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May 25, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Networks’ summer programming plans heat up

Having learned lessons about the successful launches of ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and CBS’s original “Survivor” the previous two summers, the captains of network programming are again looking at original programming for this summer.

In particular, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker claimed one-third of the Peacock Network’s prime-time schedule will be original programming. Topping the list is the much-talked-about reality series “Fear Factor,” which will premiere Monday, June 11 at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) for an eight-week run in place of newsmagazine “Dateline NBC.”

Last Monday, “Weakest Link” moved foward an hour to a 9 p.m. Monday slotting for summer. Next fall it moves back to 8 p.m. Monday in addition to getting an 8 p.m. Sunday exposure.

Other original fare includes the long-shelved midseason sitcom “Kristin,” which premieres in the 8:30 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Tuesday slot on June 5 for two weeks, then moves to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday for its remaining 11 episodes starting June 19. “Go Fish,” a high school comedy starring Kieran Culkin, also comes off the bench to get a double-run premiere 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday for a six-episode run starting June 19. The hidden-camera gag show, “Spy TV,” premieres at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday on July 10.

The similarly long awaited sketch comedy/reality series “The Downer Channel,” which is being executive-produced by veteran comedian Steve Martin, joins NBC’s Tuesday 8:30 p.m. time slot July 24. “Mysterious Ways,” the Adrian Pasdar and Rae Dawn Chong paranormal drama, returns for a second season’s shared run with Pax TV, this time getting NBC’s 8 p.m. Friday hour starting July 13.

Scheduling of new summer series is not as firm at the other networks, but CBS Television Network President Leslie Moonves said that it can be expected that “Big Brother 2” will return with new housemates and a revamped format in early July. And the older-skewing CBS is continuing on its recent youth movement in airing the “Backstreet Boys: Larger Than Life” concert this Wednesday, May 30, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

The WB’s co-president of entertainment, Jordan Levin, said midseason backup drama “Dead Last” will probably premiere in August on his network. In the meantime, The WB has changed plans for airing its “Flix From the Frog” movie night from Wednesday to Tuesday in the 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. time slots held by the soon-todepart “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (which is moving to UPN next fall) and the returning “Angel.” Beginning Tuesday, June 5, The WB will work in the prime-time presentation of “Witchblade,” an original, limited-run series produced previously for AOL Time Warner sister cable network TNT.

ABC Television Entertainment Group Co-Chairman Lloyd Braun was a little more tight-lipped on summer premieres. However, he hinted that midseason drama “The Beast,” a behind-the-scenes look at a 24-hour news network starring Frank Langella, could be set for a Wednesday, June 13, debut, while sketch comedy “The Wayne Brady Show” is rumored to be set for a Wednesday, Aug. 1, premiere.

Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman said reality series “Love Cruise” and “In Search of …” will likely get summer runs, but no firm dates had yet been set. The long-shelved anthology drama series “Night Visions” will also likely get a summer berth, she added.

Senate approves FCC nominees: The Senate on Friday unanimously approved the nomination of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell for a new term at the agency. The Senate also confirmed three other Bush administration nominees to the agency: Republicans Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin, and Democrat Michael Copps.

Depositions deal blows to ‘Survivor’ suit: In what could be major blows to former “Survivor” contestant Stacey Stillman’s lawsuit against CBS and series creator/executive producer, Mark Burnett, newly released depositions of fellow castaways Dirk Been and Dr. Sean Kenniff reject her allegations that her being voted off early in the show’s original run last summer was manipulated by the producers.

Under questioning from Ms. Stillman’s attorney as to whether he had been “strong-armed” by Mr. Burnett and other “Survivor” producers to vote her off the island, Mr. Been answered “no” to that question and other questions on coercion and manipulation. Mr. Been further testified that because Ms. Stillman was voted off the island by a 5 to 2 vote, even his own vote would not have changed the outcome of the other four votes banishing her on the ninth day of the game.

Dr. Kenniff’s deposition also further disputed assertions of manipulation or coercion on the set of “Survivor” in spring 2000. In an April 30, 2001, declaration with the court, Mr. Kenniff testified he that repeatedly advised her that her allegations were false.

“I told Stacey point-blank — and in no uncertain or ambiguous terms — that my vote against her was not in any way manipulated, influenced, coerced or otherwise improperly affected by Mark Burnett or anyone else on the production staff or crew of the program,” Dr. Kenniff testified.

Legal representatives and Ms. Stillman, who is seeking over $5 million in damages in a Feb. 5, 2001 filing (naming Survivor Entertainment Group, CBS, Mr. Burnett, Viacom, among others as defendants), were unreachable for comment on the release of the depositions and the status of the case. Mr. Burnett’s company (SEG) filed a countersuit Feb. 20 against Ms. Stillman, claiming breach of written contract and defamation, among other allegations.

AMC documentary recovers lost Lee footage: Martial-arts aficionados will get a new look at Bruce Lee’s final film sequences in “Bruce Lee: A Warrior’s Journey,” an American Movie Classics documentary that features approximately a half-hour of recently discovered footage of the last filmed moves by the first martial artist to find Hollywood fame. For nearly three decades that discovered footage had been thought lost.

When Mr. Lee died, just after having begun the film that was to have been his magnum opus, producers took approximately 12 minutes of existing fight-scene footage and added a not-very-credible stunt double to complete the picture, which was released as “The Game of Death.” That film has been repudiated by Lee aficionados and his widow, Linda Lee Cadwell.

The documentary, acquired from Dublin-based Monster Distributes, will air on AMC in 2002.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications