CBS has canceled its unfortunate series about chick-magnet neurosurgeons, 3 lbs., after just three episodes. Its ratings were even worse than those of Smith, the robbers-and-cops drama it replaced. Which also lasted three episodes, if I recall correctly. I guess we now know the precise limits of the patience of CBS executives.
Apparently it's true that no press -- even appalling racist tirades -- is bad press as long as they spell your name right. The curmudgeonly TMZ website reports that sales of the Seinfeld season seven DVD -- released just a day after former star Michael Richards' belligerent racist ranting in a Los Angeles nightclub became public -- are running 75 to 90 percent ahead of previous Seinfeld releases.
Mike Darnell, head of reality programming at Fox, has suddenly discovered he's otherwise occupied on the date -- whatever it is -- of a panel discussion he was scheduled to join at the National Association of Television Programming Executives (NATPE) convention in January. It was Darnell's division at Fox that was producing the infamous and now-canceled If I Did It special featuring O.J. Simpson. But I'm sure it was just a coincidence that Darnell canceled only a couple of days after NATPE officials said Darnell would be questioned about the O.J. special during the panel.
Rick Shaw, the last South Florida veteran of Top 40 radio, announced his retirement this morning on his WMXJ show. And when Shaw packs up his microphone after his final show, he probably should go ahead and take WMXJ's records -- well, mp3s -- with him. Oldies radio radio is dying fast -- big stations in New York, San Francisco and Chicago have dumped the format in the past 18 months -- and it's hard to see Shaw's departure as anything but an ominous portent of things to come, soon. Do not ask for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for Elvis Presley, the Four Tops and Aretha Franklin.
Even stations that don't formally renounce the format are quietly shedding it like an old skin. Hardly anybody anymore plays Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly or other 1950s rock and roll giants. And an increasing number of oldies stations are abandoning 1960s music, too. Although Gene Pitney hit the charts 24 times during the 1960s, you can't hear him on WMXJ -- not Town Without Pity, not (The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance, not It Hurts To Be In Love, not I'm Gonna Be Strong, even though they were all Top 10 chart records. Even before Shaw announced his retirement, WMXJ had one foot in the 1970s and was headed inexorably for the 1980s. Any day now, expect to hear an "oldies" station that plays U2 and eminem.
It's not that there's no audience for 1960s rock and roll. Are you kidding? Baby Boomers are the biggest demographic bulge in human history and will remain so for another 20 years. And they still want to hear their music, which is why Barbra Steisand and Paul McCartney have made more money than anybody else on tour in the past year. The problem is the same one that afflicts television, the belief by advertisers and their hunchback assistants, the programming consultants, that anybody over 50 might as well be dead. WMXJ finished 10th in the market in the summer Arbitron ratings period, ahead of 17 other commercial stations, but too many of its listeners are past that deadly 50th birthday.
Someday advertisers are going to wise up; there are all kinds of studies showing that Baby Boomers have a lot more money than anybody else and, as part of their lifelong obsession with being hip, are eager to use it to try new things. Until that happens, the best bet for 1960s music is satellite radio, which doesn't care how old its listeners are as long as they fork over the $13 a month subscription fee. In fact, Rick Shaw in his mid-60s incarnation as a WQAM boss Top 40 jock can sometimes be heard on XM satellite radio, which uses old tape to recreate the sound of 1960s stations.
Meanwhile, I laughed out loud this morning when the first thing Shaw did after announcing his retirement was to violate WMXJ's Stalinist playlist restrictions: He cued up Goodnight My Love by Ray Peterson, the 1959 record that was his signoff back in the Top 40 days. Maybe, before his final shift at WMXJ next month, he'll even play a Gene Pitney record. (I vote for Looking Through The Eyes Of Love, Rick.) What can the programmers do, fire him?
What they'd do if they were smart is give Shaw a couple of hours on the weekends and let him play anything he wants: hits, near-hits, misses, flip sides, novelty records, anything that struck his fancy during 46 years in South Florida radio. Come on, WMXJ. Give us decrepit 50-year-olds something to listen to while we shop for satellite radios.
It's not the worst ESPN telecast -- that's whichever one Dick Vitale is on at any given moment -- but Monday Night Football has become increasingly unbearable since the bottom-feeder of sports networks took it over this season. In fact, they ought to remove "football" from the title of the show altogether and just call it Monday Night ESPN/ABC Infomercial. Mike Tirico, Joe Theismann and Tony Kornheiser barely mention the game; they're too busy promoting whatever drivel ABC and ESPN are airing during the week.
Last night during the Green Bay-Seattle telecast, it was so bad that the visiting ABC semi-celebrity, late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, actually had to remind the alleged sportscasters in the booth with him to take notice of the game. Repeatedly urged to delivery long soliloquies on subjects dear to his heart -- mostly having to do with hot dogs and hamburgers, which I can now tell you authoritatively are his favorite foods -- Kimmel finally started interrupting himself to point out plays. "I hate it when celebrities do this stuff," he said of his own recitation of anecdotes. So do we, Jimmy.
Bad news for you fans of The Nine -- ABC yanked it from the schedule this morning. The final straw was the show's performance last Wednesday, when it drew just 4.1 million viewers, meaning it was getting clobbered even by the commercials in CSI: New York. ABC will probably return it to the air to burn off the remaining episodes next year, but essentially it's toast.
The CBS Evening News has a five-part series this week on obesity titled Overweight In America: The Science, The Solutions. I'm sure the network will be plugging the solution it found this summer to Katie Couric's expanded girth, which was to airbrush 20 pounds off her picture. Wanna bet that the series concludes with a Free Speech segment by Michael Moore demanding free Photoshop software for the poor and obese?
American Gangster (10 p.m. Tuesday, BET) -- I'm not sure this is what Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton mean when they call for greater diversity in television programming. American Gangster, a new documentary series hosted by Ving Rhames, chronicles the rise and fall of the country's most notorious black criminals. First episode: Stanley (Tookie) Williams, who founded the Crips street gang and eventually died by lethal injection in San Quentin.
10 Items Or Less (11 p.m. Monday, TBS) -- This promises to be the funniest sitcom set in a grocery store since The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis. OK, OK, the only one since Dobie Gillis. John Lehr (Memron) returns to the bleak, evil little Ohio town where he was a high-school nerd to run a family grocery that's competing with a supermarket managed by Jennifer Elise Cox (Lovespring International), his old prom-queen nemesis. The action is fierce, especially on double-coupon days.
My Boys (10 p.m. Tuesday, TBS) -- Jordana Spiro (Must Love Dogs) is a tomboy sportswritress who can't get a boyfriend. Eventually she gives up in frustration and moves to Ohio to open a supermarket. Nah, that would be silly -- almost as silly as imagining that a blond hottie like Spiro can't get a boyfriend.
Big Day (9 p.m. Tuesday, ABC) -- This entire 22-episode sitcom takes place on the disastrous wedding day of Alice (Marla Sokoloff, The Practice) and Danny (Josh Cooke, Four Kings). As comedy, ehhh; as incisive argument against heterosexual marriage, brilliant.
If there's a giant high-definition flat-panel TV on your shopping list -- hint, hint, loyal readers -- Panasonic has set up a consumer hotline to help you sort through the choices. You can talk to a live expert by calling 1-888-777-7134, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern time. The hotline is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekends. And no, they don't know where you can find a parking space at Dadeland Mall.
First the O.J. interview, now this: CBS is working on a reality show in which 16 contestants sail the high seas as pirates. Rape! Murder! Pillage! Wooden legs! The winner gets a million bucks and, presumably, the ears of all his victims. Producer Mark Burnett, the same guy who does Survivor, expects to start shooting Pirates in March.
What makes this a Thanksgiving Day item is that you get a chance to participate. Anybody who's 21 and has a U.S. passport can apply at www.cbs.com. And even if you aren't chosen, there's always a chance you can still be on the show, being raped or disemboweled by someone who was. Anyway, there are other reality shows to apply for: Serial Killer, Chainsaw Massacre, Schoolhouse Arsonist and Suicide Bomber. Okay, technically none of those have been announced yet. But now that reality TV is crossing the line from bad taste to out and out criminality, how much longer can it possibly be?