TelevisionWeek columnist and deputy editor Josef Adalian applies his decades of experience covering the television industry to deliver analysis readers can't find anywhere else.

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Josef Adalian Column

Adalian Column: May, the Merry Month of TV Cliches

May 22, 2009 1:05 PM

May is upfront season in the slave-to-the-cycle TV business. It might just as well be called the Month of Cliches. This is the time of the year when executives declare, without any sense of irony, that the past nine months represented Our Best Development Season Ever. At least two network heads uttered those words publicly within the last few weeks, and I’m sure that by summer’s end, the other three broadcast chiefs will find a way to express similar sentiments.… Read More »

Adalian Column: Nielsen Failure Foretold by Disco-Era Tactics

May 8, 2009 12:47 PM

The Great Nielsen Meltdown of 2009 should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever seen one of the company’s paper diaries. Until about a week ago, I actually had no clue just how the ratings giant collected data from consumers. Nielsen loves to shroud just about everything it does in secrecy, no doubt because it knows how broken its system is. But then my mom called to let me know Nielsen had sent her a diary, along with five… Read More »

Adalian Column: Learning the Lesson of 'Less Is More'

May 1, 2009 1:50 PM

The TV business could learn a lot from Justin Timberlake. Mr. Timberlake, who became famous as part of the boy band *NSYNC, has gone on to become one of the best-known musicians and celebrities in the world. Whether he’s promoting his new MTV reality show “The Phone,” hosting “Saturday Night Live” or being plastered all over the covers of celebrity magazines, Mr. Timberlake is an unavoidable presence in the pop culture landscape. And yet, for all his success, Mr. Timberlake… Read More »

Column: Rest Assured, TV Will Survive Tough Times

April 26, 2009 8:00 PM

I love this stuff. That, in five words or less, sums up why I consider myself beyond blessed to have spent virtually the whole of my adult life getting paid to write about television. True: At this very moment, things are glum in the land of make-believe and fairy dust. Business models that for decades reliably churned out billions in profits are evaporating with alarming speed. Many who work in the TV industry have no idea if they’ll still have… Read More »

Adalian Column: I Heard the News Today. Oh, Boy.

April 17, 2009 12:00 PM

A Pew study released late last year showed that, for Americans under 30, the Internet has all but overtaken TV as their primary source of news. TV types no doubt greeted the report with alarm. I wouldn’t be surprised if more than a few networks secretly commissioned studies to find out why the kids are abandoning TV news. I’ll save them some money: Viewers are turning to the Internet for news because it’s become almost impossible to find actual news… Read More »

Adalian Column: Can Twittersphere Save ‘Chuck’?

April 10, 2009 12:02 PM

The Twitterverse and blogosphere rose up last week up in a preemptive bid to keep NBC’s “Chuck” on the air. Yeah, I know: You’ve heard this story a thousand times before, from “My So-Called Life” to “Moonlight.” The plotline never seems to change: Fans beg, networks pretend to listen and, in the end, the show in question disappears. What’s more, most TV shows these days seem to spawn an Internet-based grassroots support group within hours of their premiere. The whole… Read More »

Adalian Column: CBS Could Benefit From Making the Tough Call on ‘Light’

April 3, 2009 3:51 PM

If there were a “Profiles in Courage” for network executives, it would probably be a pretty thin tome. After all, the folks who run TV outlets, broadcast and cable alike, usually aren’t inclined to go out on a limb when making decisions. And it’s hard to blame them, since in most corporations, the only thing worse than failing is defying conventional wisdom … and failing anyway. Nobody remembers when a standard-issue police drama like “Ryan Caulfield” fades away after a… Read More »

Adalian Column: ‘ER’ Helped Remake the TV Landscape

March 27, 2009 12:44 PM

“Smart, gritty, touching: All apply to the four-star movie premiere of Michael Crichton’s ‘ER,’ the better of this season’s two high-profile medical dramas. When this show and CBS’ ‘Chicago Hope’ move to Thursdays at 10, this is the one you’ll want to watch in real-time.” I was a 23-year-old television critic for the Washington Times when I wrote those words. I’d love to say my rave review indicated an unusual level of small-screen sophistication and TV industry foresight, but around… Read More »

Adalian Column: Liguori Deserved Better, Even If Rice Is Good for Fox

March 20, 2009 11:45 AM

Rupert Murdoch may be a master of the universe, but that doesn’t mean he always makes the right call. Spending $5.4 billion to buy the Wall Street Journal just months before the newspaper business all but collapsed? Doesn’t seem such a genius move these days. Rupert Murdoch The purchase was supposed to help turn Fox Business Channel into a real rival to CNBC. But so far, even an abundance of attractive blonde anchorbabes hasn’t been enough to put Fox Business… Read More »

Adalian Column: Despite Quality, It Might Be Time to Spike ‘Friday Night Lights’

March 13, 2009 12:30 PM

“Friday Night Lights” remains, by most accounts, one of the finest shows on TV. So maybe it’s time for it to die. Before you Panther fans start pelting me with manure-covered footballs, hear me out. Like any card-carrying member of the Television Critics Association, I’ve been a supporter of underdog TV series since the days of ABC’s “My So-Called Life.” I will never miss the chance to give a shoutout to “Swingtown,” “The Class,” “Undeclared” or dozens of other shows… Read More »

Adalian Column: Reality Is the Small Screen’s Survivor

March 6, 2009 12:55 PM

There is no cure for reality TV. "Survivor" This fact will no doubt crush many who work in the business of television, people who have silently prayed for the end of unscripted programming ever since Richard Hatch first strutted naked across the small screen on “Survivor” in the summer of 2000. These folks generally regard reality as some sort of mutant virus that needs to be purged from TV’s bloodstream. They regularly pounce on any of the genre’s failures or… Read More »

Adalian Column: Fear Factor: Bold Move Beats Cowering

February 27, 2009 12:05 PM

The many and varied characters who populate the business of television can be forgiven for feeling as if their lives lately have started to resemble those of characters in a really bad horror movie. Every day seems to bring another over-the-top plot twist or bloody execution, be it NBC’s decision to move Jay Leno to primetime or word that Peter Chernin is stepping down as president of News Corp. A dark cloud seems to hang over everything in Hollywood these… Read More »

Adalian Column: What Do CNBC Blowhards, Ashton Kutcher and Craig Ferguson Have in Common?

February 20, 2009 4:45 PM

Channeling Larry King once again… CNBC's Rick Santelli Rick Santelli, the CNBC blowhard who moronically lashed out at President Obama’s mortgage rescue plan last week in a much-publicized rant, certainly had every right to speak his mind as he did. And I have every right to never watch CNBC again until the network takes him off the air. … It’s not just that his arguments were idiotic (though they were). It’s not that he was loud and obnoxious (this is… Read More »

Adalian Column: Doesn’t Hollywood Realize We’re in a Recession?

February 13, 2009 4:50 PM

If America’s headed for another Great Depression, somebody better tell Hollywood’s celebrity class. While millions suffer through unemployment—and the rest of us wonder if we’ll be next—more than a few residents of Hollywoodland apparently have decided that now would be a perfect time to act like complete and utter fools. Among the more notable recent examples of showbiz stupidity: —A gum-smacking Joaquin Phoenix mumbled his way through an appearance on “Late Show With David Letterman,” virtually daring Mr. Letterman to… Read More »

Adalian Column: Joe’s Jottings, or, Getting Dotty Like Larry King

February 6, 2009 10:43 AM

Larry King wasn’t always just another pretty face on television. I first got hooked on the King when he was a late-night radio host on the Mutual Radio Network during the 1980s. Growing up in Las Vegas, I dreamed of one day calling in to Larry’s show and defending Reaganomics. What can I say, I was a strange kid. Around the same time, Mr. King began a weekly newspaper column for USA Today. He’d just ramble along, shooting off various… Read More »

Adalian Column: Upbeat at NATPE Despite Tough Times

January 30, 2009 6:01 PM

Sometimes a TV theme song can say a lot. Last week, 20th Century Fox TV Chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman were sitting on a stage in Las Vegas at the National Association of Television Program Executives convention. It was just after 8 a.m., the room was a little more than half-full and NATPE chief Rick Feldman was about to begin a Q&A with the two studio chiefs. And then the sound of ancient wisdom filled the ballroom at the… Read More »

Adalian Column: Time to Stop Playing It Safe in Syndication

January 23, 2009 12:05 PM

Sometimes it seems as if the death knell for syndication has been sounding since the days of “Donahue.” Hand-wringers have been writing off the genre for years, declaring that daytime is dead or that off-net half-hours are endangered due to the drought of hit sitcoms on the broadcast networks. The only time the naysayers take a break from their bashing, it seems, is to open up a line of attack on the viability of the broadcast networks. And yet, on… Read More »

Adalian Column: New Chief Must Bring FCC Up-to-Date

January 16, 2009 5:02 PM

Barack Obama has so many crises on his plate, the concerns and troubles of the TV industry seem about as relevant as the Wednesday night lineup on the Reelz Channel. Nonetheless, those of us who care about the state of the small screen can still hope that Mr. Obama’s commitment to change will be applied to media matters. There’s a lot of work to be done. Mr. Obama is winning generally rave reviews for his first big move in the… Read More »

Adalian Column: ‘Millionaire’ Revival a Good Answer for ABC

January 11, 2009 9:00 PM

ABC is seriously considering bringing back one of the biggest franchises in modern TV history—and it’s about time. If current discussions pan out, the network this summer will mount a primetime revival of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the groundbreaking game show that—along with “Survivor”—ushered in the modern era of unscripted television. Staged as a multi-night event over one or two weeks, the “Millionaire” redux likely would air in August as a commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the… Read More »

Adalian Column: Polishing Up the Crystal Ball

December 31, 2008 4:50 PM

I should know better. A year ago at this time, while working for Daily Variety, I joined my colleague Michael Schneider in coming up with a list of eight predictions for 2008. Among our in-print forecasts: The Olympics would be a pop-culture bust, fans of “Lost” would revolt over an absence of answers to their burning questions, a hosting change would rile “The View” and one of the network entertainment presidents would be fired or quit. Oops. I’d like to… Read More »

Adalian Column: Eight for ’08: The Stories That Shaped TV

December 19, 2008 4:58 PM

Is it over yet? Queen Elizabeth famously described 1992 as her “annus horribilis.” For the rest of us, including much of the TV industry, 2008 no doubt will merit a similar epitaph. The year began with the Writers Guild of America still on strike, and lots of bad reality shows filling in for much better scripted shows. By the time 2008 reached its end, networks and studios were slashing budgets and payrolls, everybody’s ratings were in a slump and all… Read More »

Column: What to Get the Exec Who Has Everything

December 12, 2008 4:50 PM

Tis the season for year-end columns—and all the cliches that come with them. Including, apparently, lead sentences that begin with “‘tis the season.” Lists, of course, are always a staple of columns this time of year. Coming up with New Year’s resolutions for public figures also is popular with scribes, since it allows us to impose our value systems on others. I reserve the right to resort to those hackneyed devices in the future. For my final column of 2008,… Read More »

Adalian Column: Life Imitates Art at SAG

December 5, 2008 5:26 PM

Like most Americans, a pretty substantial chunk of whatever limited knowledge I possess can be attributed to something I saw on television. My understanding of our nation’s legislative process and fundamental grammar were shaped by “Schoolhouse Rock.” I was taught manners by Henrietta Hippo and the gang from “New Zoo Revue.” And last week, “30 Rock”—quite unintentionally, I’m sure—managed to crystallize what could be the underlying cause behind a Screen Actors Guild strike, should one occur. A subplot on the… Read More »

Adalian Column: 'Black Thursday' Hits ABC Dramas Hard

November 28, 2008 7:00 AM

For anyone who loves television, Nov. 20 may go down in the industry history books as Black Thursday. On that date, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson was forced to call the producers of three outstanding young drama series and tell them that the network was giving up. He may have never said the words “You’re canceled,” but all parties involved knew what was happening: “Pushing Daisies,” “Dirty Sexy Money” and “Eli Stone” were dead. It was a stunning single-day slaughter,… Read More »

Adalian Column: Rosie Stakes Her Claim on the Internet

November 21, 2008 4:55 PM

She’s a polarizing figure beloved by some and loathed by nearly as many. And the decision to put her in charge of a difficult assignment has predictably polarized opinion. CRACKLIN' ROSIE Ms. O’Donnell posts frequent video essays on her Web site, Rosie.com. Sorry, Hillary haters, I’m not talking about your gal. Go back to lurking in the comments section of National Review Online’s The Corner. Actually, wait: Far-right types might want to stick around. Because this column is about another… Read More »

Adalian Column: No New Reality Ideas? Bring Back Some Oldies

November 14, 2008 6:00 PM

These are challenging times for the folks who run the reality TV departments at the broadcast networks. Your Market Research Here The existing hits—think “Survivor,” “American Idol,” “The Biggest Loser”—are still doing fine. And over the summer, ABC generated buzz and ratings with its stunt-driven confection “Wipeout.” But for the most part, network TV has quietly slipped into a reality recession. Not counting pure game shows, the last big unscripted series to truly shake up the TV landscape was “Dancing… Read More »

Adalian Column: Death With Dignity for ‘King of the Hill’

November 7, 2008 5:11 PM

"King of the Hill" is the show that refuses to die. But I wish it would. Just a few weeks ago, it looked like Hank Hill and his clan actually were going to meet their maker. Fox quietly confirmed that it wouldn’t be ordering any more episodes and that, after 13 seasons, the “King” was dead. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. Word leaked out last week that ABC was mulling the notion of picking up “King” in order to provide… Read More »

Adalian Column: Election Coverage: Is It Over? Wait, Keep It Coming!

November 2, 2008 8:30 PM

I want it to be over, and yet I can’t bear to let it go. No, I’m not talking about Fox’s “’Til Death,” which the network mercifully put on hiatus last week. As much as I enjoy using Brad Garrett’s unwatchable sitcom as a synonym for “crappy television”—and despite the fact that there’s nothing funny about a hundred or so people anywhere losing their jobs—I will not mourn when Fox finally cancels this clunker. FRESH FACE "The Rachel Maddow Show"… Read More »

Adalian Column: Putting Together a Political Dream Team

October 26, 2008 8:30 PM

David Gergen is my homeboy. I’ve never actually met Mr. Gergen, the former White House adviser who currently spends about 23 hours of every day talking politics on CNN. But I’ve been watching him wax wise since the Reagan administration. While many of his colleagues have grown cranky, tired or irrelevant, Mr. Gergen just seems to get smarter and sharper. During the current election cycle, Mr. Gergen has demonstrated repeatedly that he possesses something you’d think would be a prerequisite… Read More »

Adalian Column: PTC Uses Kids as Human Shields

October 12, 2008 8:45 PM

Last week, I called up several high-ranking TV executives in order to get their opinions of the Parents Television Council. I asked one to tell me the first word that came to mind when they thought of the watchdog organization. “Vomit,” the executive said. Yeah, that pretty much sums up how I feel, too. Such a reaction might seem extreme. After all, the PTC sells itself as an advocacy organization looking to defend little ones from harmful images. The motto… Read More »

Adalian Column: Networks Could Use Some Laughs

October 3, 2008 3:00 PM

Now that the U.S. government has gotten into the bailout business in a big way, is it too much to ask that Congress next consider legislation to shore up the small screen’s sorry sitcom industry? PACKING A PUNCH Syndication sales of the Twentieth Television sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” could generate more than $300 million. OK, as the sentence above suggests, my joke-writing ability clearly poses no danger to Chuck Lorre, Tina Fey or any of the dozen-odd souls… Read More »

Adalian Column: Time to Shake Up the Emmys

September 28, 2008 8:45 PM

The night before the Emmys, I was talking to an industry insider who’s had first-hand experience dealing with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. We were discussing our low expectations for this year’s show when he blurted out an explanation for why the Emmys never get better that was more spot-on than any I had heard. “They’re like the old Soviet Politburo,” this person said of the folks who oversee the show. “Everything is crumbling around them, and they… Read More »

Adalian Column: Emmy Show Needs More Than a Dose of Reality: Let Gervais Host

September 21, 2008 8:06 PM

After a glacially paced first hour, Campaign 2008 intruded into Sunday night's 60th annual Emmy Awards—and not a moment too soon. Ricky Gervais. A few well-timed political jokes and barbs—plus star turns by Ricky Gervais and Don Rickles—were all that stood between this year's Emmys and complete social irrelevance. Between the amorphous collection of reality personalities blandly hosting the show, and the early list of ho-hum winners, things got off to a rocky start. But then came the mini-flood of… Read More »

Adalian Column: Fall Arrives With a Whimper

September 21, 2008 7:01 PM

The new fall TV season starts this week. Can you feel the excitement? Probably not. I know, I know: It’s become almost cliche to whine about what a weird fall launch this has been. But cliches are cliches because, well, they’re true. And the fact is, there are fewer new shows than usual, networks haven’t sent out several major shows for screening, and the buzz on what has been sent out so far has been far from stellar. As if… Read More »

Adalian Column: Behind the Oprah Non-troversy

September 14, 2008 8:43 PM

Leave Oprah alone! OK, so I’m no Chris Crocker. And Oprah Winfrey is nowhere near the besieged basket case that Britney Spears appeared to be last year. But the recent media madness regarding the Queen of Talk’s alleged snub of the Queen of Wasilla was a journalistic jaw-dropper on just about every level. It might have represented a low point for campaign coverage—had reporters not quickly followed up by spending at least two full days dissecting an even less consequential… Read More »

Column: Josef Adalian on Ben Silverman, The CW and ‘Swingtown’

September 7, 2008 8:45 PM

Clearing out the notebook as the summer ends and a new TV season dawns… Ben Silverman has been at NBC for barely a year. His first development season was interrupted by a 100-day writers strike. Not a single show developed by Mr. Silverman for a fall season at the network has premiered. Naturally, the Hollywood rumor mill is already predicting his departure. NBC's Ben Silverman, left, and Teri Weinberg Mr. Silverman doesn’t need anyone to defend his talent or his… Read More »

Column: '90210' Exceeds CW's No Expectations

September 2, 2008 11:23 PM

What do "90210" and Sarah Palin have in common? Both seem poised to score surprise victories in the media expectations game. By having so much "dirt" emerge before her Wednesday acceptance speech, the GOP vice presidential pick may only need to show she's semi-smart and not some sort of right-wing wacko in order to emerge successfully from her first big test in front of a mass audience. It's a point Time magazine's TV guru makes much better here. Likewise, the… Read More »

Adalian Column: Autumn Is the Age of Anxiety

August 22, 2008 3:33 PM

As the networks prepare for the launch of yet another season, what should be a time for celebration feels more like a day of reckoning. TVWeek’s Fall Features Fall Schedule Chart: Shows & Debut Dates-Print & Save . . . More » Fall Video Previews: Watch the Trailers and Decide . . . More » Sunday Contest: NFL vs. "Housewives" vs. Animation . . . More » Monday Contest: "Gossip" vs. "Heroes" vs. "Chuck" . . . More » Tuesday… Read More »

Adalian Column: TheWB.com: Can the Frog Make a Great Leap?

August 17, 2008 8:49 PM

One of the biggest events of the new fall season takes place next week—and, no, it’s not the return of “Deal or No Deal.” On Aug. 27, Warner Bros. will flip the switch on TheWB.com, the online resurrection of its generation-defining broadcast network. Old Frog favorites such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Gilmore Girls” will rub digital elbows with sexy-sounding shows such as “Sorority Forever” and “Blue Water High.” Also on offer are episodes of retired series that have… Read More »

Adalian: Unbridled ‘Idol’ Speculation

August 10, 2008 8:45 PM

Last week’s news that Nigel Lythgoe would be stepping down from his role as executive producer of “American Idol” filled me with many emotions. Dread. Terror. An overwhelming sense of doom, even. It’s not that I was surprised by the announcement. Thanks to reporting from TelevisionWeek’s Chris Pursell, anyone who was paying attention had known for a month that Mr. Lythgoe was preparing to move on. I’m also not worried about “Idol” somehow falling apart without Mr. Lythgoe’s hands-on involvement.… Read More »

Adalian Column: Remaking the Remake

August 3, 2008 8:54 PM

TV’s track record for remaking its past hits is pretty awful. So what do the networks have in store for the coming months? More remakes, of course. NBC is bringing back “Knight Rider.” The CW is revisiting “Beverly Hills, 90210.” ABC is taking another stab at “Cupid” (with Rob Thomas, the same producer who earlier this year was working on the new “90210”!) And word leaked out last week that CBS is mulling a return to “The Streets of San… Read More »

Adalian Column: Networks Must Evaluate Shows on Merits as Much as Ratings

July 27, 2008 8:54 PM

It was easy to tell the difference between broadcast and cable executives during the recently concluded TV Critics Association press tour. The cable guys were the ones bouncing around the Beverly Hilton with big ol’ grins on their faces. Critics couldn’t stop kvelling over their shows. Every other day during the tour, there seemed to be another press release about sky-high ratings for the second season of “Army Wives” or the latest episode of “Monk.” Then there were the… Read More »

Adalian Column: Stroking, Slapping NBC

July 20, 2008 8:54 PM

Conan O’Brien can be forgiven for feeling like he’s traveled back in time to 1994 of late. The mid-’90s were the dark ages for the pale red-headed kid from Beantown. He had just taken over NBC’s “Late Night” from David Letterman, and the critical response was not kind. Tom Shales, who sometimes graces these pages, called Mr. O’Brien’s show “an hour of aimless dawdle masquerading as a TV program.” Eventually the tide turned. Critics (including Mr. Shales) took a second… Read More »

Adalian Column: Enough Emmy Excuses

July 17, 2008 11:29 AM

If Emmy voters had a message for the broadcast networks this year, it was this: No more excuses. The breakthroughs by basic cable’s AMC and FX—along with strong showings by ad-supported networks such as TNT, USA, Bravo, Sci Fi and A&E—demonstrated that you can make a creative splash even when operating under the constraints of commercial television. For more than a decade, the big networks have whined that HBO’s success at the Emmys was powered largely by its ability to… Read More »

Adalian Column: Sampling the Reality of Reality in ‘Big Brother’ House

July 13, 2008 8:55 PM

Reality TV producers should be forced to be contestants on their own shows. Ditto the network executives who put the programs on the air. I came to that conclusion late last month after surviving a hostage ordeal on a soundstage in Studio City, Calif. Seven other journalists and I were held against our will and forced to play a sped-up version of the long-running CBS reality game “Big Brother.” By the time we regained our freedom some 12 hours later,… Read More »

Adalian Column: Time for TCA to Face Future

July 6, 2008 8:45 PM

For many who work in Hollywood, the twice-yearly Television Critics Association press tour has become a sort of necessary evil, not unlike a colonoscopy. There’s lots of messy preparation, followed by a mildly painful episode involving some probing and jabbing. If all goes well, it’s over quickly, no bad news emerges and the whole thing is soon forgotten. Networks have been unhappy with TCA for years, but other than cutting back on some parties, they’ve done little to change the… Read More »