January 17, 2011

'Being Human' and 'Harry's Law': Disappointing

In a fit of pique after discovering that his seedy townhouse is haunted, Josh rather pointedly suggests Human that Sally the ghost go rattle her chains elsewhere. She dismisses the idea and adds that Josh, a werewolf, and his roommate Aidan, a vampire, ought to be just a little bit more tolerant of metaphysical diversity. Shocked, Josh demands to know who told their secrets. Oh please, retorts Sally with a roll of her phantasmagoric eyes: “It’s all you ever talk about!”

True enough. Being Human, Syfy’s remake of a British comic drama about three supernatural roommates, is a bit like a Jerry Springer episode in which all the guests are lycanthropes or bloodsuckers: endless whiny psychobabble about spectral victimization, punctuated by the occasional bout of furniture smashing or throat tearing. I’m not one of those critics who thinks that the BBC is the world’s last refuge from the vulgarian cancer of American television. But possibly for the first time since we threw all that damn tea in the harbor, the Brits are right and the colonists wrong.

At least as disappointing as Being Human is NBC’s sketchy legal drama Harry’s Law. Though produced by David E. Kelley, who created Boston Legal, The Practice and Ally McBeal, Harry’s Law offers not even a hint that it’s written by someone who knows anything about either courtrooms or TV drama. Read my full Miami Herald reviews.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 03:23 PM in Broadcast series, Cable series
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January 16, 2011

'Being Human,' with an American accent

Syfybeinghuman Q. Why would a television network remake a show that’s not only still airing on another network but also winning critical acclaim and setting ratings records there?

A. “That’s a question we asked ourselves,” says Mark Stern, one of the top programming bosses at the Syfy cable channel. “That’s a question we asked ourselves a lot.” And when Syfy’s version of the hit British show Being Human debuts Monday, we’ll see what the answer was.

Hollywood has been pumping out Americanized remakes of successful British programs since NBC hijacked the groundbreaking satirical revue That Was The Week That Was in 1964. The singing casino magnates of CBS’ Viva Laughlin!, the time-traveling cops of ABC’s Life on Mars, the clueless white-collar drudges of NBC’s The Office: All were adapted from originals on the London telly.

But all those shows had either never been seen in the United States or had completed brief and little-noted runs on BBC America. Being Human, a drama about supernatural outsiders craving a return to human existence, is a whole different kettle of creatures. The British version racked up some of the largest audiences in the network’s history when it aired on BBA America in 2009 and 2010. A third season (the British show is still in production) is coming later this year.

None of that fazes Syfy executives or the creative team they assembled to re-do the show.

“It’s somewhat unconventional to remake a show that fans and audiences already love, especially, when that show is still on the air,” says Stern, Syfy’s executive vice president for original content. “And we love the British version, too. But from the first moment we saw it, we thought there was a real opportunity to take what those guys had done, Americanize it, give it more scope and explore its world more deeply. . . .

“As we get deeper and deeper into the season, we think the two versions are going to feel more like cousins, complementary but not echoes.” Read the rest of my story on how Syfy adapted Being Human for American audiences in Sunday's Herald.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 12:27 PM in Cable series
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Screen Gems: TV the week of January 16

Ellroy James Ellroy's  LA: City of Demons (10 p.m. Wednesday, Investigation Discovery) Crime writer James Ellroy takes an in-your-face tabloid look at the most infamous Los Angeles murders of the 20th century -- ranging from the stabbing of movie star Lana Turner's mobster boyfriend to the rape-strangulation of Ellroy's own mother -- in this lurid new documentary series.

Perfect Couples (8:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC) If TV bloodlines mean anything, this romantic-comedy series ought to have some laughs: One producer (Scott  Silveri) worked on Friends, another (Jon Pollack) on 30 Rock.

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena(10 p.m. Friday, Starz) Lucy Lawless headlines this six-episode prequel to Starz's hit blood-and-boobs series Spartacus.

Onion News Network (10 p.m. Friday, IFC) After three years on the Internet, this satirical collection of mock cable news clips ("Try out new recipes and find out what's killing America's children!'') moves to television.

Portlandia(10:30 p.m. Friday, IFC) Saturday Night Live's Fred Armisen stars in a sitcom send-up of life in Oregon's most politically correct city.

Let me program your TiVo! Just click on my best bets for the week at www.tivo.com/guruguide.





Posted by Glenn Garvin at 11:03 AM in Broadcast series, Cable series, Newscasts & journalists
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January 14, 2011

Nielsen isn't illegal monopoly, judge rules

A federal judge has thrown out the most sweeping claims of a lawsuit by the owners of South Florida's Tvheads WSVN-Fox 7 that could have remapped the television industry, ruling that TV ratings giant Nielsen is not an illegal monopoly.

U.S. District Judge Paul C. Huck ruled Thursday that while some of Nielsen's practices might be anti-competitive, WSVN's owner Sunbeam Television failed to prove that the Nielsen Company was blocking any "willing and able competitor'' from the TV-ratings business.

Huck's summary judgment dismissing accusations that Nielsen violated federal and state laws strips Sunbeam's 2009 lawsuit of the potential to trigger revolutionary changes in the television business. The two companies are still submitting arguments on other counts in the lawsuit that accuse Nielsen of breach of contract and deceptive business practices.

Sunbeam officials said they will appeal the dismissal of the anti-trust portion of the lawsuit.

Nielsen's ratings, which measure TV audiences and determine how much advertisers pay for commercials, are the bedrock of the industry, affecting nearly every business decision and most of the creative ones, too. Sunbeam's lawsuit sent shockwaves throughout the industry when it was filed in Miami in April 2009.

The suit was triggered by Nielsen's decision to change the way it counts television audiences. Instead of asking viewers to write down the names of programs they watched in little paper diaries, the company equipped sample homes with so-called people meters: set-top boxes that recorded what channel was being viewed, with each household member clicking buttons to register who was actually watching.

When the people meters were introduced in South Florida in October 2008, they produced wildly different results than the paper diaries had. Cable-network ratings soared and broadcast-channel ratings plummeted. WSVN's numbers dropped by nearly half in some time slots.

Sunbeam's lawsuit called the new ratings results "obviously -- and dramatically -- defective," costing it $1 million a month in advertising revenue. "As a result of its monopoly, Nielsen is able to charge supracompetive prices for poor quality services," the lawsuit said.

But Huck's 23-page ruling said that Sunbeam didn't offer any evidence that there's a better way to compile TV ratings than with people meters -- or, "more importantly, that such ratings would benefit Sunbeam."

And while some Nielsen business practices, including the timing of its contracts with TV stations, might discourage competition, Huck ruled, Sunbeam failed to show that any other company was interested in providing local TV ratings.

"Though there is evidence of exclusionary contracting practices'' by Nielsen, the judge wrote, "Sunbeam has not established the existence of a ‘willing and able' competitor," as required by anti-trust law.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 07:00 PM in Business side of TV, Ratings
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Judge guts anti-trust suit against Nielsen

A federal judge has tossed out the major counts in a lawsuit by Sunbeam Television -- which owns Miami's WSVN-Fox 7 -- seeking to have the Nielsen television ratings company declared an illegal monopoly. U.S. District Court Judge Paul C. Huck dismissed all state and federal anti-trust claims against Nielsen, ruling that there was no evidence the company had excluded any "will and able" from the market. More detail a little later. 

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 04:54 PM in Business side of TV, Ratings
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It's my party, and I'll play Tommy Roe records if I want to


Not that I'm hinting for presents -- very much -- but here's what Bruce Kelly, the former WMXJ-102.7 morning man, sent me for my birthday. Bruce these days hosts a talk show on WZFG in Fargo, North Dakota. All that time on the tundra, huddled around a campfire of reindeer chips, has apparently given him a keen appreciation for video minimalism. And Tommy Roe's Hooray For Hazel, 45 years later, is still the greatest record ever made.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 11:43 AM in Radio, Secret Stuff
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January 13, 2011

Postcards from Florida's civil-rights movement

Garth Reeves, the publisher of Miami’s leading black newspaper, could scarcely believe his ears. So, King during a break in the workshop on organizing non-violent civil-rights protests, he approached the speaker. “Do you really believe what you’re preaching out there?” he demanded. “Even if somebody came up and spit in your face, you wouldn’t do anything about it?”

“If somebody spat in my face, that wouldn’t kill me,” replied the speaker, a young Alabama minister named Martin Luther King Jr. Reeves was still skeptical, and his face showed it. “Don’t you believe what I’m telling you?” King continued, softly but urgently. “Not altogether,” Reeves said, and walked away. But the longer he thought about that exchange, the more Reeves thought that the preacher might be onto something.

The encounter between Reeves and the man who would soon become the most influential leader of the civil-rights movement is just one of the poignant snapshots in Martin Luther King Jr.: Footprints Through Florida, a WLRN-PBS 17 documentary airing just in time for what would have been King’s 82nd birthday on Saturday. Read my full review in Thursday's Miami Herald.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 05:33 PM in Broadcast series
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January 12, 2011

All the news that fits, we print...eventually...

Kurtz Weekend TV highlights: Here's a subject that I am fairly certain will not be covered on Howard Kurt's CNN show Reliable Sources.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 01:15 PM in Newscasts & journalists
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Record ratings for BCS championship game

Auburn Were you wondering why there were so many reruns on broadcast TV Monday night? Because the networks knew that the Oregon-Auburn football game on ESPN was going to eat up Nielsen points like a pack of ravenous zombies. And it did: The game drew 27.3 million viewers, the most in cable history.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 11:51 AM in Ratings, Sports
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January 11, 2011

Why MSNBC got clobbered on Saturday

The Arizona shootings sent millions of viewers scurrying to cable news channels last weekend. By 4 p.m. Cnnarizona Eastern time, a couple of hours after a gunman opened fire at Rep. Gabrielle Gibbons' town-hall meeting in Tucson, an audience of more than 5.2 million had tuned into Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.

Fox News (which led in viewers) nearly doubled its average audience from the previous Saturday. CNN (in second place) more than doubled its audience. At third-place MSNBC, which averaged less than half a million viewers throughout the day, it was a very different story; the audience actually declined 1 percent from the previous week.

Here's an educated guess about what happened: When viewers turned in Fox News, they saw veteran reporters like Bill Hemmer, Megyn Kelly and Shep Smith anchoring. The same on CNN, with Martin Savidge, Don Lemon and Wolf Blitzer taking turns in the chair. But at MSNBC the coverage was anchored by talk-show yammerers Olbermann and Ed Schultz. When big news breaks, that's not what viewers want.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 04:50 PM in Newscasts & journalists, Ratings
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