Sunday, January 30, 2011

The balcony’s getting full

















The balcony has officially re-opened - and it's getting a little bit crowded as PBS’ new Ebert Presents At The Movies is adding another movie critic to its roster.

This time it’s Daily Herald movie critic Dann Gire who is joining the Chicago-based movie review show (the Daily Herald is an Arlington Heights-based newspaper which serves the northwest ‘burbs.) Gire is also founding director of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Gire joins a full list of critics who appear on the show and on EbertPresents.com, which is the main website of the show. Ebert is shot at WTTW’s North Side studios and airs on the station Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. (WTTW was the original home of Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert’s Coming Soon To A Theater Near You and Sneak Previews from 1975-82.)

Ebert debuted on the weekend of January 22 in 192 markets and is co-hosted by Christy Lemire of the Associated Press and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky of mubi.com. Vishnevetsky was a last-minute replacement for Santa Barbara, Calif.-based film critic Elvis Mitchell, who was dropped from the show before its premiere (in other words, Elvis left the building before the concert even began.)

Reviews for the first show (that’s right, reviews of a movie review show) were met with cautious praise and optimism (you can read the roster of reviews here and scrolling down.) On the first show, Lemire and Vishnevetsky split the movie reviews right down the middle – they didn’t agree on a single movie.

Roger Ebert pops in every week to review a movie in a segment titled “Roger’s Office”, but due to his loss of voice from thyroid surgery, the reviews are read by a voice-over artist until his computer-generated voice is ready to use (this week, it was Bill Kurtis reading Ebert’s review of The Rite.) Recently, Ebert was fitted with a prosthetic chin and neck.

The Tribune’s Phil Rosenthal said it best when the show needs time to evolve – and it certainly will get that chance since Ebert’s show is airing in the less-pressured confines of public television and not bow to the beast known as the overnight Nielsen ratings. The show’s social networking components (Twitter and Facebook, and Ebert Presents.com) also should help. But the real challenge for Lemire and Vishnevetsky is emerging out of the shadow of Roger Ebert himself – a role he and Gene Siskel (and later Richard Roeper) perfected on their various television shows.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

T Dog’s Six Pack: Win or go home

















The Bears didn't win. And they went home.  (Photo: Scott Strazzante/Chicago Tribune.)


The Packers went to the Super Bowl and the Bears went home with a quarterback who has an iffy knee who gets blasted on Twitter while Chicago’s long-time rocker thinks you’re not getting enough Steve Miller Band in your listening diet. Yep, this week that was in the world of media:

Win and advance

NATPE’s comeback – of sorts. The 47th annual gathering was a surprise hit in its new home in Miami Beach, with attendance up from last year’s gathering in Las Vegas. However, attendees complained about long elevator waits (some were up to an hour!) at the Foutainebleau Hotel to the suites, making a lot of people think the elevators in the building were run by the Chicago Transit Authority.

The NFL on Fox and CBS. The Bears didn’t win, but Fox and CBS certainly did on Sunday with both the AFC and NFC Championship Games drawing more than 50 million viewers, setting the stage for a Super Bowl that could possibly top the all-time viewing record of 106.5 million viewers which was set last year by – Super Bowl XLIV.

The Fly Jock returns to New York. After a nearly eight-year absence, The Tom Joyner Morning Show returns to the Big Apple on Emmis’ WRKS-FM – a huge boost given New York City is home to the nation’s largest African-American population and the #1 media market overall. He replaces D.L. Hughley’s (The Hughleys) morning show on the Urban AC station – who ironically is also a contributor to Joyner’s morning show.



Hit The Showers

The Loop.  We got rid of those pesky “newer” and “harder” acts like Ozzy Osbourne, Metallica, and Stone Temple Pilots. Now were the home of Journey, The Steve Miller Band, Def Leppard, Boston, and Van Halen songs ten times a day! It’s classic rock you CAN get anywhere else – especially when you’re shopping at the store - and you CAN get the same stuff right here on The Loop. Coming up next – we’re playing “Rock of Ages” – again!

NFL players too loose with mouths on Twitter. OMG! So when Jay Cutler had to sit out in the second half with an injury, many former and current NFL players took notice –on Twitter. LOL. Meanwhile, a New York Jets player (Oney Guillen... whoops, I meant Antonio Cromatie) took to Twitter to rip Seattle’s quarterback regarding the impending lockout. Hey overpaid millionaires – here’s something you should do in 140 characters or less - STFU.

Hulu. The once-promising way to watch TV shows online may have come a victim of its own success as partners NBC Universal (recently acquired by Comcast), Disney, and Fox’s News Corp. are bending over backwards not to offend each other as paid streaming services such as Netflix is beginning to take its toll. Which basically means, the free online ride for Hulu (and even Hulu Plus) viewers may soon be over.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Geeks Ahoy!

The latest news coming out of the just-concluded NATPE gathering in Miami with now a second dating/reality strip being launched in syndication from the producers of former CW series Beauty and the Geek.

Geek Meets Girl has been cleared by Trifecta Entertainment and Media on WCIU here in Chicago and several CBS-owned CW affiliates and independent stations, including KCAL (Ind.) in Los Angeles and WKBD (CW) in Detroit.

Based on Geek, the show pairs a geek and a beauty on two dates, with the geek getting a makeover. Trifecta officials say the series is being targeted for late fringe time periods, though several stations are slotting the series in early fringe and prime access. In some markets, Geek is being paired up with CBS Television Distribution's Excused, which now has cleared 46 out of the 50 largest markets, including KCAL and WCIU.

The two new shows are making a bid to resurrect the relationship genre, which laid dormant in syndication for the past few seasons. Dating/reality strips were plentiful in the 1990's and the early part of the previous decade, ranging from Studs to Blind Date. Of course, the genre was pioneered by the likes of The Dating Game and Love Connection.

This is Trifecta's first original strip in syndication to be launched. Two earlier proposed efforts (Hacienda Heights and One in a Million) have been shelved permanently.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

NATPE News: WCIU picks up “Direct Access”
















The legendary Fontainbleau Resort in Miami, where NATPE is being held
 

The NATPE convention rolls on in South Beach with news on Big Tigger, Daryl Hall and his house, and a new show featuring Fat Albert – whoops, I mean Father Albert

- Litton Entertainment announced it was launching a new weekly half-hour syndicated series targeted for weekend late fringe time periods titled Direct Access, which has been picked up by WCIU for this fall. The series is hosted by BET personality and syndicated radio host Darian “Big Tigger” Morgan. The new series has Big Tigger taking viewers along to check out their favorite celebrities on the music, sports, and nightlife circuits in the hip-hop world. Says Big Tigger: “I let the viewer hang out with me in all kinds of places. You’re allowed to go with me to parties and backstage - places you might not normally be able to.”

Programming to urban audiences in weekend late-night was commonplace in the 1990’s and the most recent decade with Showtime At The Apollo, Soul Train, Russell Simmons’ One World Music Beat (which had a format similar to Direct Access), and other fare.  However, stations began cutting this type of fare out of their schedules a few years ago to make room for off-network dramas and of course, more infomercials.

Access was tested on Tribune’s WDCW in Washington D.C. in its Saturday night 11:30 pm time period and was tops in men 18-34 and 25-54 demos, opposite powerhouse Saturday Night Live.

In addition to WCIU and WDCW, Direct Access has also cleared Tribune stations in New York (WPIX) and Dallas (KDAF). WCIU GM Neal Sabin says: "We are excited to join Litton and Tribune in granting Chicagoans 'direct access' to Big Tigg's weekly show. We think it will resonate with the Windy City's hip-hop culture."

- Speaking of late-night syndicated programming, there’s  a possibility we may see more of Live From Darryl’s House, which aired New Year’s Eve locally on WGN-TV and nationally on WGN America. The special – which featured web compilations of Daryl Hall’s monthly web series of musical performances, did so well that Tribune is weighing whether there will be any future broadcasts.

Appearing at a panel at NATPE on what it takes to get an Internet show on TV, Tribune head of programming Sean Compton said Live From Daryl’s House’s original web content was a testament to the program itself, and believed more of this programming (done right) should be on the tube.

Also on the panel was Daryl Hall, who said he wanted to feature a program featuring artists making great music. To avoid television executives from controlling the product, he put it on the Internet. The success of the program has enabled Hall to upgrade production of his show, including shoot the series in HD and using state-of-the-art sound equipment.

Appearing on the New Year's Eve special from his house was longtime musical partner John Oates, Jose Feliciano, and legend Smokey Robinson. Hall and Oates are legend themselves – to this day they are the most successful duo in music history, with many #1 singles and several Grammy Awards.

- Hey, Hey, Hey! It’s Father Albert! Debmar-Mercury and Fox Television Stations are partnering to test a daily talk show strip to air this summer featuring the controversial priest.  Father Albert is former Catholic priest Alberto Cutie, who left the church to marry. He has hosted talk shows on Spanish-language Telemundo and has authored several books. Debmar-Mercury says the show won’t be religious, but will have elements closer to Dr. Phil and The Oprah Winfrey Show. In fact, he is been dubbed “Father Oprah”.  While Debmar-Mercury plans to include New York and Los Angeles in the test, it is not known yet how many markets will participate, or if Chicago will be involved. 

Bears flop on field, but score in the ratings

On the field in the NFC Championship Game, the Chicago Bears was much like The Cape. But in the ratings, they came up like American Idol (and in fact, outdrew it.)

Sunday’s game between the Bears and arch rival Green Bay on Fox-owned WFLD drew an astonishing local household rating of 50.6 and a household share of 80, with more than 1.7 million homes tuning in according to Nielsen Media Research.

Even better, the game drew more viewers than the Bears’ appearance in Super Bowl XLI four years ago. The rating was up 0.8 % and the share was up 4.5 %.

The Bears played against Green Bay in what is described as the oldest rivalry in the NFL. However, the Bears and Packers met in the playoffs for the first time since 1941. But it wasn’t one to remember for the boys in blue as the Bears lost 21-14, and the Packers make their first trip to the Super Bowl since the 1997-98 season.

In Milwaukee – where there are a large contingent of Packers fans, Local TV-owned Fox affiliate WITI drew a 57 rating for the big game (Ratings for Green Bay are not available because it is not a Nielsen metered market.)

Nationally, the Packers-Bears game drew 52 million viewers, while the AFC Championship Game between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers did even better with 55 million viewers. With an average of 53.4 million viewers, both games brought the largest audience for the NFL for a Championship game since January 1982.

With interest still sky high in football, there’s no doubt this year’s Super Bowl between the Green Bay packers and Pittsburgh Steelers – two of the most storied franchises in the NFL – will draw a humongous audience – perhaps shattering the all-time record for most watched program in television history set only year with Super Bowl XLIV, whose 106.5 million viewers broke the long-standing record the final episode of M*A*S*H  set for CBS on February 28, 1983.

Monday, January 24, 2011

NATPE kicks off in Miami

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The 47th annual National Association of Television Program Executives convention kicked off today in a new location: The Fontainebleau in Miami, Fla. on the East Coast after years of being based in the western U.S. In the past, NATPE has been held in San Francisco, Houston, New Orleans, and Las Vegas, where it was held for the last several years.

Originally a place where local stations went to purchase syndicated programming, the convention has evolved into a marketplace for International buyers. In the last few years, Hollywood studios and other major syndication companies have scaled back their presence (with Sony bowing out entirely) opting for hotel suites instead of huge booths of the convention floor. Nevertheless, there is some zest to the convention this year, with Oprah Winfrey departing and Regis Phillbin from Live with Regis & Kelly doing likewise this year.

Still, yours truly thinks a move to Los Angeles would have been a better option for NATPE where the Hollywood  power brokers reside. But NATPE still plays an important role in the television community and it’s not January without it (and yours truly still miss those large issues of TV/Radio Age, Broadcasting & Cable, and Electronic Media which came around this time every year. Still remember the first NATPE issue of TV Radio/Age I read in 1985. A good read!)

Alright then, let's roll:

- Remember the Bill Cunningham talk show project from last summer?  Tribune announced today it has finally found a syndicator with NBC Universal distributing and selling barter ad time for the talk show. Despite poor reception from viewers and critics (yeah, like that matters when launching a new show these days), the series has been declared a firm go for fall with 60 percent of the country on board, including Tribune, Local TV, and Raycom station groups (apparently, execs from the latter two groups were impaired when they looked at the test episodes.) Production of the series will shift to NBC Universal’s facilities in Stamford, Conn. The four test episodes were shot at WGN-TV last summer.  WGN still plans to air the show this fall.

- Montgomery, Ala. – based Raycom Media and Debmar-Mercury announced the launch of a new lifestyle newsmagazine show called America Now! Hosted by Orland Park native (and first season Apprentice winner) Bill Rancic, the series has been running weekends on Raycom-owned stations (especially after late news) since October and is now expanding as a weekday strip. Much like the old PM and Evening Magazine shows, local Raycom stations plan to contribute material into the show. No Chicago clearance has been announced.

Fact: The last time America was used in a title of a daily syndicated strip? Don’t ask. In 1985, America was a short-lived, $22 million mistake from Paramount with Sarah Purcell, McLean Stevenson, and Stuart Damon. A proud member of the T Dog Media Blog TV Hall of Shame.

- WCIU in Chicago and other broadcasters announced last week they picked up new dating/reality show Excused from CBS Television Distribution. The program features a group of men (or women) competing for the affection of two women (or men).  After eliminations, the two individuals will be selected by the last person standing from that elimination.

The series is hosted by Last Comic Standing winner IIiza Shlesinger and producer by Renegade 83 Entertainment, which produced Blind Date for NBC Universal back in the day. The show is being sold for cash/barter for access and late fringe time periods. Excused hopes to revive the long dormant dating genre, which contained series such as Blind Date, Elimidate, Shipmates, Change of Heart, and Love Connection.

Fact: While offering a series targeted for late-night is a bit odd, there is precedent: In the early 1990’s, Twentieth Television offered dating/relationship series Studs on a cash/barter basis (after tested on several Fox-owned stations) while arch rival Love Connection also had similar terms.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

T Dog’s Six Pack: Pigskin!

 
Today’s six-pack has somewhat of a football theme in honor of today’s big game! Time for kickoff…

Touchdown!

WFLD. Yes, you read this right! According to Chicago Business, Fox-owned WFLD scored a whopping 43.2 household rating for last Sunday’s Divisional Playoff between the Seattle Seahawks and the Chicago Bears, and the number should certainly go higher for this Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Bears and longtime nemesis Green Bay Packers, which has already matched (and exceeded) the hype of a Yankees-Red Sox playoff series. Meanwhile, with the return of American Idol Wednesday night, WFLD scored a higher-than-normal 5.0 household rating and a 8 share for its 9 p.m. newscast, which usually hovers around a 1.7 rating.

Big Media. Whatever Big Media wants – they get. And that was proven again this week after the FCC approved the merger between Comcast and NBC Universal. Thanks for nothing, President Obama.

Hubbard Broadcasting. But not all deals are bad ones…. Hubbard Broadcasting's decision to purchase Bonneville’s Midwestern stations (including WTMX, WILV, and WDRV in Chicago) was a winning strategic move on the part of both parties, with Bonneville focusing on the Western U.S. and Hubbard expanding its reach to Chicago and other Midwestern markets. Let’s hope Hubbard Broadcasting doesn’t hire former Vikings coach Brad Childress to run these stations.



Fumble!

Keith Olbermann. After eight years, MSNBC finally cut loose the evening talk-show host who apparently wore out his welcome with management - especially after he broke rules when he gave donations to political candidates – a huge journalistic no-no.

Perfect Couples.  This could be the worst sitcom NBC has put on since Hello, Larry. Perfect Couples – the Cincinnati Bengals of sitcoms (and by the way, Hello, Larry was also set in Portland, Ore. like this show.)

PTC up in arms over MTV’s Skins. If you think the Parents Television Council is going to get congressional hearings – in an era of voters who are demanding less government in their lives – they have another thing coming. And isn’t this what some of their own members were asking for in the last elections to begin with? Maybe the PTC should re-headquarter in Illinois, where they can be taxed to death and driven out of business… hey, sounds good to me!

P.S… Skins and basically anything on MTV nowadays sucks. As yours truly pointed out here, the M in MTV now stands for Moron.

WLUP makes format adjustment

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Emmis-owned WLUP-FM (The Loop, 97.9) announced Saturday it was making a format adjustment to its playlist, dropping all current and most recent rock titles and playing classic rock from the 1970’s and 1980’s exclusively.

The adjustment puts the station in direct competition with Bonneville-owned WDRV/WWDV-FM (The Drive, 97.1), which it and two other stations were sold this week to Minneapolis-based Hubbard Broadcasting. Also, the adjustment was made to avoid playing the same titles as sister station WKQX-FM, or Q101, which has played alternative/modern rock music since 1992.

The station is also looking to put the nail in the coffin to CBS-owned WJMK-FM (Jack FM, 104.3), which plays some classic rock from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. WJMK has continued to underperform and is rumored to flip formats this year.

On January 19th between 7 and 10 pm, WLUP played current and more recent songs from Metallica, Nickelback, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana mixed in with classic rock artists Boston, Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin, according to the song logs at Yes.com.

As of today, those alternative/grunge artists were eliminated and songs from The Cars, CCR, Pat Benetar, The J. Geils Band, Grand Funk Railroad, and The Doobie Brothers (yes, The Doobie Brothers) were added, also according to the song logs at Yes.

WLUP let listeners of the changes Saturday morning via Twitter and Facebook, where listener reaction has been mixed.  And the station has also changed its tagline from “Chicago’s Rock Station” to “Chicago’s Classic Rock Station”.

Whether this will help WLUP in the ratings remains to be seen. The station finished nineteenth in the most recent overall PPM survey while finishing only seventeenth among adults 25-54, according to an article in Chicagoland Radio & Media. In comparison, WDRV has ranked in the top five in the key demo.

The move comes as Emmis plans to sell both underperforming radio stations it owns.

Ironically, both WLUP and WDRV were once sister stations. Bonneville purchased WLUP in 1997 after former owner Evergreen Media was forced to divest the station after the company was bought out by Chancellor Media (which became AM/FM Radio, Inc. and was bought by Clear Channel Communications.) In 2000, Bonneville purchased former classical station WNIB and flipped it to classic rock and changed the call letters to WDRV in 2001. In a strategic move, Bonneville unloaded WLUP to Emmis in 2004, who paired it up with WKQX, which it has owned since 1988.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Meredith takes over Atlanta’s Peachtree TV

WPCH


Des Moines, Ia. –based Meredith Corp., owner of CBS affiliate WGCL-TV in Atlanta, has agreed to take over day-today operations of Turner Broadcasting’s WPCH-TV (aka Peachtree TV) in a local marketing agreement giving Meredith control of the station’s marketing, promotions, advertising, and technical operations while Turner stays on as owner and licensee. The deal takes effect in the next few weeks.

Meredith owns twelve stations, including CBS affiliate KCTV in Kansas City and Fox affiliate KPTV in Portland, Ore. and sister station KPDX-TV. Meredith also publishes several magazines including Better Home And Gardens and produces an hour-long daily syndicated strip titled Better, which airs locally in Chicago over WPWR-TV at 7 a.m.

WPCH was Turner's only broadcast property in a portfolio full of cable networks including TBS, which spun off WPCH. The station is found over-the-air in Atlanta on Channel 17 (the former home of WTBS) and on most Atlanta cable systems on Channel 7.

The arrangement is similar to what Chicago-based Tribune Broadcasting has in place for its struggling CW affiliates in Denver and St. Louis. Local TV – owner of Fox affiliates KDVR-TV in Denver and KTVI in St. Louis - handles the day-to-day operations and other functions of Tribune’s KWGN-TV and KPLR-TV, respectively.

WPCH-TV programming lineup will likely stay the same in the short-term, but some of WGCL’s programming and local newscasts could pop up on WPCH, which hasn’t aired local news since at least 1983 (as WTBS.)

Also as part of the deal, Turner has relinquished production and advertising sales of Atlanta Braves baseball games for WPCH to Fox Sports (who holds the cable rights for its FSN and SportsSouth RSNs.) Braves games have been a longtime staple of WTBS/WPCH.

WPCH is also planning to continue airing SEC college basketball and football.

The union between WPCH and WGCL marks yet another end of an era for an Atlanta institution. The station signed on as WJRJ in 1967 and became WTCG in 1970 when Ted Turner bought the station. Turner beamed WTCG up to a satellite in 1976 and became the nation’s first cable superstation and became WTBS in 1979. On October 1, 2007, Turner split the local and national feeds for TBS with the Atlanta station becoming WPCH and adopting the nickname Peachtree TV (for more some fun facts on the history of WJRJ/WTCG/WTBS, click here and scroll down a bit.)

WGCL has been owned by Meredith Broadcasting since 1998, when it was acquired from Tribune. WGCL became a CBS affiliate in December 1994 (as WGNX) in the Fox-New World swap hoopla, which saw then New World-owned WAGA (and seven other affiliates) drop CBS in favor of Fox.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Bonneville sells WTMX, others to Hubbard

Bonneville also sells Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Washington D.C. stations

themix

In the first major shocker move of 2011 involving local media, Salt Lake City-based Bonneville International has sold its Chicago cluster of radio stations to Minneapolis-St. Paul-based Hubbard Broadcasting for $505 million. The deal also includes thirteen others: six stations in Washington D.C., and four stations each in Cincinnati and St. Louis.

The Chicago stations are Hot AC-formatted WTMX-FM (The Mix); Classic Rock WDRV-FM (The Drive) and its satellite station WWDV-FM; and Variety Hits outlet WILV-FM. Hubbard says there will be no changes made to any of the stations it is buying, and is installing radio chiefs Bruce Reese, Greg Solk, and Drew Horowitz in the same executive capacities they held at Bonneville.

The sale is primarily strategic as Bonneville is only selling stations east of the Mississippi and St. Louis, while keeping its outlets in western-based U.S. markets: Los Angeles, Seattle, Phoenix, and its home base in Salt Lake City. Bonneville’s lone television station (NBC affiliate KSL-TV in Salt Lake City) is also not for sale.

As for Hubbard, the purchase expands the broadcaster’s reach into Chicago, the Midwest, and onto the East Coast. Hubbard only owns three radio properties, all in the Twin Cities: sports talk (and formerly news/talk) KSTP-AM, a station Hubbard has owned since 1928; Hot AC outlet KSTP-FM (known locally in the Twin Cities as KS95-FM and whose format is similar to WTMX) and talker KTMY-FM. 

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KSTP-FM’s (aka KS95-FM) classic logo from the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Hubbard also owns thirteen television stations, including flagship KSTP in the Twin Cities – the first commercial TV station in the state of Minnesota and the first station to broadcast fully in color thanks to its ties with NBC (whose KSTP-AM was a longtime radio affiliate.) However, the relationship with the peacock network soured by 1979 as KSTP switched its affiliation from NBC to ABC, where it remains today. 

Other television properties in its portfolio include duopoly partner KSTC, an independent station in the Twin Cities; ABC affiliate WDIO-TV in Duluth; NBC affiliate KOB-TV in Albuquerque; former Viacom-owned stations WNYT (Albany) and WHEC (Rochester), both NBC affiliates in New York state; and a bunch of satellite repeaters, mainly in Minnesota and New Mexico.

Bonneville’s Chicago stations have been known for their successes, particularly WTMX and WDRV. Both stations regularly rank in the top 10 overall with WTMX ranking in the top five in key female demos and WDRV doing likewise in key male demos.

And after about a thousand format adjustments, WILV has finally found its groove as a Variety Hits outlet (playing a mix of ‘80’s and ‘90’s gold product) after years of trying to find an audience as WPNT and WNND.

With the Bonneville acquisitions, Hubbard now has 700 employees in its radio division. The deal is subject to FCC approval, and is expected to close in the second quarter.

Thought: While the sale may look like another coup for big media to some (both companies are not exactly… um, “big”), it really isn’t: the deal is more a strategic move on the part of both companies as Bonneville  – despite its successes in Chicago – wants to focus more on its core properties in the western U.S. while Hubbard wants to expand its reach into other Midwestern markets (and D.C.) And with no changes planned (and even bringing some Bonneville execs on board), this is a very good deal and a win for terrestrial radio. And how often does yours truly get to say that?

Hubbard has a good track record when it comes to its radio properties in the Twin Cities (though on the television side, it’s a different story: KSTP ranks fourth overall in the market and in local news, including the 10 p.m. news race), WTMX, WDRV, and WILV are in good hands.

FCC approves Comcast-NBC merger











Big media just got bigger.

The FCC approved the Comcast-NBC Universal deal on Tuesday more than a year after the deal was announced, with the Justice Department also giving its blessings.

And unlike the Sirius/XM merger, this deal wasn’t voted upon party lines.The FCC voted in favor of the deal 4-1 with Democratic commissioner Michael Copps the lone dissenter.

While it was a given the two Republican FCC Commissioners would vote in favor of the merger, the two Democrats – Commissioner Mingon Clyburn and Chairman Julius Genachowski  – would only vote if the deal had certain conditions met, which Comcast agreed to.

Despite those conditions, many public interest groups were still opposed to the merger, and rival studios were concerned about Comcast – as a MSO  (multiple system operator) – controlling how content is received into homes.

Among the conditions met include: protecting the development of Online competition, making comparable programming available on economically comparable prices, and offering standalone broadband Internet access services at reasonable prices – without purchasing a cable TV subscription.

To read the full list of conditions, click here.

Thought: Remember back in 2007 when the FCC held hearings regarding media consolidation here in Chicago? Wow, what a waste of time that was! Oh, and by the way… where was President Obama on this issue? Didn’t he say during his campaign that media consolidation was a top priority? Guess that was before the healthcare overhaul and giving away billions of dollars for pork projects. Mr. Obama's silence speak volumes. So much for this “change” he was peddling.

With Sirius/XM and now Comcast-NBC Universal, big media is just getting bigger, and will continue to do so, public opinion be damned. The big winners are the slimy, politicians from both parties, who sold out their constituents to line their pockets with lobbyist cash; Comcast, who record for customer service and even just maintaining its cable and Internet is horrible; and NBC, a network so ineptly run, it makes the day-to-day operations of the Cubs look like those of the World Champion San Francisco Giants.

The losers? We, the public. Only in America where you can get rewarded with such mediocrity. Remember the Internet outage last fall which hit Comcast customers in the Chicago area and in four other states? Where are the congressional hearings? Oh, that’s right. The idiot politicians don’t have time for stuff like that – they have to run to the bank and get their checks from Comcast cashed before they bounce.

And worse, public outrage over this merger dissipated as the months went on. When it approved by the FCC today, the reaction was met with the loudest of yawns. It appears the outrage over Big Media has been replaced by outrage over Big Government, thanks to clowns like Michigan House Representative Fred Upton. Basically, his motto is f*** the consumer - it’s the corporations he only cares about.

So what’s the lesson here? The politicians don’t care about you, and neither does government bureaucrats. Big Media always gets want it wants, and the consumers are the ones getting stuck with the bill – a $169 monthly invoice from Comcast, to be exact.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

TCA, Part 8: CBS and The CW

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The end is (finally) here: CBS Corp. wrapped up the broadcast portion to the two-week miniseries known as the Winter Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena on Friday with CBS and the network it part-owns with Time Warner, The CW.

CBS

-The executive session featured programming chief Nina Tassler and addressed the matter surrounding Two And A Half Men star Charlie Sheen and his partying like a rock star. Says Tassler as quoted in the Los Angeles Times:  "I have a high level of concern. How could I not? ... This man is a father; he's got children."  She went on to say this: "You can’t look at it simplistically… Charlie is a professional. He comes to work, he does his job extremely well ... The show is a hit."

When you care enough to send the very best….

- Tassler also discussed the upcoming Thursday night showdown between CBS’ Big Bang Theory and Fox’s American Idol on Thursday night, saying the sitcom should do “okay”. Wow, not exactly a vote of confidence for a sitcom that was picked up for a three-year renewal last week. Is a return to Monday in the cards for Big Bang next season?

- Announced at TCA was a new series called Chaos, which debuts April 1 on CBS’ Friday night sked. In this hour-long comedy-drama, several CIA spies in the division of Clandestine Administrative Oversight Services (CAOS) investigate threats to national security. Doesn’t this remind anyone of Get Smart? After all, there was a evil spy organization on the show called KAOS.

CW

-The only series CW was promoting at the press tour was upcoming reality/competition series Shredding For The Wedding, which nine overweight couples compete to lose weight so they can win a dream wedding. The series (who lists Biggest Loser’s Joe Blow as executive producer) is leading out of America’s Next Top Model on Wednesday nights. Look for it to premiere next month.

- Also talked about was the possibility of network chief Dawn Ostroff leaving in June when her contract expires. While the often-criticized Ostroff has been taking lumps from the press, CW is actually up 8 percent in total viewers this season according to the Los Angeles Times, led by WGN-TV’s surprisingly strong prime-time performance in the Chicago market last November.

Showtime

- The premium channel announced at TCA Friday it was renewing David Duchony’s Californication for a fifth season; and also announced the season premiere dates for Nurse Jackie and United States of Tara (Mar. 28). Showtime also green-lit an untitled project involving the World Series Champion San Francisco Giants, which according to Showtime president David Nevins, goes further than HBO’s four-episode 24/7 series involving the recent NHL Winter Classic. The Wrap points out the series should do well because baseball draws better ratings than hockey – except when the White Sox are involved.

Monday, January 17, 2011

TCA, Part 7: The cable nets of NBCU

Here’s a brief synopsis of the cable presentations for NBC Universal’s cable networks:

SyFy

If you walked down State Street in Chicago’s loop in the last few weeks, then you have noticed ads on bus shelters for SyFy’s new show Being Human, which is a show about a ghost, vampire, and werewolf all living together – and are cute twentysomethings! This sounds like a dopey sitcom – but it’s not. SyFy also unveiled a reality competition series titled Face Off, which pits makeup and special effects artists against one another. With these two shows, it’s easy to see why the SyFy presentation at TCA was sparsely attended by critics.


Bravo

There were no Housewives of any city present, was there was Kara DioGuardi, the disposed American Idol judge, hawking her new series Platinum Hit, which is a songwriting competition (which has been tried before– and failed miserably – with the first-run syndicated You Write The Songs in 1986.)  DioGuardi declined to discuss why she left Idol, which drew a hostile response from the crowd at TCA. Meanwhile, don’t look for Platinum Hit to be a hit.

Oxygen

Oxygen’s unveiled more information on the new Glee reality show being launched in June, which the winner will receive a seven-episode stint on the Fox series next season. The show’s creation was part of Oxygen’s deal with Twentieth Television for off-network reruns of Glee.

Other

Oxygen also announced it was launching new reality series All About Aubrey, and Paris Hilton’s The World According To Paris this spring… Bravo has renewed Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, and announced the return of The Real Housewives of New York Feb.15; and the sixth season of The Real Housewives of Orange County bows on March 6…. USA network will air the indie film The Space Between on September 11, which commemorates the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

TCA, Part 6: NBC and life after football

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Last year at this time, the NBC Television Critics Association Press Tour presentation was played amidst the backdrop of the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien late-night mess. This year, there’s no such drama. But NBC’s presentation on Thursday did generate interest nevertheless, with panels on several new mid-season shows, including The Cape and Harry’s Law. But what was also absent was an executive session, since the Comcast-NBC merger has still not been finalized. So let’s get into the shows (NBC’s cable  programming will be covered in the next post.)

The Cape

The premise is a cop gets framed for the murder of a big-city police chief; so he gets a job at a private security firm and takes the guise of his son’s favorite comic-book character. According to series creator Tom Wheeler, his new series in character-driven and would experience different kinds of tones, from science-fiction to crime-drama. The series’ first two episodes debuted on January 9 with 8 million viewers and is scheduled to run Monday nights. This is what Wheeler said, according to Marc Berman at  PIFeedback.com: “We are beginning to see that we can capture different tones. Like one episode can have sort of a science fiction feel to it. We just finished shooting a two-part episode that has a very gothic, frightening kind of energy, I mean, truly frightening. And I love that. I love the ability to tell a story that’s a crime story in the city, but then that’s what’s great, the latitude of storytelling. So we’re going to have fun, but it’s emotionally grounded. You know, it’s character-driven.”

Unfortunately, The Cape was way too campy and featured a lot – and I mean a lot of cartoonish violence. The characters (except for Summer Glau’s) were clich├ęs (do you love clown robbers?), the plots were inconsistent, the story structure weak, and the dialogue was just flat out terrible. This series is basically a throwback from the Batman TV series from 45 years ago. But even Batman has matured – look at any of the feature films, especially The Dark Knight, which featured great storytelling. This series is not really much different from the last few seasons of Heroes, and you know that’s not a compliment.

And as for The Cape being a character-driven series? The characters in the show are much like the Mayhem guy in those Allstate commercials – they make you want to drive your car into a ditch.


Perfect Couples

This sitcom follows the trials and tribulations of three couples as they search for the perfect relationship, from Seinfeld producer Andy Ackerman, who is the showrunner. NBC plans to air this series at 7:30 p.m. Thursday nights, opposite American Idol and Wipeout, where Couples will certainly get wiped out by this competition.

Dumb premise, dumb show. Who keeps coming up with this crap? 

Harry’s Law

And speaking of which, this new series from David E. Kelley – yes another legal drama – features Kathy Bates as a grumpy lawyer who loses her job and teams up with a hot, young annoying lawyer at a new law firm. Kelley says he’s just glad he’s back on TV with another law drama – despite the objection from his children. From the LA Times: "It was a question raised by own kids -- 'Dad, please, not another law show. But I found that I did miss getting into some of the topics. I also found that the economic times had changed so dramatically that I would like to give a voice to that. I'll be happy to get a series back on the air. I'm getting a little squirrely not having one to write. I particularly wanted to get my hands on topical subject matter again. I'm happy to be back and I’m hoping the show allows us to do that." The series premieres Monday night Jan. 17 at 9 p.m. where it’ll face off against Hawaii Five-O on CBS and Castle on ABC.

Yours truly has never been a fan of David E. Kelley’s work, and this series is really no different than any of his other overrated shows. Maybe you should’ve listened to your kids, Mr. Kelley.

It’s 0-for 3 for NBC midseason as with football gone from the network until next fall, it’s back to the cellar for the peacock.

Other

- NBC announced at the tour that Steve Carrell will depart The Office earlier than expected. Carrell (who played the boss on the show) is expected to depart the series with just before the May sweeps period, while those remaining episodes will deal with find his replacement. 

- Other NBC panels at TCA included Community, where creator Dan Harmon said an entire episode where the gang plays the ultimate geek game - Dungeons & Dragons – is in the works… The insufferable Marriage Ref (the worst show of 2010 and future T Dog Media Blog TV Hall of Shame inductee) also held a panel at TCA and is returning March 6 with new changes - among them the bickering couple will now be in the studio and the studio audience votes for a winner. Can’t we have a vote to cancel this stupid show instead? … Though technically not a TCA item, Donald Trump unveiled his cast for Celebrity Apprentice this past week on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon… to see who made the cut, click here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Grab Bag: Grabbing some “Baggage” ; “Big Bang” bags three more years

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Bagging a renewal: Sheldon and the gang are around for three more years.


The Grab Bag is actually living up to its name today by grabbing some baggage and some renewals:

- WCIU here in Chicago and nine stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting quietly began testing an off-cable dating game show this week called Baggage, with a format that combines classics The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. Hosted by Jerry Springer and syndicated by NBC Universal (which also happens to syndicate his talk show), the show is currently running on GSN and has been picked up for a second season. WCIU and other stations are currently testing the series for ten weeks and if successful, may be sold into syndication either for a fall 2011 or fall 2012 start. Baggage is seen on WCIU at noon weekdays.

-CBS and Warner Bros. announced Wednesday a three-season renewal of hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which takes  the series through 2014. This comes as Big Bang has become a success in its new Thursday 7 p.m. (CT) time period after three successful seasons on Mondays. The Big Bang Theory enters off-network syndication this fall as a weeknight strip.

- Also on the renewal front: The Wendy Williams Show has been picked up for a third season. Debmar-Mercury made the announcement today as renewals have passed the 70 percent of the United States, with stations owned by Fox, CBS, NBC (specifically KNTV in San Francisco), Raycom, Cox, New Vision, and more. Williams is sold on a cash-barter basis with four minutes set aside for national ad sales by Twentieth Television. Locally, Fox-owned WFLD carries Wendy Williams each weekday at 10 a.m. and again at 11:30 p.m.

- In the surprise of the week, The Game pulled an upset and won big  in the ratings Tuesday night. The former CW sitcom drew 7.7 million viewers in its 9 p.m. time slot – more than many network programs did the same evening. One day earlier, ESPN set a cable ratings record 27.3 million viewers for the BCS College Football Championship between Auburn and Oregon, in which Auburn won 22-19 in a late-game field goal. Auburn not only won the BCS Championship, but each member of the team won a lifetime supply of Tostitos (LOL.)  It’s not a problem for Tostitos manufacturer Frito-Lay – as long as Brent Musburger foots the bill.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

TCA, Part 6: Fox with a full plate

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While ABC skimped through its TCA Press Tour presentation Monday, Fox had a full plate of panels for three of its new shows on Tuesday, including one for its revamped version of American Idol, with new judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. Fox announced at the press tour its was renewing Raising Hope for a second season, announced a premiere date for its ridiculously expensive action series Terra Nova, and a return of a familiar face to So You Think You Can Dance.

Executive Session

- First was the executive session panel fronted by Fox Networks Group President Peter Rice and Entertainment President Kevin Reilly. The two defended their programming strategy on launching Lonestar and Running Wilde last fall, despite the duo flopping. But what everyone in the room wanted to hear from them is anything and everything regarding American Idol.

American Idol

- Both Rice and Reilly acknowledged the ratings for American Idol without Simon Cowell will likely drop some, but the two didn’t speculate on how much. They point out however, that Cowell’s new X Factor show launching on Fox this fall could make up the difference.

- Then it was showtime. The new Idol judges came out on stage, and so is returning judge Randy Jackson, host Ryan Seacrest, and returning executive producer Nigel Lythgoe. Both Tyler and Lopez talked about how excited they were to be judges on the show.  As for Randy Jackson, he gave a hint on who is going to be the mean judge in Cowell’s absence: "You'll see a bit more of an assertive dawg, a little bit more hair on the dog, if you will. Fewer yo's, maybe more no's, less dawgs."

- When American Idol season premiere is scheduled for Jan. 19, viewers will no doubt tune in at first to see how the new judges are settling in their role and the overall cosmetic changes being made to the show. The program’s second night is moving to Thursday at 7 p.m. in a time slot now dominated by The Big Bang Theory, which moved from Monday just last September. While there is no doubt Idol will continue to draw 15 or so million viewers a week, remember at one time this series drew double that number – and last spring, Idol was outdrawn for the first time by Dancing With The Stars in total viewers. Idol is still a force to be reckoned with – but its no longer the most dominant show on television.

Chicago Code

- Shield creator Shawn Ryan is creator and executive producer of this series set and filmed here in Chicago about three sets of officers who battle corruption and the female chief of police. From Marc Berman and PIFeedback.com, here’s Shawn Ryan:  “The original concept was to try to do a police show in Chicago that kind of made the viewer feel as if they were in the police car with the cops. And it evolved greatly over time. It became a show that I realized I wanted to be about a lot more than just police officers. So police officers are who we use to look at the city and look at the intersection of politics and its citizenry. But it became much, much more than I originally intended it.”

- While it is terrific this series is shot in our fair town, this program could likely become the next Detroit 1-8-7. With crime and corruption rampant in this town, The Chicago Code may hit too close to home for many local viewers. And you can bet the person behind the Second City Cop blog (which yours truly definitely isn’t a fan of) already has a rant saved up and ready to post on the series’ premiere date (February 7) on how the series misrepresents Chicago police officers and how Hollywood does this wrong, and blah, blah, blah. If that wasn’t enough, Code is also up strong CBS and ABC lineups, especially later in the season with Dancing With The Stars on tap. It all adds up to a disaster waiting to happen.  Sadly, yours truly doesn’t see this show succeeding. Thank goodness Chicago is more successful when it comes to sports (except the Cubs.)

Terra Nova

What happens when you combine Jurassic Park, Land of the Lost, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World? You get Terra Nova, a new action series from Steven Spielberg about a family who travels back in time to save mankind. And if you think this is the next Lost – think again, says director Alex Gravers. This is what he told The Wrap: "This has nothing to do with Lost for one main reason: It's so made for a massively broad audience, I can't even tell you. Lost was for that great Lost audience. Terra Nova, more than anything I've done before in my life, is for everybody. ... Everyone from my kids to a gamer to my dad will love this show. It's incredible."

In an era of cost-cutting and cheapo production, Terra Nova certainly stands out – it looks expensive, it smells expensive, and it is expensive – and on budget, according to Fox. Sources say the pilot may cost nearly $20 million to make.

Land of the Lost – you know, the cool Saturday morning show from the 1970’s and not the crummy film from last year – cost a fraction of what Terra Nova to produce. If this show is to make a profit, it would have to do very well in the ratings real quick. Fox plans a preview of two episodes on May 23 and May 24 (out of American Idol) and is on Fox’s fall schedule, along with X Factor. It’s a huge gamble – if it works, this may open the door for more projects like this on television from feature film producers like Spielberg. But if it  doesn’t… Get ready for a lot of reality show-knockoffs with screaming chefs and dull-witted women looking for love on TV. Ugh.

Other

Fox held a panel on new sitcom Traffic Light, which premieres February 8 at 8:30 p.m. (CT). The logline? Three friends try to balance their relationships with their need of freedom. Sounds like a real gut buster… Fox announced it will air a “preview” of Jamie Foxx’s new sketch comedy show after Idol on March 31 after Idol and then premieres June 9 at 8 p.m. (CT)… and the wild one – Mary Murphy – returns as a judge on So You Think You Can Dance on a regular basis when it returns in May.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

TCA, Part 5: ABC opens the broadcast portion

ABC

The Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour continued on Monday with ABC as the first commercial network to present.

- ABC right off the bat announced the early renewal of six shows for the 2011-12 season: Castle, Cougar Town, Grey’s Anatomy, The Middle, Modern Family, and Private Practice. Fans of Dancing With The Stars, Desperate Housewives, and 20/20 need not worry: your shows will more than likely be back as well. Brothers and Sisters… maybe not so much.

- It seems ABC wants to make itself into The CW’s older sister by targeting females 18-49. And with Dancing With The Stars, Bachelor, Grey’s Anatomy, and Castle. And like an older sister, ABC is Marcia Brady-popular while CW is stuck with the Jan Brady role. ABC Entertainment Chief Paul Lee demonstrated the network’s commitment to the creative process. From the LA Times: “My real ambition is to make the ABC studio and the ABC network a real show-runner culture. Empowered show-runners give networks distinctive voices.  We don’t want cookie-cutter television.”

While ABC has coasted with the success of Dancing this season (thanks to buzzworthy contestants such as Bristol Palin), the network’s rating in the adult 18-49 demo has slid 11 percent from last season as many of its aging dramas have declined in the ratings – not to mention Private Practice was recently out-rated and embarrassed by MTV’s Jersey Shore head-to-head in key demos. But ad buyers are still love these shows because of their heavy-female skew – after all, women do the most shopping in the household – so it was an easy call to bring back most of the sudsers.

And those ad buyers are grateful to have University Park’s own Shonda Rimes (though TV critics certainly feel otherwise.) This Wednesday sees the premiere of the latest show from the Grey’s and Private creator called Off The Map, and was a panel on the show at TCA. The show’s logline is three medical students (of course they have to be med students – it wouldn’t be a Shonda Rimes show without them) leave to run a run-down clinic in South America. All this is Grey’s Anatomy and/or Private Practice set in a jungle without the expensive medical equipment. And Mr. Lee says he doesn't allow cookie-cutter television? Shonda Rimes is like Seth MacFarlane – critics may not like her shows, but audiences – especially females – continue to lap it up (it’s amazing Grey’s is even still on the air after the dumb Ferry story arc from 2007 – guess the show’s target audience really doesn’t mind having their intelligence being insulted every week.)

- While ABC continue to pursue female audiences, it has projects in development destined to appeal to both genders. ABC has the new Mr. Sunshine coming up later this season; and parent The Walt Disney Co.’s acquisition of Marvel opens up all kinds of possibilities for television projects. First up: A reboot of The Incredible Hulk (CBS, 1978-82) simply known as Hulk and a series based on Jessica Jones, who is a superhero who gives up the daily grind of saving lives to become a detective.



ABC Family

During the ABC portion of the press tour, sibling cable channel ABC Family – which also skews heavily female – announced renewals for hit series The Secret Life Of The American Teenager and Pretty Little Liars.

CW adds "Dr. Drew's Lifechangers"





















The CW announced Monday it was launching a new half-hour strip this fall with Dr. Drew Pinsky from Telepictures productions called Dr. Drew's Lifechangers, a spin-off of a segment of the syndicated magazine series Extra, which is also produced by Telepictures (and syndicated by Warner Bros.) The acquisition marks the first time a spin-off from a syndicated program landed on a broadcast network. The news broke Monday night on Broadcasting & Cable's website.

Dr. Pinsky (of Celebrity Rehab and Loveline fame) hosts the series and features stories abouit individuals who are in conflict, with the causes ranging from relationship problems to addiction. Pinsky brings in experts to help the people involved, and they can be anyone from celebrities (hopefully not Miley Cyrus or Lindsay Lohan) to those in the medical field. Lifechangers is being shot in front of a participatory studio audience and also plans to field questions from home viewers via video teleconferencing. Dr. Pinsky also plans to test self-help products on his show, including fitness and diet products.

CW plans to schedule the half-hours back-to-back from 3 to 4 p.m. in all time zones with the first episode a original, replacing repeats of Tyra Banks' now-defunct talk show. CW's early fringe schedule was originally two hours, but they gave the second hour back to affiliates to program last September. There were rumors CW was also going to give the first hour back to affiliates this coming fall, but the decision to schedule Lifechangers keeps them in the daytime business and is bad news for upcoming syndicated series hoping to land the time slot - especially Bill Cunningham's proposed talk show from Tribune Entertainment, which still has not found a distributor. Tribune owns fourteen CW affiliates, including WGN-TV in Chicago.

In addition to Lifechangers and his rehab cable shows, Dr. Pinsky will host a weekday strip on HLN, beginning this spring. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

TCA, Part 4: Cable wraps up

The cable portion of the TCA Winter Press Tour wrapped up over the weekend, with the rest of the cable networks making their presentations. Remember, even though the cable portion of the tour wrapped up Saturday, cable networks owned by the major broadcast networks are still scheduled to make presentations this week.

Rainbow (We, AMC, IFC)

-AMC – the home of must-see dramas Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and new smash hit The Walking Dead may have another one up its sleeve with The Killing, based on a miniseries from Denmark called Forbydelsen. The Killing is set in Seattle (but filmed up the road in Vancouver) and follows a trio of stories surrounding the homicide of a young girl. Look for it to premiere April 3rd at 9 p.m. (CT). Also, AMC announced that Mad Men resumes production on Thursday, and has already been picked up for a fifth season.

- We, who competes with  Lifetime and Oxygen for female viewership unveiled a new reality show featuring Grammy Award-winning artist Toni Braxton and her sisters titled Braxton Family Values (yes, just what we need – more Keyshia Cole/Kardashian reality show knockoffs.) And Joan Rivers also has a docusoap on the network with her daughter Melissa.

- IFC is launching two new shows in the first quarter – a magazine show based on the faux newspaper The Onion and Portlandia, a comedy show which looks at Portland, Ore. in a unique way.

Hearst (A&E, Lifetime)

- A&E has a show Prison Break fans will love. Okay, maybe they’ll love. It’s called Breakout Kings, from executive producers Matt Olmstead and Nick Santora. It’s like  Prison Break – but a little more on the lighter side and the series are non-serialized. The U.S. Marshals Office makes a deal with some convicts and in return,  they help nab criminals on the run. According to Santora (as quoted by the Los Angeles Times), "It's not about breaking out of prison. It's about what happens after they break out."

A&E also announced it was renewing Storage Wars for a second season and started production on a new series titled Relapse (I suppose Recovery is the sequel to this show…)

- Lifetime – you know, the one female-targeted cable network who  doesn’t feature housewives catfights and bad girls behaving badly? Well, it has several projects in the works this winter with made-for-TV movie (remember those?) The Amanda Knox Story, a ripped-from-the-headlines flick which looks at the real-life story on how a Seattle college student murdered her roommate Hayden Panettiere (Heroes) stars in the film. Lifetime is also rolling out several new non-scripted series next month: One Born Every Minute (reality show set in a hospital maternity ward); Seriously Funny KIds (a take off of Kids Say The Darndest Things with Heidi Klum); Quad Squad (reality series about quadruplets attending a Minnesota high school; and Glamour Belles (a reality show set in a pageant gown shop.)

Starz

The premium channel announced it was continuing production on Spartacus: Blood and Sand, despite the departure of star Andy Whitfield due to illness. Producers of the series say they will continue to search for his replacement. Since Whitfield’s illness delayed production of Blood and Sand, Starz is launching Spartacus: Gods of the Arena in its place starting January 21. Starz is also planning a reboot of Torchwood (so soon? seems like Torchwood ended like weeks ago…) and launched new series Camelot in April.

HBO

- Home Box Office unveiled a numerous slate of new series, movies, and specials to appear on the premium channel this year. The most anticipated panel at TCA – at least outside of Oprah Winfrey’s – was one for new sci-fi/fantasy drama Game Of Thrones. Based on the Song of Ice and Fire written by George Martin, the series is about a battle of power and family values in an environment where violence is common. Martin appeared on stage with three of the stars and showrunner David Benioff and criticized the way television handles Science Fiction. In fact. Martin left television completely to write novels after he felt his vision was being compromised by greedy, narcissist television execs. The series premieres April 17 for a ten-episode run.

- HBO also announced it was airing a five-hour miniseries based on the 1941 novel Mildred Pierce and starring Kate Winslet. And yes, there was Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) via the magic of satellite to promote The Pee-Wee Show on Broadway. Shot in front of a live audience, the special contains elements of his popular CBS Saturday Morning Show and a stage show he did when the TV show was airing. Let’s hope a movie theater isn’t involved.

- Also on tap on HBO, the channel picked up new comedy Girls from Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham; an airing of one-man play Thurgood with Laurence Fishburne in the title role set for Feb. 24; and a documentary on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas college basketball team and their one-time controversial championship-winning coach Jerry Tarkanian. It airs March 7.

Other

It was a Beverly Hills, 90210 reunion at TCA – of sorts: Jennie Garth, Jason Priestly and Luke Perry are scheduled to appear in several made-fors for Hallmark with both Priestly and Perry appearing in Goodnight for Justice… Hallmark also signed former Food Network star Emeril Lagasse to star in a new daily cooking show embedded within Martha Stewart’s daytime block… TV Guide Channel told the press in Pasadena it was launching a new reality show set in a nail salon. I guess TV Guide Channel’s next reality show will be set in a Laundromat.

TCA, Part 3: We OWN you

 

Obviously the biggest highlight of the Winter version of Television Critics Association Press Tour was a rare appearance by the Queen of Talk, Oprah Winfrey. She was at the press tour to promote her new cable network, The Oprah Winfrey Network, or OWN, which launched January 1 in place of Discovery Health. Discovery Communications owns half of the new joint venture while Winfrey’s Harpo Productions, Inc. owns the other half.

 

When she addressed reporters, Winfrey talked for a long time – so long, it was being compared to a filibuster. A question asked by a reporter took Winfrey 18 minutes and 15 seconds to answer, according to the Los Angeles Times. Winfrey talked about her career and the reasons why she decided to start the OWN network – basically because of the often negative culture of television, and she wanted to provide an alternative with more uplifting, positive fare. However, she can only take it so far: she regrets calling The Oprah Winfrey Show “change your life TV”.

 

Among the shows being launched on OWN include new talk shows by Gayle King (who once hosted a 1997 syndicated talk show) and Rosie O’Donnell, whose talk show was initially headed for syndication, but wound up on OWN due to disinterest from local stations. Also on the weekday schedule is repeats of Dr. Phil, whose Harpo Productions produces the show.

 

In primetime, look for a new reality show from Mark Burnett Productions titled Your OWN Show: The Search For The Next TV Star, where the winner would get his/her own show on OWN. I’m not kidding. Former View and Scratch personality Lisa Ling travels the country to search for stories in Our Country with Lisa Ling. Another series is a behind the scenes look at Oprah Winfrey final season of her talk show, and Chicago’s own Suze Orman also has a show on OWN.

 

So far, OWN has gotten tons of publicity and good buzz. The shows on OWN have surprisingly good production values, and ratings for the debut of the new cable network on its first primetime night were impressive – OWN drew a little over one million viewers in the female 25-54 demo, only behind ESPN and USA among cable networks.

 

Whether Ms. Winfrey can sustain this good start remains to be seen.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

TCA, Part 2: Resuming “The Game”

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It’s “Game” back on for the one-time CW sitcom. 

The Television Critics Association tour continued in Pasadena on Thursday with Oprah Winfrey and her new OWN network obviously the biggest attraction (more in the next post.) But there was other news from this day as well, with BET, Turner, and Discovery making presentations:

BET

The biggest projects BET has on tap  is their first foray into original scripted programming. First up is the revival of former CW sitcom The Game, which debuts Tuesday night at 9 p.m. (CT). The Game joins a select few programs that have been revived on cable or in first-run syndication after their network runs ended. The list includes Airwolf, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Charles in Charge, and Too Close For Comfort, among others.

The cast was at the press tour Thursday reported Eurweb, and talked about how they had to deal with resuming the show after being off the air for two years, and the move of production from Los Angeles to Atlanta.  Series creator and executive producer Mara Brock Akli  (who also created Girlfriends, from where the series spun-off from) said when she got everyone finally under contract, the writers got the go-ahead to produce new scripts. Her husband, co-executive producer Sam Akli pointed out the writers –all who had stories to tell -were eager to get to work.

Much like when Sony ditched its syndicated courtroom shows from its portfolio to make room for product from Harpo Studios, CW canceled The Game and other sitcom fare in 2009 to focus exclusively on female-skewing one-hour dramas – this despite the fact The Game had been improving in the ratings, even in its tough Friday night time slot. BET acquired repeats of the previous three seasons of the show and became a huge hit for the network. When The Game ran on CW, the series was often the most-watched series on broadcast television among African-Americans.

Launching after The Game on Tuesday is an original sitcom titled Let’s Stay Together, a show which according to its ads, is “an original comedy about love and happiness”. Well, good luck with that.

Turner

Turner’s network brought five series to the tour, including Dr. Drew Pinsky’s new series on HLN. The Loveline host (who continues to front Celebrity Rehab), will focus on news and newsmakers, but also spend time on celebrity  misbehavior. Pinsky’s new show debuts in March.

Larry King’s successor was also present at the tour, with Simon Cowell Piers Morgan announcing he will have Oprah Winfrey on his first show when it debuts January 17 on CNN. Pretty impressive get for a nobody, except for fans of Fox’s NBC’s American Idol America’s Got No Talent.

Moving on to a real star, Ray Romano was at the tour hawking TNT’s critically acclaimed drama Men Of A Certain Age, and when asked about how his wife felt about his kissing scenes, Romano replied: "Every time my wife sees me in a kissing scene, she says, 'This is ... We have enough money.' "

Also present at Turner’s presentation was new legal drama Franklin & Bash with Mark-Paul Gosselar (who appeared on 2008 dud Raising The Bar – guessing this will be his second TNT flop in a row) and Adult Swim’s eleven-minute sitcom Children’s Hospital.

Discovery

As stated before, the OWN network presentation will be covered in another post. As for the rest of Discovery Networks’ programming at the tour:

- If you were wondering, yes, there is a Science Channel. And they have Ridley Scott. The critically acclaimed film director is producing a new eight-part series called Prophets of Science Fiction, which takes viewers on a journey with Ridley to explore the great minds of science fiction, from Issac Newton to George Lucas (Star Wars) and their unique way of storytelling. The series debuts later this year.

- Discovery is launching a new Chicago version of Cash Cab, with Second City alum Beth Melewski hosting the festivities. So if you are here this summer and board a cab in the Loop – be warned – you might actually win lots of money instead of forking it over.

- Mike Tyson showed up on stage to hawk his new program on Animal Planet  titled Taking on Tyson, with the former championship boxer fooling around with pigeons. I give the pigeons 5-to-1 odds on knocking out Tyson – or at least dropping a “present” on his head…

Saturday, January 08, 2011

TCA report: Part 1

It’s the Winter Television Critics Association tour where TV critics and bloggers escape the cold to come out to somewhat warmer Pasadena, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles known for the wonderful Rose Parade, the Rose Bowl, and where Sheldon Cooper lives.

Over the next few days, networks will trot out stars and execs to hawk their new shows and tell the press how well they’re doing in the ratings, using more spin than a tennis ball.

With that said, here’s what been going on:

TV Land

- Move over Bears-Packers, there’s a new rivalry in town: Erica Kane vs. Betty White. TV Land announced Wednesday its Hot In Cleveland sitcom will have a crossover with ABC’s daytime soap All My Children featuring Wendie Malick’s character in a rivalry with star Susan Lucci, set to air in February. The TCA presentation featured the entire Hot in Cleveland cast, but most questions were lobbed at Betty White. HIC’s new 20-episode season kicks off on January 19.

- And thanks to Cleveland, (not Cleveland Show, mind you) you’re seeing more and more first-run sitcoms pop up on cable – TV Land is rolling out Retired at 35, featuring someone who, well,  retired at 35 (might as well rename it Lucky Bastard.) CMT is also getting into the cablecom business with Working Class, featuring former Mary Tyler Moore and Lou Grant star Ed Asner.

TV Land also announced it was moving its annual awards show from Los Angeles to New York, to the disappointment to all six people in L.A. who actually care. The shows honored next year include The Cosby Show and Family Ties - both will have their full casts on hand (and that means Tina Yothers and Tempsett Blesdoe are still alive!)

TV One

Another network with TV its name has – you guessed it – another sitcom premiering this month. The show is titled Love That Girl!, with former Fresh Prince cast member Tatyana Ali has a divorced woman returning to Los Angeles to work in her father’s (played by Seinfeld and Marblehead Manor alum Phil Morris) realty business. Morris also created and produces the show. TV One, which targets an older African-American audience is rolling out the sitcom on January 10 – a night before BET brings back The Game and rolls out a new sitcom titled Let's Stay Together. More on those two shows in the next TCA post.

ESPN

The network announced Wednesday it will take a look at one of the most scrutinized positions in football – the quarterback. The Year of the Quarterback is being examined on ESPN’s NFL and college football-related shows, along with specials and even during the football games themselves, The year-long initiative will look at recruitment, leadership qualities, race, and perhaps why the Bears haven’t had a decent one in fifty years….

Stay tuned… there’s more TCA stuff to come!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The race to replace Oprah: "Anderson", "Ellen" benefit

 

Modern Family syndication sales reaches up to 50 percent of the U.S.

 

Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution seems to benefitting the most thus far when it comes to replacing The Oprah Winfrey Show when it leaves this September, with Anderson Cooper and Ellen DeGeneres’ talk shows snapping up time slots soon-to-be formerly held by the queen of talk.

 

Anderson has hit the 82 percent clearance mark thanks to a CBS O&O deal which put the show on CBS stations in Philadelphia (KYW), Minneapolis-St. Paul (WCCO), and Miami (WFOR). Two of those stations (WCCO and WFOR) are Oprah incumbents; Anderson’s new show may be line to take her time periods on those stations. Meanwhile, 22 other stations have come on board including ABC station KDNL in St. Louis; CBS affiliate WOIO in Cleveland; Fox affiliate WRSP in Springfield, IL; and CBS affiliate WSBT in South Bend, Ind. (WSBT is also an Oprah incumbent.) Anderson is taking over for Oprah at CBS affiliate KFMB-TV in San Diego, ABC affiliate WATE in Knoxville, and CBS affiliate WKYT in Lexington, Ky. ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington, D.C. announced last month it was replacing Oprah at 4 p.m. with Anderson this fall.

 

Just up the road from D.C. is Baltimore, where NBC affiliate WBAL-TV announced yesterday it was replacing Oprah with Ellen, also effective in September at 4 p.m. Ellen is also scheduled to replace Oprah in the same time slot in Boston on ABC affiliate WCVB.

 

Earlier, Fox-owned WFLD here in Chicago has purchased Anderson for this fall, presumably to air in an afternoon slot.

 

Looking into the far future, Twentieth Television announced it has cleared hot off-network sitcom Modern Family in 50 percent of the country, scoring a nine-station Tribune Broadcasting deal. Tribune markets clearing the show for a fall 2013 start include Philadelphia (WPHL), Seattle, Indianapolis, and Grand Rapids, Mich. (WXMI). Other station groups clearing the series include Hearst and Sinclair, whose WSTR in Cincinnati was announced as one of the pickups.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

MGM to make MeTV roar nationally

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As have been speculated for the last few weeks, MGM announced today it will team up with Weigel Broadcasting to distribute MeTV nationally. MGM’s domestic television sales department will handle national distribution of the channel and national advertising sales.

MeTV airs product from CBS Television Distribution, Twentieth Television, Paul Brownstein Productions, and a few independent producers. Classic shows currently on MeTV include Cheers, M*A*S*H, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Twelve O’Clock High, Gunsmoke (1966-75 episodes only) and Marshal Dillon (the syndicated title of Gunsmoke’s half-hour episodes.)

MeTV of course, began here in Chicago by Weigel in 2005 on low-power WWME-TV, focusing on classic television programming and expanded to Milwaukee in March 2008. On December 15, Weigel created a national feed of the channel, while creating a local version on MeToo. The national feed is currently being carried on Weigel’s stations in Chicago (WWME, WCIU 26.3), Milwaukee (WBME), and South Bend, Ind. (WBND) as digital subchannels.

MGM already partners with Weigel to distribute This, a digital subchannel and has become the most widely-cleared digital network, with clearances covering 85 percent of the country including digital subs of WCIU in Chicago, WPIX in New York, and KTLA in Los Angeles. This launched in November 2008 and airs primarily movie programming from MGM’s library, but also some television series in off-peak hours, such as The Outer Limits and The Patty Duke Show.  Weigel and MGM officials believe MeTV and This are percent compliments of each other, and MGM plans to target stations who are carrying This and even the other classic TV digital network which recently launched (Antenna TV) to pair them up with MeTV.

The move comes as MGM’s financial picture has become clearer over the last several weeks. The studio recently exited Chapter 11, and restructured its management. MGM is hoping to return as a major player in Hollywood, which it hasn’t been over the last decade or so due to financial problems.

On tap for MeTV is a Green Hornet marathon to coincide with the release of the motion picture of the same name later this month. Starring Bruce Lee, The Green Hornet ran on ABC during the 1966-67, but reruns of  the series drew a loyal audience in syndication. Around Valentine’s Day, MeTV is brining back the classic anthology comedy Love, American Style, which hasn’t been seen in general syndication since the 1980s. Love originally aired as a one-hour prime-time program (with three or four segments) on ABC from 1969 to 1974, but was cut up into half-hours for an ABC daytime run and moved into off-network syndication in September 1975. Love briefly ran on MeTV and MeToo in 2008.