without the benefit of a major marketing push indicates this show has the potential to become a surprise breakout hit.

That trio is followed by ABC’s “Cavemen,” moving down a notch from August. Nobody has seen the new pilot, but ABC says critics likely will receive a copy next week. The network is confident the revamp has improved the show, although its eventual ratings performance is anybody’s guess.

Fourth place has a tie between CBS’ “Kid Nation” and “Cane.” “Nation” has gained a notch here and its fourth-place finish is likely a statistical understatement. Given the controversy surrounding the show, “Nation” probably has some respondents swearing they won’t watch it … who will anyway.

There’s a six-way tie for fifth place: Fox’s “K-Ville” is here and unchanged—nobody seems to hate this show, but nobody seems to love it either. NBC’s “Journeyman” is here, and its buzz is similar to “K-Ville’s.” CBS’ “Big Bang Theory” is here and looking solid; sources say its second and third episodes improve on the pilot. NBC’s “Chuck” is a no-brainer for this spot. ABC’s “Dirty Sexy Money” joins the list thanks to ABC’s recent marketing efforts.

ABC’s entire Wednesday lineup is on the intent-to-view list, giving the network an edge for the battleground night.

What’s interesting is the sixth show tied for fifth place: CBS’ vampire detective drama “Moonlight,” which didn’t make any of the OTX tracking lists last month. This show has been presumed DOA since the May upfront, and the show’s July press panel did little to correct that impression. But “Moonlight” has been overhauled and CBS clearly has confidence in its vamp revamp, recently shoving heavy marketing dollars behind the series. (On the other end of the CBS buzz spectrum, good luck finding a billboard for “Viva Laughlin.”)

Absent from the top five (with all the ties, really the top 13) is The CW’s “Reaper,” an omission that makes you want to smack the side of the OTX tally machine to make sure it’s working. “Reaper” was ranked ninth on the list in August and has since received glowing consumer press.

Also dropping off, though more understandably, is Fox’s musical competition series “The Next Great American Band.” There’s dismal buzz on both “Band” and its docu-soap companion “Nashville,” but it’s never wise to assume Fox will flop with musical reality shows.

CBS Wins Wasteland Wednesday

September 13, 2007 11:29 AM

Wednesday night was a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland of broadcast repeats. The only signs of life: “Last Comic Standing” on NBC, leading the night with a 2.8 rating among adults 18 to 49, followed by a “Dateline” (2.1).

NBC was edged out overall by CBS, which had “Power of 10” bouncing back from the Tuesday night’s series low to a 2.0, followed by solidly rated procedural repeats. ABC was third with repeats and the season finale of “NASCAR in Primetime” (1.1). Fox and The CW had repeats.

How ABC's Private Practices Helped Derail a Spin-Off's Buzz

September 12, 2007 12:02 PM

For awhile there, ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off “Private Practice” was widely assumed to become the biggest slam-dunk new hit of the fall season. But while excitement for shows such as NBC’s “Bionic Woman” and ABC’s own “Pushing Daisies” has grown exponentially this summer, the buzz on “Practice” has veered off course.

The backdoor “Private” pilot that aired in May as part of a two-hour “Grey’s” episode was a disastrously haphazard outing that caused critics and fans to slam the promising concept with surprising vehemence. After, the upcoming “Private” series premiere was re-cast, shot, then re-shot. The result (an episode that arrived in critics mailboxes earlier this week), is a premiere episode that’s firmly better than the May introduction and more successfully captures the “Grey’s” sense of humor. The most despised elements of the backdoor pilot (the talking elevator, women fawning over a young staffer) are gone. What weaknesses remain, ABC hopes to address in future episodes. One source noted that “Grey’s” and “Brothers and Sisters” started out shaky, then successfully course-corrected, and that ABC plans the same ongoing fine-tuning for “Private.”

Outside the network, the sour taste of the May effort has partly lingered because, unlike most fall first-year dramas, until very recently ABC hasn’t had a completed “Private” premiere episode for critics and industry insiders to view. The show’s launch is coming up fast on Sept. 26 and hardly anybody has seen the show (including most ABC employees, who are typically treated to premiere-episode screenings of new programs).

Also, ABC elected to put the bulk of its marketing efforts behind tough-sell shows like “Daises,” “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Cavemen” rather than their once-perceived fall flagship debut. The network figures “Private” already has a built-in audience, the show doesn’t need added publicity and their Disney Dollars are better spent on pushing fresh concepts. Just as “Private” is sort of a returning series, sort of a new series, this reasoning sort of works, sort of doesn’t.

“Private” doesn’t need more publicity – the series is currently gracing the cover of Entertainment Weekly’s fall preview issue -- but it does need positive publicity that restores viewer confidence in the show. It’s two weeks until “Private” premieres in an insanely competitive time slot against “Bionic Woman” and viewers still associate the spin-off with their least favorite “Grey’s” episode. Given the potential to clone “Grey’s” massive success, and given ABC has to overturn rocks to find anybody who liked the May preview … one would think taking more steps to convince viewers that “Private” represents an exciting and improved major television event would be a priority.

On ABC’s side: The latest data from research firm OTX that measures viewer intent to watch new fall shows, has “Private” tying two other programs for second place.

The only catch: In first place is “Bionic.”

'Biggest Loser' Premiere Wins Tuesday

September 12, 2007 11:38 AM

Waking up late-summer viewers with a bona fide fall season premiere, NBC won the night with the two-hour debut of “The Biggest Loser.”

The fourth-season outing earned a 3.1 preliminary rating among adults 18 to 49, matching last year’s number.

CBS came in second for the night, with “Big Brother” (3.0) a very close runner-up to “Loser” the 9 p.m. hour. At 8 p.m., however, the increased reality competition put some hurt on “Power of 10” (1.8), which hit a series low.

Fox was third with repeats. ABC was fourth with a pair of “Just For Laughs” (2.0 and 2.2) and the season finales of “I-Caught” (1.3) and “Primetime: Crime” (1.8). The CW was last with repeats.

Repeats Rule Monday

September 11, 2007 12:45 PM

Monday’s ratings results continue to show the late summer calm before the fall premiere storm. The top-rated shows of the night among adults 18 to 49 were repeats of “Two and a Half Men” (3.6) and “Rules of Engagement” (3.2), which gave CBS an easy victory.

ABC was second, with the finale of “Fat March” matching last week’s season high (1.9). NBC and Fox tied for fourth place, with NBC offering repeats and “Dateline” (1.9) and Fox showing repeats.

When Newsmagazines Eat Their Own

September 10, 2007 2:44 PM

ABC’s “20/20” season premiere Friday aired an investigation of competitor NBC’s journalistically icky and oft-parodied “To Catch a Predator” segments on “Dateline.”

Before the ratings result, first some context: Comparing the average performance of the two shows is tricky since “20/20” only airs Fridays while “Dateline” airs Tuesdays, Saturdays and is used to plug holes throughout the week. Suffice to say, last season’s 33 “20/20” airings tended to average higher than the 72 “Dateline” outings—except when the NBC show included a “Predator” segment (those episodes of “Dateline” matched the “20/20” average of a 2.5 rating among adults 18 to 49).

So does this mean “20/20,” in a journalistically icky act all their own, went after “Dateline” in hopes of taking the wind out their competitor’s most popular segment? Or just figured the “Predator” issue is a fair-game story, and that maybe some “Dateline” loyalists could be lured to their premiere?

Whatever the intent, the result failed to bump the Nielsens. Though “20/20” won Friday as the highest rated show, the series was on par with last week’s episode and down 24 percent from last year’s premiere.

Elsewhere this weekend, the ratings drama was minimal.

After ABC’s Friday win, the network also won Saturday with NASCAR Nextel Cup (2.5).
On Sunday, NBC easily dominated thanks to Sunday Night Football with the New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys (6.7), which was down 24 percent from last year’s match between the Giants and Indianapolis Colts. Also, CBS’s “Big Brother” (3.0) rebounded from last week to have its highest-rated Sunday of the season.