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Jan 13, 2004  •  Post A Comment

‘Friends’ Aims for Low-Key Finale

The finale of “Friends” will be treated as a regular episode and not aim for a big high-concept finish, “Friends” producers Marta Kauffman, David Crane and Kevin Bright said at a Television Critics Association press tour panel with the cast and producers on the “Friends” set.

“Hopefully, the last episode will be organic,” Mr. Crane said.

The final episode will consist of two parts, which will run back to back. The final table read of the finale took place Monday and one episode tapes this Friday, with the second part taping next Friday.

Producers said they hope to keep the finale’s plot a secret by taping crucial parts of it without a studio audience and with only essential personnel on the set.

Ms. Kauffman and Mr. Crane said they struggled to write the final scene of the finale because they weren’t psychologically ready to let the show go. “It be was daunting,” Mr. Crane said.

The two producers had one scene left to write that they just couldn’t nail down, so instead they decided to just lop it off and end it.

“Friends” cast members used words such as “bittersweet” and “gutting” to describe the final weeks on the set they have come to work on for 10 years. “We’re like china,” said Jennifer Aniston, who plays Rachel Green. “We’re like very delicate china right now and we’re speeding toward a brick wall.”

Mr. Bright and Matt LeBlanc, who plays Joey Tribiani, will go on to create and executive produce the spinoff “Joey” for next fall. Mr. Crane and Ms. Kauffman, who created “Friends,” said they chose not to do the spinoff because they wanted to take a break from series television. “We’re tired,” Mr. Crane said. “We’re ready for a nap. A new show takes a tremendous amount of energy.”

The finale of “Friends” will not be a set-up for the beginning of “Joey,” and the producers and cast were reluctant to discuss the spinoff because they still haven’t closed the book on “Friends.” However, “Friends” cast members said they would be open to making guest appearances on “Joey.” David Schwimmer, who plays Ross Gellar and has directed episodes of “Friends,” said he would be happy to guest star or direct episodes of “Joey” if he were asked.

Hume, Jennings to Moderate Democratic Debate: Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume and ABC News’ Peter Jennings will lead the questioning of all nine Democratic presidential hopefuls at what will be the last full-field debate before the Jan. 27 primary in New Hampshire.

The debate will be carried live at 8 p.m. Jan. 22 on WMUR-TV, the Hearst-Argyle-owned ABC affiliate in Manchester, N.H., and on Fox News Channel. Extended excerpts will air on a one-hour edition of ABC’s “Nightline” at 11:35 p.m. that evening.

The panel of questioners will include WMUR anchor Tom Griffith and a representative of The Union Leader, which also is a sponsor of the debate .

The unusual collaboration is a result of an accommodation reached in 2002 by Hearst-Argyle, which acquired the station in 2001 from Imes Communications. Imes had granted Fox News Channel long-term exclusive rights to the debate.

ABC News Crew Near Iraqi Attack: “Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel, executive producer Leroy Sievers and their ABC News crew had a brush with Iraqi insurgent fire Tuesday when members of an 82nd Airborne unit they were covering came under attack by two rocket-fired grenades while visiting a youth center in Fallujah. “They are fine,” said a “Nightline” spokeswoman.

WB Opens New TV Division: The WB has opened a made-for-television-movie division and hired movie veteran Tana Nugent Jamieson to run the department.

With the exception of CBS, broadcast networks have cut back on the number of made-for-TV movies they air. That creates an opportunity for The WB to fill that void with movies targeted at its 12- to 24-year-old audience, said WB co-CEO Jordan Levin at the Television Critics Association press tour today in Hollywood.

Mr. Levin said the network was not going to start a movie night, but it has had success with numerous theatrical movies it has acquired and saw an opening to create its own movies, which could draw on the network’s current acting talent.

“There’s certainly an opportunity for some of our ambitious young talent to spread their wings,” Mr. Levin said.

Ms. Jamieson was named senior VP, programming, made-for-TV movies. She was VP of original programming/movies at cable network TBS. The first movie she will oversee is the first movie in the “American Girl” series, which The WB previously bought rights to.

The WB’s TCA session marked a changing of the guard, with Jamie Kellner’s making his last appearance as chairman and CEO of The WB, and Mr. Levin and Garth Ancier making their first TCA appearances since their promotions last fall to CEO and chairman, respectively.

None of The WB’s new sitcoms have broken out this year in the ratings, which Mr. Levin said is partially his fault because the network didn’t aggressively schedule them in more favorable time slots on Mondays or Tuesdays. “We’ve never made a statement that comedy is as important to us as it is internally,” he said.

Mr. Ancier said the sitcoms in development for next year are edgier than in past years and take more chances. “We’ll probably take some less safe shots going forward,” he said.

Other news from The WB included:

The second edition of reality show “High School Reunion” will premiere Sunday, March 14, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. (ET). It takes over the time slot from “The Surreal Life,” which will have finished its run by then.

Midseason sitcom “The Help” will premiere Friday, March 5, from 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., taking over the time slot from “Like Family,” which will have finished its original run for the season.

Christopher Reeve will return to “Smallville,” reprising his role of Dr. Swann Wednesday, April 14, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Tribune Renews ‘Family Feud’: Tribune Entertainment Co. has given a “firm go” for a sixth season of game show strip “Family Feud,” renewing the Richard Karn-hosted series in 60 percent of the country, including 25 of the top 30 markets.

Stations renewing the program include Fox Television Stations’ WNYW-TV/New York (Fox), KDFW-TV/Dallas (Fox), WDCA-TV/Washington (UPN); Viacom’s KCAL-TV/Los Angeles; Weigel’s WCIU-TV/Chicago; BCI Communications’ WGTW-TV/Philadelphia; Sunbeam’s WHDH-TV/Boston (NBC); WSVN-TV/Miami (Fox); WOIO-TV/Cleveland (CBS); KOVR-TV/Sacramento, Calif., (CBS); KDNL-TV/St. Louis (ABC); and WPXI-TV/Pittsburgh (NBC), among others. Tribune Broadcasting stations renewing “Family Feud” include KHWB-TV/Houston (WB), and Fox affiliates KCPQ-TV/Seattle, WTIC-TV/Hartford, Conn. and WPMT-TV/Harrisburg, Pa.

Local Operators Get Additional Commercial Minutes During Olympics: NBC Cable said local operators will have three minutes of commercial time to sell per hour during Olympics coverage on Bravo, instead of the two they sell during regular Bravo programming. Bravo will carry Olympics programming from 5 a.m. through noon and 4 p.m. through 8 p.m., much of it live, and carry a replay of the day’s most dramatic event from midnight to 2 a.m. In all, NBC Cable channels will carry 450 hours of coverage from Athens beginning Aug. 11.

Coors to Sponsor ‘Kimmel Live’ Musical Segments: Coors Light has agreed to sponsor the musical performance segments on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” beginning Wednesday with an appearance by Enrique Iglesias. The Jimmy Kimmel Live Concert Series, sponsored by Coors Light, is scheduled to appear during all of 2004. Coors will receive three mentions on air during each sponsored concert, plus logos and full-motion video on a special area at ABC.com.

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CEA Reports Record Digital TV Set Sales: More than 640,000 digital television sets were sold in December 2003, a record number, said the Consumer Electronics Association. That’s a 58 percent increase over the previous record set in June 2003 at about 372,000 digital sets. HDTV sales account for 87 percent of total DTV sales. CEA predicted that 5.8 million digital sets will be sold in 2004, 8.3 million in 2005, 11.9 million in 2006 and 16.1 million in 200

CNBC’s Prime-Time Lineup Still in Flux: Don’t commit the upcoming CNBC prime-time changes to memory yet. “Dennis Miller” is certain to run at 9 p.m. weeknights, starting Monday, Jan. 26. But the programs that will bookend the comedic commentator’s hour-long talk show may be shifting around.

It now appears likely that “The News on CNBC,” to be anchored by John Siegenthaler, will be telecast at 8 p.m. with a repeat at 11 p.m. “Cover to Cover,” the hour-long show filled with repackaged NBC News footage and anchored by CNBC’s Liz Claman, seems headed for 10 p.m. when it debuts Jan. 19 until that hour is filled by another talk show said to be in development for “Dennis Miller’s” lead-out.

WCBS Cuts Commercial Breaks: New York’s WCBS-TV has cut half of the commercial breaks and inventory in its 5 a.m.-to-7 a.m. weekday newscast to provide more news time with the anchors the newscast has been emphasizing in recent months.

Lew Leone, VP and general manager of the flagship CBS-owned station that slipped the format-change onto the air last week, said the hope is also that advertisers will be willing to pay a premium to have their spots run in a less-cluttered environment.

Mr. Leone would not say how much time and inventory is being rededicated from commercials to the newscast, but he said the remaining commercial breaks (probably three on average per hour) will not be lengthened.

A promotional campaign started Monday afternoon with on-air spots in which the morning anchors, all new to the station since mid- or late 2003, sing (to the tune of the pop song “More, More, More”): “More, more, more … half the commercials, half the commercials.”

“We’ll know it’s a success if more people watch,” said Mr. Leone, who said that in the early morning block, such a dramatic gamble is “not a make-or-break proposition.”

In the November sweeps, the newscast’s ratings perked up slightly but still left the show in fourth and fifth place among the five English-language stations competing for the early morning audience in New York. “We’ve done a lot of work on the newscast,” Mr. Leone said. “This is a way to get people to sample it.”