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Dec 18, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Posted Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 11:25 a.m. (PT); last updated at 3:20 p.m.

Whedon shepherding ‘Firefly’ pilot for Fox

Joss Whedon, the acclaimed creator/executive producer of UPN’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and The WB’s “Angel,” is leaving the cemetery for the unlimited bounds of outer space in a new pilot called “Firefly” in development for Fox next season. Mr. Whedon said he has written an “early outline” for Fox of what he describes as an ensemble space-based drama that will have the “feel of the Old West.” He said hopes are to do a pilot this spring and to launch the show in fall 2002.

“It is going to be a tough, raw sci-fi drama about a band of nine people that live and die around this cutthroat border of planets, with this kind of feel of the Old West and all of its last-man-standing sensibility to it,” Mr. Whedon said. “I have done these other dramas built around champions, heroes and beings with special powers, but I want to do [‘Firefly’] as a story about nine ordinary people — some good, some bad, some sketchy — that are still kind of an extended family.”

The development of “Firefly,” done under the auspices of 20th Century Fox Television, marks a collaborative reunion between Mr. Whedon and Gail Berman, president of Fox Broadcasting Co. The pair had worked together previously when Ms. Berman was president of Regency Television, where she jointly earned executive producer stripes on “Buffy” and “Angel.”

“‘Buffy’ was Gail’s idea originally, so it’s not like I owe her anything,” Mr. Whedon joked. “It’s such a great treat to be working with her again, and I’m completely psyched on the prospect to be on Fox.”

ABC repurposing ‘Alias,’ ‘MW&K’ for cable: “Alias” and “My Wife and Kids,” two Touchstone series airing on Disney-owned ABC, are expected to become the latest new-season broadcast network series to be repurposed for basic cable. Both will join ABC Family in the new year. “Alias,” the agent-in-jeopardy spy series that is a hit with critics and younger demos, is getting a 10-hour marathon tryout on ABC Family Jan. 1. The Touchstone production then will be added to the ABC Family schedule later in the season, an ABC spokeswoman confirmed. “My Wife and Kids,” the Wednesday night half-hour comedy starring Damon Wayans, also is expected to join “Alias” on the Family schedule in 2002. A senior ABC executive added that no repurposing deal is formally in place for “My Wife and Kids,” but negotiations are ongoing for a cable window.

Immelt says GE will continue to acquire stations: New General Electric Chairman Jeffrey Immelt told an annual dinner gathering of analysts Monday night in New York that NBC is “a big value-creating part of GE’s future,” according to Nicholas Heymann, analyst at Prudential Securities. Mr. Immelt said he will continue to invest in NBC and take it to the next level of digital services, including providing more real-time market information to advertisers. He also said GE will continue to acquire TV stations, and that NBC’s pending $2.7 billion acquisition of Telemundo is “looking great” and will yield broad synergies.

Mr. Immelt did not discuss whether he would respond to efforts by Barry Diller to rekindle alliance or merger talks with NBC as he presides over Vivendi Universal entertainment, into which Mr. Diller’s USA Networks Inc. entertainment assets will be merged. “I don’t think it is on his (Mr. Immelt’s) radar screen,” one NBC executive said.

CBS’s ‘Ellen’ picks up steam: CBS’s special December run of “The Ellen Show” at 8:30 p.m. (ET) Monday nights has begun to pay dividends. Last night’s episode featuring Mary Tyler Moore in a guest-starring turn won the time slot in adults 18 to 49, households and total viewers.

“Ellen” posted a 5.3 rating/14 share in adults 18 to 49, posting 36 percent improvement from its previous week’s 3.9/10 in the slot, according to comparable final Nielsen Media Research national data. It was the second-best 18 to 49 numbers this season for “Ellen,” which originally had a special 9:30 p.m. Monday premiere (5.8/13) on Sept. 24. Coming out of “King of Queens” all-time best 6.2/18 in adults 18 to 49, “Ellen” also held 86 percent retention of its lead-in. Overall, “Ellen” scored a 9.1/14 in households and 13.6 million total viewers.

The latest outing for “Ellen” represents more than a doubling of its ratings from when it aired at 8 p.m. Fridays at the start of this season. A spokesman for CBS said the plan is to return “Ellen” to its Friday time slot in January, and it is likely to air after repeats of “King of Queens” in the 8 p.m. hour.

It was a good night overall for CBS, since “Everybody Loves Raymond” beat ABC’s “Monday Night Football” from 9 to 9:30 in adults 18 to 49 (8.4/19 vs. 7.5/18), households (14.2/21 vs. 12.3/19). “Yes, Dear,” filling in for “Becker” at 9:30 p.m., also hit series highs in adults 18 to 49 (6.8/16), households (11.6/18) and total viewers (17.2 million). To close the 10 p.m. hour, CBS’s “Family Law” drama finished second in adults 18 to 49 (4.2/11) and households (8.5/14).

“Monday Night Football,” featuring a competitive divisional game between the St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints, marked healthy week-to-week improvements of 35 percent in adults 18 to 49 (8.1/22), 24 percent in households (12.9/23) and 28 percent in total viewers (17.2 million). ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” even led off the 8 p.m. hour with 39 percent growth week to week in adults 18 to 49 (3.2/9)-tying NBC’s “Weakest Link” (3.2/9, up 6 percent) in the frame.

However, NBC’s Part 2 of the “Titanic” repeat had that sinking feeling, dropping 9 percent from the previous night’s airing in adults 18 to 49 (4.1/10 vs. 4.5/11).

Fox also faced its own black hole in the ratings, with the animated special “Santa Baby” scoring a fourth-ranked 2.2/6 in the 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. frame-dropping 56 percent week to week from what “Boston Public” scored in the demo previously. The poor lead-in contributed to a repeat of “Ally McBeal” dropping 43 percent week to week in adults 18 to 49 with a 2.6/6 score last night.

NBC schedules Playmate ‘Fear Factor’ opposite Super Bowl halftime show: NBC’s scheduling of the Playboy Playmate-themed “Fear Factor” opposite Fox’s telecast of the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXVI on Sunday, Feb. 3, and in the hour time slot immediately after the game has brought its fair share of jokes from dismissive Fox executives. Meanwhile, Fox is moving forward with plans to air a special hour-long episode of “Malcolm in the Middle” opposite the Playmate-studded “Fear Factor” episode after the game.

“Between the Super Bowl and ‘Malcolm in the Middle,’ Fox is offering a night of television the whole family can watch together,” a Fox spokesman said. “NBC’s programming choice speaks for itself.”

Nevertheless, a Fox network executive, who requested anonymity, found NBC’s spiked Playmates stunt amusing in light of NBC’s recent decision to accept hard liquor advertising in late-night time periods.

“Liquor ads and Playmates eating bugs-the quality shows on NBC,” joked the Fox source.

NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker has said that the Playmate-driven “Fear Factor” episodes are another example of how the network does not plan to “play dead” on nights when the other networks have major program stunts.

MTV signs ‘Jackass’ movie deal: MTV has signed a new, multi-platform deal with the creators of “Jackass,” which includes a theatrical production for a feature-length film and a series of three television specials to air on MTV next year. Brian Graden, President of Programming, MTV, said in a statement, “When we first uncovered the creative genius of the underground skateboard mentality of ‘Jackass,’ we knew it would resonate with our young adult audience. With this new multi-platform deal, MTV will … provide an even bigger arena for the zany antics of the ‘Jackass’ crew.”

Johnny Knoxville, Jeff Tremaine and Spike Jonze, executive producers of the successful prank show, will produce the MTV specials and film. The film will star Johnny Knoxville and be directed by Jeff Tremaine.

CBS wins week in households: CBS continued its winning way
s for the week of Dec. 10, scoring key wins in households and total viewers for the sixth consecutive week on the 12th week of the 2001-02 season. In addition to CBS being the only broadcast network to post year-to-year increases in homes and total viewers, the Eye Network came in second in adults 18 to 49 (to NBC) by posting 3 percent growth over the year-ago week.

For the week in prime time, CBS’s 8.4 rating/14 share in households and 12.5 million total viewers led all networks, improving 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively, from year-ago weekly numbers. CBS won three out of seven nights-Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday-in households while finishing with competitive second-place rankings on the remaining four nights.

Last Sunday’s wins in households (11.2/18) and total viewers (16.3 million) were fueled by a particularly strong showing for the 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. (ET) telefilm “A Town without Christmas” (11.8/19 in homes, 17.4 million total viewers)-CBS’s highest-rated Sunday movie since Part 1 of its “Jesus” miniseries aired on May 14, 2000.

CBS’s 3.8/10 average in adults 18 to 49, up 3 percent year to year, was second only to NBC’s 4.9/13, which marked a 6 percent decline from the year-ago week but a positive 26 percent spurt week to week. NBC has won adults 18 to 49 for 10 consecutive weeks. For the week of Dec. 10, NBC had its largest winning margin in the key demo in 10 weeks.

CBS’s Thursday’s lineup of”Survivor: Africa” (7.3/20), the final episode of “Amazing Race” (6.0/15) and a special 10 p.m. airing of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (6.6/16) was up 247 percent vs. the year-ago week average in adults 18 to 49. Nonetheless, NBC still had a dominant showing on Thursday, with 8 p.m. sitcom “Friends” (11.4/32) and the 10 p.m. run of “ER” (14.0/35)-the latter marking the exit of Eriq LaSalle’s character-holding the top two rankings in adults 18 to 49.

Among the other Big 4 networks in adults 18 to 49, Fox’s 3.7/10 was down 16 percent year to year and 2 percent week to week while ABC’s 3.4/9 score was down 21 percent year to year and 13 percent from its previous week’s average.

As for the weblets in adults 18 to 49, The WB’s 1.8/5 score marked a healthy 29 percent increase week to week. The WB had particularly robust increases weekly on Thursday, Friday and Tuesday nights, with the latter night’s “Gilmore Girls” (2.1/6) and “Smallville” (2.7/7) collectively holding an 84 percent advantage over UPN’s repeats of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1.6/5) and “Roswell” (0.9/2). UPN’s 1.6/4 in adults 18 to 49 for the week was up 6 percent week to week.

Contributing to The WB’s growth was last Friday’s special 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. Friday airing of “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” which had not been on network television since 1987. The evil Mr. Grinch shattered across-the-board records as a special for The WB, winning its time period in women 18 to 34 (3.9/16) and adults 18 to 34 (3.3/14). Overall, “Grinch” was second in households (4.0/7) in the time slot and third in total viewers (7.7 million) against all network competition.

Disney Channel picks up ‘Stanley,’ ‘Proud Family’: Disney Channel has picked up two freshman animated series for second seasons. Preschooler-oriented “Stanley” and tween-appealing “The Proud Family” have been renewed for 26 and 22 episodes, respectively.

“Stanley” follows the adventures of a six-year-old little boy. “The Proud Family” follows a 14-year-old African American girl in her pre-teen years.

Both series premiered in September.

Caan to star in USA film: James Caan, perhaps best known for his role as hot-tempered Sonny Corleone in the original “Godfather” film, will star in “Hearts of Men,” a film for USA Network. William A. Graham (“The Man Who Captured Eichmann”) will direct the Mandalay Television Pictures thriller, set to begin filming in New Zealand next month.