Pressure Cook-er Time

Aug 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The pressure is on Twentieth Television to develop some hit first-run programming for daytime and early fringe on Fox-owned stations, and that pressure now is being applied directly from the top: News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Murdoch’s eldest son Lachlan has been on an aggressive improvement campaign since last year, when he took the reins of the 35-station group, which recently reported modest year-to-year revenue increases.

The Insider hears that the recent presentation of fewer than a dozen ideas in various stages of development at Twentieth didn’t knock the socks off any News Corp. bigfoots; that they want more and better first-run programming; and that they, um, suggested that Twentieth Television President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Cook bring more people into the creative conversations.

While Murdoch pressure is never fun-The Insider worked for News. Corp.’s New York Post for 11 years-it actually might help loosen the purse strings for Mr. Cook, who reportedly is wooing some major on- and off-air talent.

He lunched last week with two of the newer members of the Fox Entertainment Group: Fox Television Studios President Angela Shapiro and FTS alternative development Executive VP Holly Jacobs. Mr. Cook also has extended similarly open arms to Fox Broadcasting reality guru Mike Darnell and to such current test-run partners as Banyan Productions (“Design Invasion” and “Ambush Makeover”) and Wheeler/Sussman Productions (“Live Like a Star”).

The Insider is nothing if not an aficionado of irony and can’t help but note that Mr. Cook (whose crack sales team last March also assumed responsibilities for ad sales on DirecTV) is having one whale of a hot-and-cold spell. Twentieth’s most successful revenue year ever includes the short-lived “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest” (a 36-week clunker Fox sources say cost in the neighborhood of $26 million), the struggling “Good Day Live” and a fuzzy situation with “Texas Justice.” “Justice” has banked enough original episodes for the fourth season, which starts Sept. 6, but execs said it would not go back into production. It is said not to have been canceled but to be on “extended hiatus.”

Faneuil Hall, The Sequels

For the week of the Republican National Convention, CNN has rented the Tick Tock Diner, a slice of gastronomic Americana in the New Yorker Hotel that sits catty-corner-you may prefer cater-corner, but “catty” is more The Insider’s style-from Madison Square Garden. There, conventiongoers and other kibitzers can nosh on vittles turned out by a chef CNN has hired for the week and provide lively background for “Crossfire,” perhaps creating the sort of buzz, if not roar, created by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and other loud pals outside Faneuil Hall during the Democrats’ July gathering in Boston.

Meanwhile, The Insider hears that the concrete island in Herald Square, a busy, busy, busy and loud, loud, loud intersection in front of fabled Macy’s and a long couple of blocks from the Garden, will be Mr. Matthews’ Faneuil Hall in Manhattan.

Honk if you love out-of-towners who add to the noise level in the Big Apple.

Laugh Lines at NBC

Do you know Finesse Mitchell’s first name? The Insider does but was pledged not to tell by Mr. Mitchell, who prefers being introduced as “the new black guy on `Saturday Night Live,”‘ after he hosted last week’s “Stand Up for Diversity New York Showcase.”

Mr. Mitchell started the evening by riffing on his own life. His mother warned him not to succumb to such legendary “SNL” excesses as dating white women: “If she can’t use my comb, don’t bring her home.”

Mr. Mitchell is a hard act to follow, but several of the aspiring TV comedy stars exceeded expectations at the Laugh Factory in New York. It was the second stop on the tour, which started in Chicago and will end Sept. 28 at Los Angeles’ Laugh Factory with a “best of ” showcase that also will be put together by NBC Talent Diversity Initiative producer Damona Resnick and Marc Hirschfeld, NBC Entertainment’s executive VP of casting.

Space precludes saying much more than: Among the names to keep an eye open for are Wil Sylvince, Jordan Carlos, Eliza Santos and Eric Cheung. They made The Insider stop whining and start laughing. And far too many people know that ain’t easy.