Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Come on and do the "Simpsons" flop

A T Dog Media Blog Flashback

Okay, a lot has been made about last Sunday's episode (The Greatest Story Ever D'ohed) which turned out to be the worst Simpsons produced since That '90's Show, when the writers completely rewrote the backstory to give us another wonderful Homer- f's- up - Marge-gets-mad storyline for the sake of attracting more younger viewers.

The story centered on the family's trip to Israel, another in a long line of vacation episodes whose premise was worn out by Season 13.

People complained about the horrible jokes, the annoying tour guide (voiced by the annoying and unfunny Sacha Baron Cohen), Homer being too grating, Ned Flanders being Ned Flanders, and Bart getting plummled by a girl, reducing him to little more than Leopold "Butters" Stotch (and even he can kick Bart's ass.)

The message boards at Toon Zone and No Homers were overwhelmingly negative, with 51% of voters at the latter site gave it one star out of five and even a few giving it zero stars.

Personally, yours truly thought this was the worst episode since That's '90's Show. But since the series jumped the shark two years ago with '90's, does it even matter?

The episode averaged only 5.7 million viewers, finishing fourth in in its time slot, but did finish second in adults 18-49 - but with only a 2.7 rating. But does that even matter? It still outdrew anything The Cant Win aired last week. And since The Simpsons is a heritage show, it takes in a lot of revenue regardless of how it does in the ratings - all thanks to a broken system where the numbers keep getting lower, but the ad rates keep going higher, while programs like Heroes and Law and Order get renewed year after year after year....

And the writers of The Simpsons - the morons that they are - sweep the WGA Awards for best Animation Writing every year. This is either because the competition is light or they do it The Chicago Way, and I'm suspecting the latter is the reason. Even the pompous Oprah Winfrey knew when to step aside when it came to winning Daytime Emmy Awards. 

So in honor of this landmark lowlight in Simpsons history - which there have been many in the last seven or eight seasons -  yours truly is reposting this Think Tank originally from January 30, 2008 (though rewritten on February 25, 2008) on The Simpsons jumping the shark, billed on Twitter as "the most controversial blog post I ever wrote" (okay, I stretched it a bit - the ones I wrote about Warner Saunders and South Side bashing were more controversial and serious.)

To read the Think Tank, click here.

Last Sunday's episode was indeed a creative flop. The real question is, just how much more of this Simpsons fans will take?

I hear The Amazing Race is nice this time of year...

The Grab Bag: Bill Gamble out at CBS Radio

...and other local media items of note

- Chicago radio veteran Bill Gamble is out of  another radio job. He was canned as program director of CBS' WCFS-FM (Fresh FM) and country WUSN-FM (US 99) on Tuesday, lasting a little over eight months. While US 99 continued to chug along nicely at the station, it was the troubles of Adult Contemporary WCFS that did him in. Among the moves he made - firing Roxanne Steele last week to be replaced by a voice-tracked person from Cleveland.

I guess what goes around - comes around.

- That wasn't the only move made at the Church of Tisch this week.  On Monday, political reporter Mike Flannery exited WBBM-TV on Monday after a remarkable thirty years at the station to join Fox-owned WFLD-TV in the same capacity. He joined the station in June 1980 - at a time when Jimmy Carter was still president, the U.S. boycotted the Summer Olympics in Moscow (due to the Soviets invasion of Afghanistan a year earlier) and who shot J.R. on Dallas (it was Kristen.)

It marked the second departure at WBBM-TV in a week - on Friday, Anne State was let go from the station. She co-anchored the station's 5, 6, and 10 p.m. newscasts with Rob Johnson, but was dropped from the 10 p.m. a few months ago leaving Johnson the anchor the show solo. Now with Ms. State gone, the same can be said at 5 and 6 p.m.

- Meanwhile, reporter/anchor Byron Harlan has exited WFLD to become a financial adviser and reporter Antwan Lewis has decided to exit Tribune's WGN-TV as well.

- But in the mist of all these exits, there is someone making a comeback: Diann Burns, who was dropped as anchor at WBBM in a round of cutbacks at the station two years ago, has been named host of Chicago Urban League's NeXt TV show, which airs on both WFLD (8 a.m.) and sister station WPWR-TV (12:30 p.m.) on Sundays. She replaces Cheryle Jackson, who left the show (and the Chicago Urban League) to make an unsuccessful run at the U.S. Senate (yours truly followed Ms. Jackson on Twitter until a few weeks ago.)

- And look who else is making a comeback? Roger Ebert, whose thyroid problems forced him off his movie-review show in 2006, has plans to produce a new program with his wife in the wake of Disney-ABC's decision to fold his old show after 24 seasons last week. Among the plans for the show include utilizing new media, such as Twitter and Facebook. No word yet on who will host the show (Ebert is expected to make some appearances), on what platform the proposed show will air (network, syndication, or cable) or when it will debut.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Big Bang Theory" headed for big payday

Are these guys worth $4 million per episode? You bet your behind it is.

Is the high-priced off-network sitcom on its way back? With the upcoming sale of The Big Bang Theory, we may soon find out.

Not since the days of Friends, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and The Cosby Show have we seen a sitcom come close to the $4 million per episode mark in syndication sales. With the economy in a tailspin, stations have been reluctant to pay cash money for anything as of late, let alone an off-network sitcom or a coffee machine in the break room.

But that's about to change - at least with off-network syndicated sitcoms - with the arrival of The Big Bang Theory, a subject of this Variety article.

The program has been a strong performer for CBS' successful Monday night schedule - and has taken off since being slotted after Two And A Half Men this season. For the past two seasons, Big Bang had aired in the lead-off Monday night slot (7 p.m. CT), and was moved to 8:30 p.m. this season. Since then, the program has finished either first or a close second in total viewers and in adults 18-49.  Big Bang is produced by Chuck Lorre Productions - the same team who produces Men (and the inane Dharma & Greg, which did not have much syndication success.)

Big Bang Theory has the formula to work for syndication - a multi-cam format (i.e. shot in front of a studio audience); solid performance among adults 18-49 every week; strong, multi-dimensional characters (it doesn't get any more multi-dimensional than Sheldon Cooper); terrific story structure; and an ensemble cast. These are essential for any program to have success in off-network syndication. Sitcoms ranging from The Andy Griffith Show and M*A*S*H (minus the studio audience, of course) to Cheers and Everybody Loves Raymond had reaped millions in success from this formula.

How much stations and cable nets will pay for Big Bang - will determine how much the show rakes in per episode. The two groups who'll have a huge say in the matter are Tribune Broadcasting and Fox Television Stations, who own outlets in the top three markets of Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, and also go head-to head with each other in Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and Houston. Tribune won the rights to Two and a Half Men in 2005, and has reaped benefits from the show since its premiere in syndication in 2007. And Tribune could have the inside track since Men and Big Bang perform very well together on Monday nights, and the syndicator would like to repeat that success on local stations.

On the downside, Tribune is still dealing with bankruptcy issues and making high bid for Big Bang might be difficult. Recently, Tribune renewed Twentieth Television's Family Guy for a second cycle, but for a lower price than in the first cycle.

Fox on the other hand, could scoop up Big Bang and could help turn their ratings-challenged performance in syndication around - similar to what happened in 1995 when they bought Home Improvement and trumped the long-dominant Tribune stations in access (WFLD here in Chicago did one better by also acquiring Seinfeld.)

But many Fox stations are expanding their news offerings and WFLD is likely to jump in the early-evening news race within the next two years - which means Big Bang could possibly head to Fox's noticeably weaker My Network TV outlets in its duopoly markets if a sale is made to Fox. A few years ago, Fox outbid Tribune for second-cycle rights to Raymond in five markets where they go head-to-head, including the three largest. Since arriving at MNT stations in 2008, Raymond has not performed well compared to their solid performance on Tribune stations.

In October 2007, Raymond was earning north of a 2 household rating on Tribune's WGN-TV at 12:30 a.m. Since its move to Fox's WPWR-TV two years ago, Raymond has aired in as many as four different time slots and never achieved higher than a 1.5 rating.

Another problem for Fox O&Os  is the possibility of Conan O'Brien landing at their parent network in late fringe, which could give Tribune some leverage in acquiring Big Bang. O'Brien landing at Fox means the elimination of two key time slots for syndicated product.

In the cable arena, several networks - including FX, USA, Comedy Central, and TBS - are in the race to acquire the sitcom, which would likely begin airing the show at the same time broadcasters would. Cable could contribute up to a fourth of the $4 million-per-episode possibility, or around one million an episode. But there is a chance a cable net could bid three million for exclusivity - a possibility should broadcasters balk at paying the high license fees and if O'Brien lands at Fox. Keep in mind cable receives two revenue streams - from subscriber fees and advertising, so an exclusive cable buy isn't too far fetched. On the other hand, the winning cable network could ask for a per-subscriber-fee hike from MSOs, which could cause a backlash from customers in the form of increased cable bills.

But whomever lands the sitcom, one big winner is sure to be Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, who syndicates both Big Bang and Two And A Half Men. Along with the possible three-to-four million haul per episode from the sitcom, there is the revenue from the barter time sold, could fetch millions a year for a minute-and-a-half of barter time, twice a day, eleven or twelve times a week.

And of course... the big winner would be the viewing audience, who would get another quality sitcom to watch every night - an improvement over the current aging crop of off-network series in syndication now and current off-network C-level dreck like Everybody Loves to Hate Chris Payne & His House of Kids.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The balcony closes on "At The Movies"

The balcony is closed. Forever.

(have I said this before?)

And yes, it's for good this time.

After 24 years, Disney-ABC Television Distribution has pulled the plug on At The Movies, the half-hour weekly movie review show once fronted by Chicago movie reviewers Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.

The most recent incarnation was hosted by Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips and New York Times critic A.O. Scott, and was produced at ABC-owned WLS-TV in Chicago, where it aired at 10:35 p.m. on Saturday nights. The program ends its run the weekend of August 14, with repeats scheduled to run until August 28.

Two years ago, both Richard Roeper and Ebert departed from the show.

The program's roots go back to 1975 as a weekly movie review show on WTTW titled Coming soon... to a Theater Near You, with Siskel, who was the film critic for the Chicago Tribune, and Ebert, who was the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. It was later retitled Sneak Previews and in 1978, was made available to PBS stations around the country. It was here their "thumbs up/thumbs down" method of reviewing movies became well known.

In 1982, the duo left public television behind for a deal with Tribune Entertainment to do At The Movies. They departed the show in 1986 for a deal with Buena Vista Television (now Disney-ABC Television Distribution) in a new movie-review show titled Siskel & Ebert & The Movies, which was shortened to just Siskel & Ebert shortly thereafter.

Siskel & Ebert  often ranked in the top twenty on Nielsen's syndicated shows chart.

The industry was shocked in late 1998 when Siskel was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died in early 1999. In 2000 pop culture columnist Richard Roeper of the Sun-Times was named co-host, who proved he was just as good as the guy who he succeeded. The show was renamed Ebert & Roeper.

But by this time, ratings started to decline - especially when Ebert was forced off the show due to thyroid illness in 2006. Ebert was replaced by Tribune film critic Michael Phillips, though the title remained Ebert & Roeper, and it was changed again in 2007 to At The Movies with Ebert & Roeper, partly using the old title of Siskel & Ebert's syndicated show when the duo were with Tribune.

In 2008, Roger Ebert's contract was not renewed by Disney-ABC, and both he and Richard Roeper decided to depart the show. They were both replaced by film critics Ben Lyons and Ben Mankiewicz complete with a format change, which derived from the "thumbs up/ thumbs down" format which made the program so popular with audiences. Viewers hated the new format, as ratings were down 23 percent in households and down 25 percent in the core adults 25-54 demo. In September 2009, the "two Bens" were replaced with a returning Michael Phillips and added A.O. Scott, a New York Times film critic, who was a frequent fill-in for Ebert.

The program did well for WLS on Saturday nights, competitive with Saturday Night Live. But At The Movies was buried in late-night time slots in many markets, undermining the program's ability to attract and maintain national barter advertising.

But more than likely, the move is related to TV stations' desire to stick with off-network repeats and infomercials in key weekend time periods, rather than to commit to first-run programming (outside of weekend editions of nightly strips.) Over the past decade, CBS, NBC, and ABC have abandoned original programming on Saturday nights, and Friday nights could be next as most series there are struggling.

Recently, Tribune announced it was not picking up fantasy/sci-fi series Legend of the Seeker for a third season, which like At The Movies, is syndicated by Disney-ABC Television Distribution. The fate of Seeker for next season remains unknown.

With the departure of Oprah Winfrey in 2011 - and At The Movies this August, Chicago is left with just two nationally syndicated series in production - Warner Bros. Judge Jenne Pirro and Judge Mathis, both of which share space at NBC Tower in the River North neighborhood. Last year, both Steve Wilkos and Jerry Springer departed the Windy City for Stamford, Conn.

At The Movies was certainly the last of its kind on television - the movie-review show. Two similar, recent entries - Paramount's Hot Ticket (2001-04) and NBC Universal's New York-based Reel Talk (2007-09) - were not successful with audiences. Reel Talk was co-hosted by film critic Jeffrey Lyons, whose son Ben was a critic on At The Movies. In the ultimate irony, both father and son lost their jobs in the same calendar year (The senior Lyons was fired from his film critic position at WNBC-TV last May.)

And as for the title At The Movies, this actually marks the second cancellation of the show - when Siskel & Ebert left the show in 1986, Tribune continued the program for four more years, with the insufferable Rex Reed and his co-host, Bill Harris (who left after two seasons and was replaced by the charisma-free Dixie Whatley.) When Tribune failed to secure enough clearances to renew the show for a ninth season in August 1990, they canceled the show.

Tribune Entertainment folded on December 18, 2007.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Arbitron PPMs results for February - Mainstream AC not cool with Chicago listeners

(Updated at 23:59)

Note: These are based on 6+ numbers only.

Also, check out yours truly's rant on our town's AC stations below - they need to have their "AC" fixed.

Click here to see February's numbers, as well as those for the last two months.

Click here to see a demo breakdown of the numbers, including adults 25-54.




WLIT-FM (Lite FM), WCFS-FM (Fresh 105.9)


WSCR-AM (The Score), WLEY-FM

Despite a slight drop from January's numbers, WBBM-AM held on to the top slot of Arbitron's latest survey for the month of February, using Portable People Meters to measure audiences. The biggest gainers month-to-month were Spanish-language WOJO-FM (+16%), oldies WLS-FM (+14%), along with WVIV (+18%) and WBEZ (+ 14%).
Also on the plus side was alt-rock WKQX-FM, WDRV (The Drive), and WJMK (Jack FM).

On the downside, WSCR (The Score) was the survey's biggest dropper, down 35 % from last month. Rival WMVP (ESPN 1000) also declined, with a 16% decrease. WLIT failed to reverse its ratings slide from the holidays (down 9% from January and off 68% from the Holiday book), while rival WCFS was up a tick (+6%), but ratings continue to be low. And WLEY continued to lag far behind its Spanish-language rivals WVIV and WOJO, with a 36% drop from its holiday numbers.

Rant: Earlier this week, WCFS announced the departure of afternoon personality Roxanne Steele and is being replaced by Jen Toohey, who is voice-tracking from Cleveland from sister station WQAL-FM. This move comes after rival WLIT last year dropped Melissa Forman from the morning drive (for the second time) and replaced her with Sean Valentine (voice-tracked from Los Angeles), while afternoon drive is being voice-tracked by a personality from Phoenix.

So much for being "live and local", While yours truly understands the financial pressures stations are under, voicetracking, or piping in voices from another market on tape has been going on even during good economic times! 

Judging by the lackluster ratings for both stations in this latest survey, Chicago's mainstream Adult Contemporary listeners are clearly turned off - and ticked off. But of course, the geniuses at these two outlets are staying the course, playing the same Madonna song from the 1980's at least 100 times per week while their core female audience continue to flee for the exits.

Both WLIT and WCFS need to take a cue from Bonneville's successful WTMX-FM,("The Mix"). The Hot AC station has been successful with Eric & Kathy in morning drive for nearly 15 years, dominating morning drive among females 25-54 for the last decade. They need to look for the next Eric & Kathy, not the next piped-in voice from Dayton, Ohio. And all the Christmas tunes in the world won't save you, WLIT. The media buyers know why you put it on in the first place - and you can't fool them.

The male 18-34 demo aren't the only ones who get their music exclusively from an iPod, iPhone, or MP3 player - and the mainstream AC audience will being soon heading down the same road. WLIT and WCFS will continue to suffer if they don't start investing in some local content. Right now, there is nothing appealing about these two stations - unless you like hearing Crazy For You fifteen times a day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

T Dog's Four Pack

This was a week to get angry - from vicious hits on the ice to vicious insults on the Capitol steps, not exactly a feel good week. But there was some good, too - and March Madness did not disappoint. What worked for yours truly - and what didn't:


Rosie may be coming back to daytime. Okay, before you beat the crap out of yours truly, hear me out. While yours truly isn't a fan of O'Donnell or her "antics", I think a talk show reboot featuring the former "Queen of Nice" might work. Why? Because two people behind the show - former Warner Bros. syndication veterans Scott Carlin and Dick Robertson - can get it done. These two gentlemen had a successful track record of launching syndicated shows at Warner Bros. in the 1990's and are forming a company with Ms. O'Donnell to sell her new show. It also doesn't hurt that both Carlin and Robertson helped launch Ms. O'Donnell's previous daytime effort when they were at Warner Bros. together.

This is akin to what producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner (of Carsey-Werner Productions) did when they launched their first venture in syndication, Bill Cosby's You Bet Your Life daily strip in 1992 (even though it bombed, it planted the seeds for them to sell their own off-network series in syndication, including That '70's Show and later cycles of The Cosby Show and A Different World.)

This is what I like - seeing individuals (like Entertainment Studios' Byron Allen) hitting the streets to sell product to stations - something syndicators used to do before consolidation eliminated the practice for all but the smallest players in the business. It's a long shot (Carlin and Robertson have to convince big station groups who are aligned with the big studios to buy the show), but this is a project worth rooting for, even if you don't like Ms. O'Donnell.

March Madness. Buzzer beaters, upsets, and exciting plays - in both the NCAA and the (diluted) IHSA tournaments - this is what March Madness is all about.

South Park is still relevant. 3.7 million tuned in last Wednesday for the fourteenth season-premiere. With Fox's animated block nearly running on empty, we need an animated comedy that isn't afraid of tackling tough issues - and making fun of them.

Days of Our Lives fans. The venerable NBC soap is coming back this fall for its 45th year. Wow!


The National Broadband Plan. FCC Julius Genachowski announced his plan last week which would re-collate spectrum from television broadcasters to wireless broadband providers, which means some broadcasters could wind up sharing spectrum and some outlets could shut down. So who does this benefit? Google, AT&T, and Verizon? Certainly not the broadcasters - or the communities they serve.

Reed Hundt. The former FCC Chairman (from 1994-97 - whom I've never liked, BTW) denounced over-the-air broadcasting (and TV in general) as a "threat to our democracy" at a recent speech at Columbia University. No, idiot - its government bureaucrats like YOU are a bigger threat to our democracy. It's a speech those morons at the Parents Television Council would only love.

The NHL. Well, so much for the post-Olympic bounce the NHL wanted. Back to nasty goon hits, inconsistency over the length of players getting suspended, a commissioner (Gary Bettman) who continues to ignore numerous issues in the sport, and general managers who act like professional wrestlers than professionals. And you wonder why ratings stay low.

Peter Pascarelli fired from ESPN's Baseball Today podcast. And for what? A throwaway joke about pigeons shitting over MLB Commissioner Bud Selig's statue in Milwaukee? (they should also aim for Bettman's statue, should one ever be put up.) And this while other ESPN personalities have said worse? And guess who they replaced the honest and outspoken Pascarelli with on the podcast... an idiot flunkee yes-man who used to work for Commissioner Selig.

With the network spending money trying to acquire every major sporting event known to man (except hockey; see above) so it can collect dual revenues from advertising and a subscriber base - leaving ABC affiliates without sporting events on most weekends and jacking up per-subscriber fees in the process, ESPN is now front and center as the face of Big Media everyone loves to hate.

After those pigeons are done in Milwaukee, they should head for Connecticut and aim for the heads of some ESPN executives.

Monday, March 22, 2010

TV news and notes: WFLD/WPWR gets "Better"

A lot of television news and notes for a Monday:

- Fox's duopoly in Chicago (WFLD and WPWR) has acquired Meredith's Better for airing this fall. The acquisition of the lifestlyle magazine show was a part of a deal that also included Fox duopolies in Orlando (WOFL/WRBW) and Houston (KRIV/KTXH). The program was also renewed at NBC affiliate WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee, where the show is currently is in its 3rd season.

The Chicago clearance is the largest in the nation for Better, which now stands at nearly 50 percent of the country.

The program features brands from Meredith's magazine portfolio (like Better Homes and Gardens.), presented in a PM Magazine-like fashion. Better airs on Meredith's TV station group, which includes CBS affiliate KCTV in Kansas City, Fox affiliate KPTV in Portland, Ore., CBS affiliate WGCL-TV in Atlanta, and CBS affiliate KPHO-TV in Phoenix. The program airs on other station group including outlets belonging to LIN (CBS affiliate WISH-TV in Indianapolis) and Belo.

- WFLD also made news today by announcing the hiring of former WGN-TV and WBBM-TV reporter Joanie Lum. Ms. Lum will appear on the station Good Day Chicago morning program beginning on April 19. Ms. Lum was let go from WBBM last April in a cost-cutting move.

- NBC-owned WMAQ-TV has launched a new blog for political fanatics. titled Ward Room (obviously named after Chicago's electoral jurisdiction), the site will cover politics in Chicago and around the country, and follow nine politicians whose actions impact Chicagoans everyday from Mayor Richard M. Daley to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (even an ex-pol is being followed - former Governor Rod Blagoveich, currently of Celebrity Apprentice.)

Contributors will include political reporters Mary Ann Ahern and Phil Rogers, and political analyst and Chicago Tonight contributor Carol Marin. Chicago Sun-Times' Jack Higgins is also contributing to the site with his famous political cartoons.

- In Los Angeles, CBS-owned duopoly of KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV laid off 20 news staffers from its Studio City, Cal. facilities on Friday, a continuing trend in the business due to the recession that has hit the television industry hard. This comes as a study on Los Angeles television newscasts was recently released, blasting the market's news operations for their lack of coverage on education and government issues,and relying instead on the usual diet of crime, violence, and celebrity gossip.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

"Maury" thriving in new home

In a follow-up story on the Tribune story on Monday, the group's trio of talk shows are having a resurgent year in daytime syndication. And Maury is one of those shows reaping the benefits.

In this B&C article from last week, Maury Povich talked about how his program has reactivated itself since moving to new facilities in Stamford, Connecticut from the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City, where his talk show was taped for the previous eleven seasons (for seven seasons prior to that, it was called The Maury Povich Show under a different format and syndicated by Paramount.)

Maury joined two other shows in the move to Connecticut, thanks to tax breaks given by the state - The Jerry Springer Show and The Steve Wilkos Show, both were formerly taped  at the NBC Tower here in Chicago.

All three shows have seen ratings growth this year - especially Maury, whose ratings have grown 44% in households (2.3) and the adults 18-34 demo (1.3), and grew 56% among adults 18-49 (1.4) and up 49% in total viewers (3.4 million per day.) Povich says the recession and the growing unemployment numbers are the reason why there are more viewers are watching his show (more people are at home watching TV during the day.)

In fact, Maury has drawn more viewers in those key demos than some of The CW's prime-time programs. Maury airs on many CW affiliates, including WGN-TV in Chicago, where it airs weekdays at 2 p.m. and 12:30 a.m.

In October 2009, Maury averaged a 1.8 household rating a 6 share locally, at 2 p.m. finishing second behind General Hospital and slightly behind Judge Mathis on WCIU, but blowing past Divorce Court and The Bonnie Hunt Show. The number is up 6% from what Steve Wilkos averaged in the time period in October 2008.

Povich, who a lot of us know from his days as host of Twentieth Television's lurid (and fun) newsmagazine show A Current Affair, has treasured his transition from news anchor (he once worked at WMAQ-TV here in 1976-77) to a talk show post popular with the younger crowd in an age where those type of audiences aren't exactly embracing anybody with gray in their hair.

Povich says the move to Stamford has brought in a more younger, energetic crowd. Stamford, where the show is taped, in only minutes from the numerous universities in the area, including the University of Connecticut and Yale.

While Maury has remained a hit with young audiences, his show has been critizied for exploring dysfunctional families, minority guests, and poor people through his show's themes which run from paternity tests to out of control teens.

But Povich defends the show, noting the paternity tests serve some purpose - saying some men deny responsibility for their biological children.

While Povich's show is growing in the ratings, the program is still black-listed by some advertisers because of content (then again, some of these same advertisers also advertise on more raunchier reality-TV fare on cable.) Is acting like a spoiled, rich brat  or 100 women fighting - sometimes literally - for a man's heart - more appealing to advertisers than troubled teens or out-of-control moms?

Something to think about.

Maury, Jerry Springer, and The Steve Wilkos Show  have all been renewed through the 2011-12 television season.

Fact: Maury, along with Springer and Wilkos, tape at the Stamford Television Center in Stamford - only a few blocks away from where the World Wrestling Entertainment headquarters are located.

Fact 2: Before NBCU's talk shows arrived in Connecticut last summer, the last time a syndicated talk show was taped in the state was Sally Jesse Raphael's talk show, which taped in New Haven, Conn. from 1987 to 1989.  Raphael's and Springer's shows were once handled by Donahue syndicator Multimedia Entertainment, which folded into Universal Television in 1997.

Fact 3: Maury is a proud member of the T Dog Media Blog TV Hall of Shame.

Flash Forward... to your demise... Part 2

It may be over for FlashForward.

The ABC sci-fi drama did not generate any interest Thursday night, averaging only a 1.9 rating among adults 18-49, and 6.5 million viewers according to figures supplied by Nielsen and The Wrap.

While the program fared better in households, the 25-54 demo, and even made Trending Topics on Twitter during the 8 p.m. hour here in Chicago (obviously due to WLS-TV's popularity), it's the advertiser industry standard 18-49 and to a lesser extent, total viewers that matters most when it comes to entertainment programming.

FlashForward had been on hiatus for three-and-a-half months before returning with a clip show Tuesday night, in order to get viewers pumped up for the show again. It drew only a 1.6 rating in adults 18-49.

Meanwhile, The Marriage Ref grew week-to-week in its latest outing, up 8 percent in its third Thursday night airing. The moronic celebrity-panel program is creating a debate online, as many detractors have assaulted it (though not exactly in the classiest way possible.)

The Marriage Ref surprisingly did not make Trending Topics on Twitter in Chicago, given how the audience usually tunes in to inane programming in this town (the Cubs, the Bears when they are losing, The Bachelor, Mancow, etc.)

Friday, March 19, 2010

WGN-TV launches "Chicago's Best"

Tribune-owned WGN-TV is expanding its weekend local programming offerings by adding a new lifestyle-oriented magazine show.

Titled Chicago's Best, the program examines the best restaurants and lifestyle choices in the Chicago area and is hosted by Chicago TV veteran Ted Brunson, Second City alum Sarah Spain, and Brittany Payton, who is the co-founder of the "Youth for Life" foundation (to educate teens about organ and tissue donation) and runs the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation with her mother.

Brittany's father was the late Walter Payton, who played for the Chicago Bears for his entire career. He died on November 1, 1999.

Chicago's Best plans to take a look at the metro area's best restaurants, venues, and activities - a format similar to WLS-TV's successful Sunday night magazine 190 North.

Chicago's Best will air on Sundays at 10 p.m. on WGN beginning April 18 and repeats will air throughout the week on WGN's cable news sister station CLTV.

Already, WGN is airing two other local programs on Sundays: Homes Plus at 11 a.m. and Living Healthy Chicago at 11:30 a.m. Those two shows are also re-ran on CLTV

The program is not expected to air on WGN America.

Conan, Fox on the move

You'd think with recently disposed former NBC talk show host Conan O' Brien possibly headed to Fox, you think the news would thrill affiliates, right?

Well, think again.

With news yesterday of Fox and O'Brien negotiating a deal to host a late-night talk show - something the network hasn't had on a nightly basis since the debacle of Chevy Chase's ill-fated gabber in 1993, Fox affiliates will be wrestling with a dilemma - whether to clear a new talk show featuring one of the hottest names out there right now - or stick with the current first-run and off-network fare they're currently airing.

In some cases, they may not have a choice but to stick with the syndicated fare.

Several syndicators may hold Fox affiliates contractually bound to the time period clearances for their shows - just one of the many hurdles O'Brien faces as he tries to seal a deal with Fox. In some markets, O'Brien show could be delayed from its regularly scheduled time (which hasn't bee set as of yet) due to existing contracts to syndicated fare.

When David Letterman moved to CBS in 1993, there were many affiliates who had to delay his show because of a similar scenario (after all, Letterman did replace a bunch of low-budget first-run crime dramas and repeats in late night, which were not widely cleared on the network.) CBS was flexible, allowing stations to delay Letterman a half-hour to carry first-run programming and off-network sitcoms airing on many CBS affiliates at 11:30 p.m. (10:30 p.m. Central) .

For example, WUSA-TV in Washington D.C., delayed Letterman until 12:35 a.m. because of Paramount's The Aresnio Hall Show airing an hour earlier, which was very popular among Washington viewers. As a result, WUSA got an exemption from CBS to delay Letterman an hour. Had WUSA moved Aresnio from its 11:35 p.m. time slot, it would had to pay Paramount through a "liquid damages" clause, which could have cost WUSA hundreds of thousands of dollars (when Arsenio Hall's show was canceled in May 1994, WUSA cleared Letterman in-pattern, at 11:35 p.m.)

In nearby Baltimore, then-CBS affiliate WBAL-TV (now an NBC affiliate), who also carried Arsenio, tried to get the same exemption WUSA got, but was turned down by the network. Instead, CBS cleared Letterman on independent WNUV-TV until May 1994, when Arsenio's departure led CBS to finally move Letterman to WBAL (that is, until January 2, 1995 when the CBS affiliation left for WJZ-TV, which the network now owns.)

But even the "liquid damages" clause didn't protect Arsenio's Hall  show when Fox mandated its affiliates to clear Chase's talk show at 11 p.m. Eastern/10 Central  with no exemptions - forcing Arsenio to air at midnight on those stations, which made up roughly half of his affiliate base. The move to the later time slots and Letterman's success ultimately led to his late night show's demise.

These days, it'll be even harder to move syndicated programs to accommodate Conan O'Brien. The one difference between 1993 and today is syndicators are now owned by bigger conglomerates, as they can wield considerable clout and power. Fox doesn't want to undercut rival studios, which its own O&O group often does business with - that's why you won't likely see the mandated time period clearance this time around. Another difference: today, almost all off-network fare is sold on a barter or cash-barter basis, as opposed to mostly cash deals (no barter) back then. And with the all-barter shows, those programs will take a hit if they are moved to a later time slot, where HUT and CPM (cost-er-thousand) rates are lower.

One syndicator that could lose big is NBC Universal, which sold 30 Rock on an all-barter basis for 2011. The manner the show is sold in means the program's revenues (in broadcast syndication) are totally dependent on barter revenue.

As for existing shows, O'Brien's arrival could cause some headaches, for Fox affiliates and O&Os. In Chicago, WFLD-TV's late night lineup consists of The Office (which they canceled a 10 p.m. newscast to make room for), The Simpsons, and repeats of TMZ and The Wendy Williams Show from earlier in the day. In the nine markets where Fox owns a Fox-My Network TV duopoly (including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Dallas), there is an option to move some of the fare forced out by O'Brien's show to the My Network TV affiliate. But it could come at a cost to the shows' ratings and revenue as most of those MNT stations have very low viewership. In Chicago, WPWR-TV finishes behind independent WCIU-TV and PBS station WTTW in the ratings, while New York's WWOR-TV usually comes in behind the market's Univision and Telemundo stations.

As for Fox affiliates, they would lose ad revenue if they are forced to clear O'Brien's show at either 10 or 11 p.m. Usually, stations would have 12 minutes per hour to sell per hour in late night. With O'Brien's show, the number would nearly be cut in half.

For the competition, Tribune stations and CBS' CW and independent stations would benefit as they could be the only games in town if the Fox station (who isn't in a duopoly with a My Network TV affiliate) gets out of the sitcom business in late fringe. This would certainly be the case in Philadelphia (#4 market) since Tribune owns the MNT affiliate (WPHL-TV) and CBS owns CW affiliate WPSG-TV. Fox O&O WTXF currently airs a sitcom block from 11 p.m. -1 a.m. consisting of Seinfeld, Malcolm in the Middle, and two episodes of King of the Hill. O'Brien's show would push those shows to later time periods.

Weigel Broadcasting, owner of WCIU and WMLW-TV in Milwaukee, also stands to benefit from the possible flood of syndicators knocking on their doors for product in late-night, as is Sinclair's CW and MNT affiliates.

Overall, if Conan O' Brien lands on Fox - or even in first-run syndication itself (a long shot), the syndication landscape will change significantly.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Flash Forward... to your demise

ABC is relaunching FlashForward this Thursday night after a nearly four month hiatus. But does anyone care?

The sci-fi drama debuted last September 24 with the premise of the everyone in the world blacking out for two minutes and when everyone woke up, chaos ensued. The event gave the FBI a mystery to solve: What caused the blackout? Who's behind it? Will it happen again? Viewers were intrigued as well, with 12 million viewers tuned in for the premiere.

But six months and three showrunners later, the program is fighting for its life. Viewers have steadily fled for the exits as the plots became more complicated and more difficult to follow, the characters (the key to any great TV show or movie) became more and more buffoonish, and the story structure is now more uneven than the pavement on the Eisenhower.

Instead of focusing on the mystery at hand, we're faced with the personal problems of the characters. While that's fine, the show has dabbled in it a little too much - dealing with whether someone's gay or not, or whether a couple got married or not in their "FlashForward", suicidal FBI agents, or alcoholic fathers battling with their long-lost daughters. Is this a science fiction drama or The Maury Show?

And there were some actions the producers took which were unexplainable. An episode of FlashForward opened in November with a six-minute recap montage of the entire series set to loud rock music which seemed way out of place. To yours truly, it was an excuse for lazy writing - a good guess is the writers probably came up with only 53 pages for the script, instead of the standard 60-70 pages used for an one-hour network drama.

The bottom line is this - FlashForward has shred audience every week since its premiere. On September 24, the program had those 12 million viewers and a 3.8 Nielsen rating among adults 18-49. When the program aired the mid-season finale on December, the program plunged 40% in total viewers and 42% in adults 18-49 as it sputtered to the finished line with only 7.2 million viewers and a 2.2 adults 18-49 rating. And the series - which was supposed to return in January - is just returning now, and the nearly four-months hiatus isn't likely to bring the viewers back into the seats. You can argue Glee is going through a similar months-long hiatus - but the big difference here is Glee's ratings have held up and still has plenty of water-cooler and Internet buzz - something FlashForward now lacks.

actually gets a break for the first two weeks of its return since CBS' Survivor is displaced by the NCAA Basketball Tournament. But the show faces an uphill battle to stay alive. You know what? I'm having a FlashForward right now. In the future, I see... I see... a second season of this show... not taking place.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tribune and The CW: Culture Clash?

While the Tribune Co. is struggling with the antics of CEO Randy Michaels and Chapter 11 bankruptcy, its TV division is actually taking care of its own business - despite the struggles of The CW - the network which thirteen of its stations (including WPIX in New York, KTLA in Los Angeles and WGN-TV in Chicago) are aligned with, in this spot-on Broadcasting & Cable article.

Many Tribune stations feel their syndicated lineups - featuring fare like Live With Regis & Kelly, Jerry Springer, and Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? and their local newscasts and sporting events - are incompatible with the young female-skewing CW programming, which is generating buzz and setting trends (e.g. landing on magazine covers), but failing to generate the ratings or revenue for local stations - or the lead-in numbers for its 9 or 10 p.m. newscasts. (The CW was formed by the merger of WB and UPN in 2006.)

Many station execs are griping that the CW programming is, according to B&C, "too hip for the room" (and you thought NBC affiliates have problems.)

Meanwhile, Tribune outlets have been taking care of their own business in other dayparts - and doing a good job of it in many cases.

Tribune stations in daytime - notably WPIX and KTLA - has done well, thanks to NBC Universal's trio of raunchy talk shows (Maury, Jerry Springer, and Steve Wilkos.) The shows are up from year-ago time period shares across the board in key female demos.

Of course, not all three shows air on all Tribune stations. In Chicago, Wilkos airs on Weigel's WCIU (where, like its Tribune counterparts, was up in key female demos last month), and Jerry Springer airs on Fox's WPWR-TV (but is moving to WCIU this fall.) WGN airs Disney's Live With Regis & Kelly and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire instead, but does air Maury at 2 p.m.

In St. Louis, Springer airs on Tribune's KPLR-TV, but Maury airs on Sinclair's ABC affiliate, KDNL-TV while My Network TV affiliate WRBU-TV has the rights to Wilkos. In Sacramento, Tribune's KTXL (Fox) only airs Wilkos. (Hearst's KQCA-TV airs the other two NBCU talk shows.)

Meanwhile, Tribune's stations in access and late fringe are doing very well with Two And A Half Men and Family Guy, which they recently renewed for a second cycle. In October 2009 on WGN, Men beat The Simpsons in households by 56% in rating at 6 p.m. and had a whopping 118% advantage over the animated sitcom at 10:30 p.m.

But when CW network fare begins, it is very clear viewers flee. In October 2009 [1], WGN averaged a 1.8/3 from 7-9 p.m. compared to a 2.5/5 for Family Guy at 6:30 p.m. On WPIX, CW programming earned an identical 1.8/3  compared to a 1.9/3- lead-in from Family Guy, and KTLA had  1.5/2 in prime with Men providing a 2.9/5 lead-in - a 48% drop.

Washington D.C.'s WBDC prime-time average in October was  1.1/2 compared to 2.0/4 for Men at 7:30 p.m., while in Dallas, KDAF had a 1.4/2 in prime compared to Men's 2.6/5 at 6:30 p.m. - a 46% drop.

The weak CW lead-ins have hurt Tribune's late newscasts in some markets - notably in New York and Los Angeles, where the Fox O&O enjoys a hefty lead-in advantage from Fox prime-time programming containing blockbusters like House and American Idol. But in Chicago, WGN has dominated over WFLD in the 9 p.m. news ratings, despite the weak CW lead-ins.

Two Tribune stations have remedied this problem somewhat by moving their newscasts to 7 p.m:  KPLR in St. Louis and KWGN-TV has done so, with CW programming airing at 8 p.m. (both stations are in local marketing agreements with Local TV's Fox affiliates in those markets.)

Tribune is hoping CW develops programming that attracts a more broader audience in prime-time and more importantly, to its newscasts. The 18-34 crowd who watches CW programs in prime-time usually don't hang around for the older-skewing newscasts that follow, instead seeking out fare on the Big 3 networks or on basic cable like Project Runway and The Real Housewives.

CW is doing just that, with development deals in place with projects from Heroes' Hayden Panettiere, two former Gilmore Girls producers, and a remake of popular 1990's cable drama Le Femme Nikita.

Despite these hurdles, don't look for Tribune to dump CW anytime soon - they still have six years left to go on their contract. Plus, despite the weak ratings, an identity sells with advertisers and stockholders - believe it or not, there's more value to these stations with a CW identity than without one. But with Tribune owning CW affiliates in four of the top five markets - their influence can carry some weight. And if ratings don't improve soon, that weight will have to be thrown around.

[1] Source: Katz MultiDayGrids and Nielsen Media Research, October 2009.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

T Dog's Think Tank: The Court Jester

Last week, A memo Tribune CEO Randy Michaels sent through WGN-AM News Director Charlie Meyerson, had a list of 119 words and phrases his employees at WGN should not say on the air in order to "improve the product". And if they say any of these "forbidden" words, other employees can "rat them out" by noting the precise date and time of the infraction using "bingo cards", which contains several of the words Michaels have forbidden. The item appeared on Robert Feder's blog at Vocalo on Wednesday.

As you can imagine, the memo generated a lot of controversy in Chicago media circles this week and sparked a discussion on excessive newspeak.

The real question is, why was the list even out? Seriously, does anyone whine and bitch about what type of words being used on the air? To me, this is excessive nitpicking at its worst. Anybody who rails against something like "excessive newspeak" really needs to get a life.

And as for the mastermind behind this idiotic memo - Randy "Court Jester" Michaels, all he's trying to do is "improve the product". Well, since Sam Zell (the Ziphead) and the Court Jester took over the bankrupt Tribune Co., its properties have taken a huge nosedive in quality - especially WGN Radio and the Chicago Tribune, whose content is laughable. For example, their "Tribune Watchdog" series of articles is hypocrisy at its worst given a bankruptcy judge green-lighted $45 million in bonuses for Tribune executives. Well, who's watching the watchdog?

Now, make no mistake - Randy Michaels is - or was - a master promoter and marketer, evidenced from the time he was with Jacor (now Clear Channel)-owned WFLZ-FM in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Fla. market. In 1989, he masterminded the greatest publicity stunt of all time when WFLZ - then an oldies station - pulled off a faux kidnapping of soon-to-be rival WRBQ-FM morning jock Cleveland Wheeler and asked them to pay a ransom of $4 million to WFLZ so they wouldn't flip to CHR, or contemporary-hit radio, and take WRBQ - or Q105 - on. Q105 had been the dominant Top 40 station in the Tampa area throughout the 1980's. Well, Q105 turned down the offer and WFLZ became a contemporary-hit radio station called "The Power Pig" - and the rest was history. (WFLZ is still a huge player in Tampa-St. Petersburg, constantly ranking in the top ten in the 12+ demographic. Q105 - now owned by CBS Radio - abandoned the Top 40 format in 1993 and has had greater success as a "classic hits" station.)

Michaels attempted to duplicate that success in Chicago in early 1991 when he was hired as a consultant to help boost CHR outlet WYTZ-FM's (now "true oldies" WLS-FM) sagging ratings against rival WBBM-FM. He came up with "Hell-FM", a lame and unoriginal attempt that lasted all of a week, going down as one of the biggest marketing slogan failures in radio history. And ten months later, it was WYTZ-FM that would be history.

Michaels has been called out for his raunchy and unprofessional antics in the workplace while at Jacor, and was fired from a position at Clear Channel in Tampa (Jacor was bought by CC in 1998) after one of his DJ's at WXTB-FM (former WBBM-FM nighttime personality Bubba The Love Sponge) killed a boar live on the air.

When Zell - former owner of Jacor Broadcasting - bought Tribune, he hired Michaels as CEO of the company. But Michaels' decisions since being appointed to the post have been widely panned in media circles - especially regarding WGN radio. There, he dropped Kathy & Judy's show, hired former Chicago alderman and ex-con James Laski as a weekend host, and scrapping Sports Central and Pet Central for right-wing political talk on the weekends.

On the TV side, the decisions have been less aggravating, but notable nonetheless. While the Tribune group did renew Family Guy for another syndication cycle and picked up American Dad!, it passed on renewing Legend of the Seeker for a third season - and is likely to fill the weekend time slots vacated by the show with more off-network reruns, which is already the norm at most TV stations on Saturdays and Sundays. Tribune's CW affiliates are sticking with the network despite rock-bottom ratings, which in some markets have even been surpassed by My Network TV, which is now a programming service airing syndicated reruns for the most part. The CW shows have been criticized for their lack of quality and death - notably 90210, Gossip Girl, and new docu-soap High Society. But then again, this is the type of fare The Court Jester loves to put on his air.

And as a CEO "focusing on content", it seems what he's focusing on right now is crap - which he has done by hiring ex-con (and former WBBM-TV anchor) Larry Mendete to  do commentaries for Tribune's WPIX in New York and hiring radio personality Gary Burbank to dress up in a redneck character to do commentaries for WGN-TV in Chicago and WGN America - moves which could alienate viewers of Tribune's already struggling local newscasts. What's next? Michaels hiring Survivor host Jeff Probst to do commentaries for KTLA's newscasts in Los Angeles? (judging by Probst's blog, the idea doesn't sound too far-fetched.)

So, for anyone who thought Bozo's Circus was dead, a far less enjoyable version is alive and well in the offices of Tribune Tower, with Zell the Ziphead leading the Grand March into oblivion and Court Jester Michaels destroying what was once a great newspaper and media company. The only thing left to do is rig the Grand Prize Game.

Friday, March 12, 2010

T Dog's Four Pack: Hoop it up!

In honor of the month we all go basketball crazy, we salute the three-point buzzer beaters and the airballs of the last week-and-the-half:

March Madness!

The Bears spend like no tomorrow. Bears sign Julius Peppers and two other free agents last Friday (March 5.) The Bears had a good week last week, hoping to get the team back to Lakers-like contention. Then again, so did NBC.

- Seth MacFarlane strikes back at Matt & Trey. Nearly four years after Cartoon Wars, the Family Guy creator finally strikes back at them at the end of the recent WGA Awards. To listen, click here, wait patiently and scroll all the way down to the end. That's what I call a slam dunk! (Personally, I recommend you listen to the whole thing, as Jeff Goldsmith of Creative Screenwriting Magazine did a great job putting this podcast together. You will not be sorry.)

- Richard Roeper joins Roe Conn's afternoon show.
And this after Roeper turned down an offer to work for crosstown rival WGN-AM. Smart move? With Kevin "Pig Virus" Methany and Randy "Court Jester" MIchaels continuing to shoot airballs over there, you can't blame them. Good move by WLS.

- Katherine Helgi leaves Grey's Anatomy.
Here's to future B-movie stardom! See you at the Clippers game courtside next week?

March Blandness.

- Quality isn't Job #1.
Your hits of the year so far: Undercover Boss, The Bachelor, The Marriage Ref, and on the radio side, the Bears (NFL team with the most listeners in 2009) and Mancow (#1 in his time slot on WLS, before he got canned.) There's no accounting for taste, I suppose.

- Nancy Loo leaves Fox News Chicago. The lovely Ms. Loo is out at Fox-owned WFLD-TV's news operation, leaving us with the Chicago version of Jillian Barberie Renyolds, Jan Jeffcoat. Mornings and Noon won't be the same. It's like replacing the Bulls Cheeleaders with several Rosie O'Donnell clones.

- Randy "Court Jester" Michaels inane memo.
The Court Jester shot an airball Wednesday by releasing this inane memo (through WGN-AM's Charlie Meyerson) If his memo banning the use of 119 words from radio and TV stations are meant to "improve the product", then he's more delusional than I thought. Anyone who listens for stuff like this is just nitpicking - and needs to get a life. Or is that a hard thing to do now?

- 90210 and Gossip Girl renewed for another season.
And this despite an average viewership of two million viewers this season. Since Tribune's nineteen 13 TV stations are CW outlets, I guess these two programs qualifies as hits to the Court Jester. It's all part of his master plan for world domination to dumb down the planet. Or has that happened already? He and Sam Zell "The Ziphead" are already stupid enough to think The CW is a successful network.

Monday, March 08, 2010

"Legend of the Seeker" seeking new outlets

Disney/ABC's weekly action-adventure hour Legend of the Seeker is going to have an adventure of its own - trying to find new outlets after a major station group carrying the show declined to renew it.

In a memo obtained by TV By The Numbers, Tribune Broadcasting said it would not renew the sci-fi/fantasy action hour after two seasons.

Tribune is the show's largest group clearance, with WGN-TV carrying it locally, as is WPIX in New York, KTLA in Los Angeles, WPHL in Philadelphia, and KDAF in Dallas - all in the nation's five largest markets.

Seeker is produced by ABC Studios, the same production company responsible for Lost, Grey's Anatomy, and Criminal Minds (which is a co-production with CBS Television Studios.)

But keep hope alive, Seeker fans - the show may come back for a third season thanks to a little magic called "synergy". The producers are shopping the show around for a third season, and there is an outside possibility the program could end up on ABC-owned stations for weekend late-night play - though this is a long shot.

ABC owns stations in the top four markets where it competes with Tribune. And even though ABC doesn't own a station in fifth-ranked Dallas (where Belo owns ABC affiliate WFAA), it does own KGO-TV in San Francisco, which along with Oakland and San Jose, make up the sixth-largest market in the U.S. Currently, the ABC O&Os air syndicated repeats of Grey's Anatomy and Lost in those weekend time periods, both of which are underperforming.

If ABC's owned stations don't take the show, then Seeker could be shopped to Fox's ten My Network TV stations (forget Fox O&Os, too many weekend sporting commitments) or basic cable outlets. But again, all of this is a long shot.

Disney-ABC has not said whether or not it renew Seeker for a third season. But with Tribune bailing out, the prognosis isn't good.

If Seeker does depart, it means there will be no scripted first-run action programming in syndication, which was plentiful in weekend time periods in the late 1980's and the entire 1990's with Xena, Hercules, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Baywatch, and more, than to the ability to sell these program in international markets, where the bulk of the financing came from. In the late 1980's, first-run sitcoms (such as Small Wonder, Out of This World, and Mama's Family) occupied these time periods as well.

In fact, there were first-run scripted programming airing in syndication dating back to the early 1970's when the FCC instituted the Prime-Time Access Rule, which prohibited network affiliates in the 50 largest markets from running network programming an hour before prime-time, before the rule was scrapped in 1996. First-run fare back then included Wait 'Til Your Father Gets Home, UFO, Police Surgeon, The Protectors, Space: 1999, and The Muppet Show - all of which were funded in part by foreign sales (in fact, all of those series - with the exception of Home and Surgeon - were produced in Britain.)

But this kind of financing dried up about a decade ago, and with HUT levels declining in weekend afternoon time periods (Saturdays in particular), stations found it more profitable to air off-network reruns, movies, and infomercials.

Legend of the Seeker hoped to re-ignite the genre, but since its debut, no syndicator has stepped forward with such a project. Outside of weekend versions of first-run strips, many large syndicators (mainly the studios) have bailed out of the first-run weekend syndication business long ago.

But the real shame is if Legend of the Seeker does go away, it will give viewers one less reason to watch TV on the weekends.

More Lost and Grey's Anatomy reruns, anyone?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Local Feburary "sweeps" good as Gold for WMAQ and WCIU

NBC-owned WMAQ-TV won the Gold when it came to Olympic ratings, but it was WLS-TV that grabbed the medal where it really counts: late news.

And WCIU-TV came home with some Gold itself.

The February "sweeps" period ended on Wednesday, but this ratings period won't be as important because of the heavy skew of the Winter Olympics. Some stations (notably non-NBC affiliates) will be skipping this book and continue to use the November ratings period to sell numbers until the May's numbers come out.

With that said, WMAQ could only muster a second-place finish in late news during the month, despite the fact the Winter Olympics lead-in pushed its news to 11 p.m. (The Sun-Times article this is based on counts in WMAQ's numbers at 11 p.m., along with WLS' and WBBM-TV's 10 p.m. numbers - which itself is questionable since it isn't really a fair comparison.)

WLS finished first in late news. last month in households, and scored a ratings increase from last year. On the other hand, CBS' WBBM-TV's as expected, fell to third in late news. The real challenge for WBBM now is to return to second place - and it won't be easy since NBC has since replaced The Jay Leno Show at 9 p.m. with more general entertainment fare - with new series Parenthood and The Marriage Ref getting off to strong ratings starts this week.

Speaking of 9 p.m., WGN continued to dominate over Fox-owned WFLD-TV with a 41% household ratings advantage, despite Fox obviously having a stronger network lead-in, while CW threw in the towel in February by running mostly repeats (they should have thrown in the towel a long time ago.)

WGN's audience - particularly in the core news 25-54 demo - have been quite loyal to the newscast, tuning in while the CW audience (what little of it) - mostly the younger female 18-34 crowd - are exiting the station at the same time and head to cable for fare like Project Runway, The Real Housewives, and Jersey Shore. Call it the "ships passing in the night" theory.

Over at Weigel Broadcasting, the mood at WCIU-TV was quite giddy as the independent station saw its ratings increase in key female and adult 18-49 and 25-54 demos. Among the big winners were The Steve Wilkos Show, People's Court, Judge Mathis, The Insider, and Tyler Perry's House of Payne.

The biggest winner though was Steve Wilkos. His NBC Universal-distributed program - which moved to WCIU this season after two unproductive years at WGN - scored triple-digit increases at 11 a.m. from year-ago time period rating among key female demos (W18-49 and W25-54), among adults 18-49 (up 100%), and a double-digit increase (75%) among adults 25-54.

WCIU recently added another hour of Wilkos at 10 a.m., replacing Litton's Street Court, which was downgraded to 4 a.m. (and likely not returning to syndication next fall as Litton is now focusing on Judge Karen's return.)

The show where Wilkos got his television career started - as a bodyguard on Jerry Springer - is coming to WCIU this fall.

ESPN becomes The Bowl Network

When it comes to December and January, ESPN should rename themselves BPN: The Bowl Programming Network.

ESPN announced Thursday it has acquired yet another Bowl game - this time the Gator Bowl, a longtime ABC staple which recently had stops at ESPN, NBC, and most recently, CBS. The game is played at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, which was one known as the Gator Bowl and became Alltel Stadium when the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars moved in.

The Gator Bowl is expected to air on New Year's Day on ESPN 2.  Beginning in 2011, the game will pit a school from the SEC (which is very popular in Jacksonville) against one from the Big Ten.

This comes as ESPN has acquired almost every bowl game known to man, including the major BCS ones: Orange, Fiesta, Sugar, Rose, and the BCS National Championship Game. All of those bowls (with the exception of the Rose Bowl and the National Championship) aired on Fox until this year. In 2011, they all will move to ESPN. The Worldwide Leader also acquired the rights to the Texas Bowl, previously on the NFL Network.

ESPN also extended the contract of the Capital One Bowl, which is moving to the cable network from ABC. To take its place, ESPN is moving the Outback Bowl to ABC.  The Capital One Bowl is played at the Citrus Bowl (which was the actual name of the bowl game until Capital One bought the rights to it) in Orlando, Fla. (If you saw this year's game between Penn State and LSU, it was played in the most horrid conditions you can imagine with the field tore up like a bad piece of cloth.)

The Gator, Outback, and Capital One Bowls are being played at the same time to create a "roadblock" among the ESPN family of networks to drive viewers to the Rose Bowl on ESPN, being played immediately after all those games.

There has been outcries from ABC affiliates over the move of several sporting events - notably NASCAR events and college basketball games - over from ABC to ESPN (ABC and ESPN are owned by The Walt Disney Corp.) This is happening as more and more sporting events - on both the national and local levels - are moving from broadcast to cable.

In addition to the bowls mentioned above, ESPN has the nights to the Holiday, Outback, Independence, Music City, and many, many more.

Despite ESPN airing the majority of bowl games, there are some without the brashness of the Worldwide Leader (!) Fox still has the Cotton Bowl, CBS still holds the rights to the Sun Bowl, and the NFL Network has rights to the Insight Bowl.

But enjoy these non-ESPN bowls while you can boys... because the Worldwide Leader in Cable Sports Monopolies - wants to become the College Bowl Monopoly as well.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

T Dog's Four Pack - Olympic sized fun

A midweek edition of T Dog's Four Pack: What's not - and what's not:

Worthy of Gold

Olympic hockey. Nothing hokey about it - most watched program ever in Canada, third most-watched hockey game in history in the United States - and we had four Blackhawks in the game! 

Undercover Boss. Whaaa? This is the surprise Sunday Night 8 p.m. show CBS was looking for - and has put Desperate Housewives and Family Guy on notice.

Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains. One of the best seasons of this venerable reality franchise thus far - don't blow it.

The Boondocks are back. Aaron McGruder's comic strip-turned-TV show is finally back after a three-year hiatus on May 2nd. But at this rate, the program could reach 100 episodes for syndication - by 2024.

Worthy of Mold

Rewarding mediocrity. WLS-AM extends low-rated host Roe Conn's contract and The CW renews 90210 for another season. And you thought this was only limited to the Chicago Bears.

Tony Kornhiser and ESPN. TV's most senile geezer did it again when he ripped ESPN colleague Hannah Storm's outfit on his Washington D.C. radio show and got suspended for two weeks. But it is interesting to note The Worldwide Leader in B.S. did NOT suspend Mike Greenberg for his Martin Luther King Jr. Day slip-up on the vastly overrated Mike & Mike Morning Show or Kornheiser's Pardon The Interruption co-host (Michael Wilbon) for race-baiting comments on the show.

And as for Kornheiser - it's time for you to head to the retirement home, buddy...

The Marriage Ref. This is what yours truly tweeted Sunday night: "The Marriage Ref" looks like one of those syndicated strips that should be only on at 1 in the afternoon. I guess NBC's next new show will be a prime-time version of Cheaters.

MTV doesn't need "cynical" Generation X. So MTV Networks President Van Toffler says he doesn't need "cynical" Generation X viewers anymore at MTV, saying they are about as relevant as Boomers are. Fine. Kind of redundant since Gen Xers have tuned out MTV for more than twelve years now, given the long blocks of commercials, insipid Sweet 16 birthday shows, making Spencer and Heidi Pratt stars, and airing reality TV shows featuring drunken frat people from New Jersey who act like jackasses and being shoved down our throats and thrust into the national spotlight.

The "M" in MTV once stood for music. It now stands for moron, because that's who it showcases and it also describes those who run the network. It also qualifies them to work at NBC.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

"Access: Hollywood" coming to you live!

Get ready, one of syndication's top-rated prime access magazine shows is getting ready to coming at you live!

NBC Universal Television Distribution has announced it is launching Access: Hollywood Live, an one-hour daytime "brand extension" of its prime-access magazine show on six NBC O&O stations, including WMAQ-TV in Chicago.

The other five markets are New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Hartford/New Haven.

The new hour is a mix of entertainment news and banter with guests, all coming to you live from Los Angeles.

The move fills the last hour vacated by the recent departure of three first-run syndicated series. Two of those spots have already been filled by Sony's Nate Berkus Show and NBCU's The Real Housewives for airing this fall.

If Access: Hollywood Live works on these six NBC-owned stations, the program could be rolled out on other stations across the country.

Currently, Access: Hollywood is ranked fourth among newsmagazines in the key women 25-54 demographic. The program is currently in its fourteenth season and has been through five syndicator changes along the way.

This "brand extension" of a first-run syndicated series isn't new - over the years, syndicators have tried to extend the brand name of a television show and extend it into other dayparts (pure spin-offs, like Dr. Phil deriving from The Oprah Winfrey Show, do not count in this particular case.)

During the 1989-90 season, Warner Bros. launched a weekly young-adult version of its hit kids game show strip Fun House. Titled College Mad House, it pitted colleges against one another and was hosted by Greg Kinnear.

During the summer of 1984, Paramount tested a daily strip version of its weekly music series Solid Gold titled Solid Gold Hits, hosted by Grant Goodeve. Ratings were poor however, and thus wasn't renewed.

Baywatch spun-off Baywatch Nights, which lasted two seasons from 1995 to 1997.

There have also been brand extensions of several game shows targeted to children (to meet FCC educational requirements, basically.) The Hollywood Squares (Storybook Squares, which ran before educational mandates were put in place) Wheel of Fortune (Wheel of Fortune 2000), and American Gladiators (Gladiators 2000) all had kid-friendly versions. Another game show (Jeopardy!) spun-off Rock n' Roll Jeopardy!, hosted by Jeff Probst.

updated 12:41 a.m. on 2010-03-03

Monday, March 01, 2010

WCIU hails "Cash Cab" and boards "Stargate: Universe"

The next time you hail a cab in New York City, you might be on a game show and not even know it. Call it a game show - on wheels.

Discovery Channel's New York-based game show Cash Cab has been picked up by WCIU-TV in Chicago for airing this fall as a weekday strip on a straight barter basis.

MGM sold the program to WCIU, and a few other broadcasters, including CBS' KCAL-TV in Los Angeles and KTVT in Dallas, and Turner's WPCH-TV in Atlanta.

Ironically, New York - the show's home base - hasn't been cleared yet, but the program has been sold in 50 percent of the country. MGM said more clearances will be announced within a fewdays.

How does Cash Cab work? Well, a cab (driven by host Ben Bailey) drives around New York City picking up unsuspecting passengers and when they get in, the game begins. The driver asks the passenger trivia questions, and if he/she gets it correct, they win some money. But if the contestant gets three questions wrong during the time they are in the cab riding into their destination, the game's over, they lose their winnings, and they have to get out of the cab (heaven forbid the cab isn't going through a dangerous neighborhood...)

Ben Bailey has been nominated for an Emmy as Outstanding Game Show Host three times during the show's run. Cash Cab premiered on December 5, 2005.

Meanwhile, WCIU has also picked up weekly science fiction drama Stargate: Universe from MGM, with the clearance rate for the off-cable weekly drama currently at 65 percent, with WPIX-TV in New York and KCAL-TV in Los Angeles also on board for airing this fall.

New episodes of Stargate: Universe are currently running on SyFy. Stargate: Universe is the fourth television series in the Stargate franchise, often rivaling arch nemesis Star Trek for most spin-offs, films, and sequels from a science fiction program. The other three television series are Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Infinity, a short-lived animated version of the series (which ironically, isn't connected with the live-action series or the films of the Stargate franchise.)

Canada-USA Gold Medal game scores in Chicago - and everywhere else

What's the best part of the Winter Olympics? Seeing one of the best hockey tournaments in the world. And this Olympics proved no different.

The Gold Medal Game in Men's Hockey between the United States and Canada drew the largest audience for any hockey game in 30 years on this side of the border and the largest audience ever for any television program in Canada.

The game - in which the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby scored the game-winning goal in overtime to give Canada the gold medal in hockey at the Olympics - drew 27.6 viewers on NBC in the U.S., only behind the two 1980 Winter Olympic hockey games the U.S. were involved in - including the Miracle on Ice game,  which still tops 'em all with 34.2 million.

At 4:30 p.m., (CT), the game peaked at 34.8 million viewers, when the USA's Zack Parise tied the game to send it into overtime.

In Canada on CTV, the game broke an all-time viewing record by drawing 16.6 million viewers - besting the mark set only Feb. 12 with the Opening  Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. At  least 80 percent of all Canadians watched some part of the game, which translates to 26.5 million viewers.

Locally, the game drew a 23.5 HH rating and a 41 HH share, making it the highest-rated hockey game in Chicago in more than 30 years - thanks in part to four Chicago Blackhawks players participating in the game. Buffalo (where USA goaltender Ryan Miller plays for the Sabres) scored the highest number, with a 32.6/51, followed by Pittsburgh witha 31.9/50 (home of Sydney Crosby.)

Another winner in this contest was the National Hockey League - all whom participated in this game plays for an NHL team. The league got the badly needed exposure they were looking for - and may cash in with this year's upcoming playoffs - even more so if the Chicago Blackhawks - who have been setting local record ratings for Comcast SportsNet this season - make it alll the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.