After one of the most disastrous TV seasons in history, with viewership plummeting and a strike nearly obliterating four months of advertising revenue, the networks are desperately looking for any way they can to pull eyeballs in to the shows they'll debut this fall. That means heavy promotion has already begun, five months before the first new series actually starts. CBS, for instance, has already posted video clips for six new shows, including one that won't debut until January. My guess is that this will backfire, that viewers will grow heartily sick of these shows before they launch, but the networks work on the opposition assumption, that people are sheep who'll do anything they're told by somebody with a marketing degree. Let's see who's right. Here's a clip from a new CBS sitcom called The Gary Project, starring Jay Mohr and Paula Marshall as battling ex-spouses. Watch it; it's kind of amusing. Then watch it again tomorrow, the next day, seven times next week and 43 times in July. After that, let me know what you think.
The May Nielsen sweeps ended this week, and it's party time at WPLG-ABC 10. Not only did the station have South Florida's top-rated 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. newscasts (sending Dwight Lauderdale, who retired Wednesday night after 23 years in the anchor chair, out on top), but seven of the top 10 prime shows air on WPLG. The station's spell over viewers was so total that even mean old Judge Judy on WPLG whupped that sweet Oprah Winfrey on WFOR-CBS 4 in their head-to-head battle at 4 p.m.
I am constantly amazed by the things I learn from daytime TV. For instance, did you know that North Korea or Iran or somebody on that Axis of Evil thing is beaming unwholesome thoughts about Charlie Sheen right into our brains? I discovered this while watching Fox's The Morning Show With Mike And Juliet Thursday. Denise Richards volunteered of her ex-husband that "I don’t really want to think of his penis anymore. I want to move on.” Man, me too.
"For the final time, goodnight," Dwight Lauderdale told viewers at the end of WPLG-ABC 10's newscast Wednesday night -- and with those five little words, ended 35 years in South Florida television. A long goodbye that began in February, when the 56-year-old Lauderdale announced he would retire at the end of the May Nielsen ratings sweeps, was finally over.
The farewell messages that have dotted WPLG's newscasts for the past month reached a crescendo Wednesday, with the final 21 minutes of the 11 p.m. program being devoted to collages of some of his memorable stories as well as so-long-pal messages -- both from colleagues and newsmakers like Gloria Estefan ("You are the only other man in my life for 32 years").
Lauderdale, who came to South Florida in 1973 to report for the station that's now WSVN-Fox 7, moved to WPLG in 1976 and started anchoring the main newscasts in 1985, said he never expect his retirement would trigger such an outpouring. "Frankly, I didn't realize you cared that much," he said as he addressed the cameras for the last time. He closed not with a lofty soliloquy on the future of journalism but thanks to those who helped him over the years, especially his wife Minnie. "Thank you for sacrificing a lot of the time we could have spent together," Lauderdale said. "Thanks for always putting the demands of my career ahead of yours."
Turning to his partners on the set, Lauderdale promised: "Tomorrow night at this time I'm going to be home watching you." Retorted his laughing co-anchor Laurie Jennings: "Oh, sure you will. You'll be out having a nice dinner." Maybe a very liquid one -- as the closing credit rolled, Lauderdale was eying a four-foot-tall gift basket from his colleagues, stacked to the top with bottles of wine and martini fixings.
Old deejays never die, they just go to XM Satellite Radio. To the old tapes of Wolfman Jack and Casey Kasem airing on XM, you can now add those of Rick Dees. Archival editions of The Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 start airing on XM's '80s and '90s oldies channels on June 7. The current show is joining the lineup, too, on XM's top-30 Hit List channel. (Which not very coincidentally is located on channel 30, just as the '80s can be found on channel 8 and the '90s on channel 9.)
Unlike Wolfman Jack and Kasem (especially unlike the Wolfman, who is at least purportedly dead), Dees is still behind a microphone every morning at KMVN, a Los Angeles '70s and '80s station known locally as Movin 93.9. And now that Kasem's American Top Forty is gone, The Rick Dees Weekly Top 40 -- which launched in 1983 -- is the oldest chart countdown show around. Who could have imagined there was so much life after Disco Duck?
It's not exactly shocking news, but satellite-TV customers are happier with their service than cable customers. The annual American Customer Satisfaction Index, produced by pollsters from the University of Michigan, DirecTV scored 68 points out of a possible 100 from customers, while Dish was close behind at 65 -- the two-top-rated companies in the survey. Cable as a whole scored 64, but that rating benefits from the performance of smaller companies like Cablevision. Most of the larger cable companies got lower scores: Time Warner 59, Comcast and Charter 54. So much for the "consumer protection" that comes from government regulation of cable. Consumers get the best service when companies compete, not when they sit back in comfortable government-created monopolies.
CBS has just announced a new long-term deal with Bob Schieffer. No details were revealed, but CBS News boss Sean McManus did say: "I’m extremely pleased that Bob will continue to play a key role at CBS News for years to come." Yes, indeedy. Good to have a guy like Bob around in case of an emergency, like, say, a sudden vacancy in the CBS Evening News anchor chair.
The feuding between MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly has escalated into a clash between GE/NBC and News Corp./Fox News, according to this piece from the Washington Post. The Post reports that executives of the two companies are calling one another to complain about the viciousness of the commentary on one another's networks. O'Reilly, on the air, has accused GE boss Jeffrey Immelt of bearing responsibility for the terrorist deaths of U.S. troops because of the company's business deals with Iran; Olbermann has accused Fox New boss Roger Ailes of a secret role in Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign.
NBC's squawking that everything was just good clean fun until O'Reilly started calling Immelt an accomplice of terrorists. But I don't think anybody at Fox News was too amused at Olbermann's frequent comparisons of the place to Nazi Germany, or his habit of holding a photo of O'Reilly over his face while giving "Seig heil!" salutes. Each network needs to lash its loose cannon a little more tightly.
Final Approach (8 p.m. Saturday, Hallmark Channel) -- Dean Cain plays a cashiered FBI agent. He's a passenger on an airliner. It gets hijacked! Whoooa, didn't see that coming. But wait . . . that flight attendant . . . doesn't she look familiar? Yikes, it's Sunny Mabrey, from Snakes On A Plane! Oh, man, don't open the overhead bin!
Lord of the Ants (8 p.m. Tuesday, WPBT-PBS 2) -- Speaking of crazed anthropomorphism, this episode of the PBS science series Nova is a profile of Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson,
legendary for his fascination by, and affection for, ants. (Clearly he didn't watch enough of those big-bug sci-fi flicks in the 1950s.) Wilson is notorious in scientific circles for arguing that all behavior in all animals is governed by biology and that free will is a myth. In this documentary, you can watch him plunge his hand into a bed of fire ants while calmly observing that each sting feels like "the touch of a hot needle," which certainly suggests that free will on occasion may not be such a great concept.
Note: Days and times for PBS shows are for the Miami area, and may differ elsewhere
The upfronts -- the annual ritual when broadcast television networks present their fall lineups to advertisers -- have always been a weeklong festival of Barnumesque bluster lubricated by liquor and advertising dollars. But the party lights were much dimmer at this year's edition, which ended Thursday.
A palpable cloud of anxiety hangs over a broadcast industry that's down five million viewers from last year, has just crawled out of the wreckage of one disastrous strike and now faces the real possibility of another. Even the invincible American Idol is showing wear and tear with its lowest ratings in five years. And now, the networks have ordered only 17 new series -- about half of what they did last year. Read the whole Miami Herald story.