Sunday, November 27, 2005

Should Idol move?

There was an article the other day in the New York Times which said that Simon Cowell might not be on American Idol this season. The article wasn't clear on exactly why--since it did say that he has a signed contract for this season, but said that this court case in Great Britain against the co-founder of Idol, Simon Fuller, could have some impact. It did say that unlike past years, there is not yet a contract for this year's Idol winner to record with Simon Cowell's company, and Simon had no intention of creating a star for another record company, but I have a feeling that can be worked out. Of course, the biggest reason I'd ignore this story is because the audition rounds for this year's Idol have already taken place--in fact, they finished weeks ago--so Simon has already been appearing on this season's American Idol.

What was interesting about the NY Times article was that it floated a rumor about a change in Idol's scheduling, a rumor which has been bandied about now for a few weeks and was repeated in the Washington Post on Thursday. The rumor is that Fox would move Idol from its traditional Tuesday-Wednesday airing to a Wednesday-Thursday airing, so that Fox could become a player on Thursday. First, a little background.

Every television network wants strong ratings on Thursday because, among other reasons, it is the night before new movies open. Thus, movie studios will pay lots of money to buy commercials on Thursday night, and it becomes the most lucrative night of the week. Ever since CBS directly challenged NBC--the Thursday night leader since the days of Cosby, Cheers and L.A. Law--a few years back by putting "Survivor" and "CSI" on that night and basically matching NBC's ratings, every other network has wanted to establish its own beachhead on that night, and when "Friends" departed, "Joey" arrived, "The Apprentice" was overused, and "ER" lost every one of its original cast members, NBC basically collapsed. Fox hoped its move of "The O.C." to Thursday would give it some traction on Thursday, and while it certainly has done much better than anything Fox has shown in that slot since probably the first year of "Beverly Hills 90210" 15 years ago, it really hasn't made that significant a mark ratings-wise (and the creative slump of that show since year one didn't help either.)

So should Fox make this move? Personally, I like routine, and I'm used to Idol on Tuesday. Then again, I work late on Tuesday, and it would be a lot easier for me--particuarly to write my updates--if I could occasionally watch the show live on Wednesday, instead of on tape when I get home from work and I'm tired, etc. But from Fox's standpoint, this move does make some sense.

Idol gets monster ratings on Tuesday nights, crushing everything else that's in its path, sometimes beating the top three networks' ratings combined. And it really doesn't face particularly tough competition on that night--in January, it will face Fear Factor (a show well past its prime, ratings-wise), According to Jim/Rodney on ABC (don't think these shows ever had a prime), NCIS (actually, performs fairly well in the ratings, but a show that attracts a different, older audience and didn't affect Idol's ratings last year), Gilmore Girls (a show with a devoted, but small audience), and some sitcoms on UPN whose names I can't remember.

But the competition Idol would face on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. might be even weaker. On NBC, it's E-Ring, which hasn't done particuarly well in the ratings since it premiered and draws an older audience (i.e., less threatening than Fear Factor). Then there's the George Lopez Show and Freddie on ABC, which are doing a little better than expected, but are by no means huge ratings-getters and will probably lose some of their viewers to Idol (and is a little more of a ratings threat than According to Jim/Rodney, but I wouldn't want to live on the difference.) On CBS, we have Still Standing and Yes, Dear, which aren't ratings grabbers and are much easier competition than NCIS. As for the "netlets," as they're called, UPN's America's Next Top Model gets ratings in the range of WB's Gilmore Girls the previous night, while the WB's One Tree Hill gets ratings around the level of those UPN sitcoms on Tuesday (maybe a little better), so that's basically a wash.

So moving the Tuesday show to Wednesday makes sense. How about the Wednesday show to Thursday? Well, if the Wednesday show once again airs at 9 p.m., it will now have to face the ratings giant Lost, as well as the surprising "Criminal Minds" on CBS. The Mandy Patinkin show (in which he apparently doesn't sing) gets only about half of the ratings of Lost in the critical 18-49 ratings cohort, but that still means it's getting a solid 5 or so rating in that demographic, and a top 20 rating for all ages. This is significantly tougher competition than Idol faced in this slot last year, when Lost was on at 8 p.m. and Alias, despite what its supporters say, never really did all that well in the ratings. (And personally, if Idol comes on at 9 on Wednesday, I have three shows--that, Lost and Veronica Mars--to watch and I only have two televisions and two VCRs. So I have no idea what I'm going to do, but that's my problem.)

Anyway, Idol on Thursday at 9 would face similar competition--CSI gets similar ratings to Lost, and The Apprentice gets similar ratings to Criminal Minds (Apprentice may do a little better in 18-49, but not as well overall). But it would probably do just as well on Thursday against that competition as it would on Wednesday with the competition it faces this year, and with the benefit of Fox establishing a presence on Thursday, I think the move actually makes sense. And if NBC makes its rumored move of going to four sitcoms on Thursday night, it would make even more sense. My analysis of that move is coming soon.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Come on, Mike Wise, get your facts straight

I think Mike Wise has been a pretty good columnist for the Washington Post in the year and a half or so since he joined the paper, but I found his column about the Nationals ownership situation really disappointing, both for the conclusion he reached and the unfair smear he engaged in along the way. Let me explain.

First of all, even though he did not formally (or informally, for that matter) credit it, I was glad to see Wise actually cited the information in my Washington Jewish Week article from July--by noting that "prominent Jewish leaders said [Fred] Malek has atoned for his role as a Nixon White House aide who counted the number of Jews working at the Bureau of Labor Statistics."
But then he proceeds to, unfairly in my opinion, wonder whether the "negative campaign" directed against his fellow prospective owner, Jeff Smulyan, could have been motivated by "Smulyan's Jewish faith." First of all, was there really a "negative campaign" directed against Smulyan? Tom Boswell wrote a couple negative columns about him in the Post, and Boz is certainly seems to be a supporter of the Malek group, but couldn't Boswell have initiated that campaign on his own? And since the Post basically sets the agenda in Washington when it comes to sports--since both the sports radio station here and the top local sportcaster, George Michael, often parrot the Post's lead and actually employ top Post columnists (with the Tony Kornheiser Show on WTEM and the Redskins Report and Full Court Press on Channel 4), one column in the Post goes very far. (By the way, I'm not blaming the Post on this by any means. It's not their writers' fault if someone wants to treat their opinions as gospel and pay them to appear on their stations. But it would occasionally be nice if those broadcasters--and to be fair, George Michael tries to some extent, much more than WTEM--form their own opinions on things. Ironically, it was a first when WTEM and Andy Pollin actually split with a prominent Post columnist and gave Smulyan a nice big wet kiss when he appeared on "The Sports Reporters" a couple of months ago.)

Didn't mean to get off on a tangent there. What I found unfair was Wise blaming this alleged negative campaign against Smulyan on Fred Malek's alleged anti-Semitism. This doesn't make any sense, whatever you may think of Fred Malek and his atonement or lack thereof for 30 year old mistakes. First of all, the third of the three frontrunners in the ownership group, the Lerner family, is Jewish! Was there a negative campaign against them? Of course not. In fact, Wise makes a reference to Ted Lerner being as reclusive as J.D. Salinger. Please. Ted Lerner was at a dinner supporting the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum just a few weeks ago that I attended, and Ted Lerner's son, Mark Lerner (who will likely take over the team in a few years if Ted Lerner gets it) was at the Kennedy Center attending a Anti-Defamation League-sponsored National Symphony Orchestra concert just last week. That's not exactly Howard Hughes behavior.

Second, Malek's partner in his bid, Jeffrey Zients, and at least one other of his investors are Jewish. So they would rip Smulyan because he is Jewish? Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, Mike.

But more annoying, perhaps, was Wise's endorsement of Smulyan's ownership bid. Yes, partly it was a joke--he said he was the only guy who returned his call--but he also said that Smulyan would be likely to bring in former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein as GM here. Leaving aside the merits of that move (I'm not sure how I feel on it), the Los Angeles papers reported a couple weeks ago that Epstein turned down the GM job in L.A. because, the word was, he has very strong ties to the Malek ownership group and would be GM here if Malek was able to buy the team. So Mike, if you want Theo, you should be rooting for Fred.

But the biggest problem with Smulyan, that Wise doesn't mention and Mark Plotkin of WTOP didn't mention in his endorsement of Smulyan last week, is not the out-of-town issue--which I think Smulyan has convinced me won't be an issue as far as possibly moving the team, although I still think someone who has lived in the D.C. area for a lengthy period of time (as the Lerners and many in the Malek group have) would be a better choice. The problem is that Smulyan has said--and I haven't seen anything to the contrary--that his business, Emmis Broadcasting, would actually own the team, not him. This is much more of a concern than the out-of-town issue, since the team's prospects and fortunes will be inextricably tied to the fortunes of Emmis Broadcasting. If Smulyan's business has a bad year, you can likely expect Smulyan to, in turn, cut payroll with the Nationals. I know Major League Baseball doesn't care, but I think the fans of the Washington Nationals will. If the team is owned by a corporation, that's a really bad deal. Tom Boswell has written about this. It's a shame Mike Wise didn't read his column about it.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Now that's chutzpah

If you didn't catch Bud Selig being briefly interviewed on Comcast Sports Net the other night, you missed quite an answer to the question that is making all Nationals fans crazy this fall: How much is Major League Baseball hurting the team for next season and beyond by letting 15 months and an entire season pass without the team being sold?

Well, Bud says not that much. You know why? Because Bud says that the free agent market really isn't that strong this year. Yes, he actually said that. So if it had been a strong free agent market this year, they would have already sold the team? Yeah, right.

Can you believe the nerve of this guy? This is the same guy who said a couple weeks ago that the team couldn't be sold yet since he had only met with five of the eight bidding ownership groups. That's right, he had the entire baseball season, and he had such a busy schedule he couldn't get around to setting up eight meetings--in more than six months! Thanks for caring, Bud.

Having a baseball team in Washington this summer was fantastic. But Bud is quickly taking the enjoyment out of it for me--and I'm going to stop talking about this because I'm afraid I'll become too angry and incoherent to continue.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Why, Fox, why?

So Fox apparently has cancelled what was probably the funniest show on television,"Arrested Development." Fox canned the show because it wasn't getting good ratings--and as much as I love the show, that is certainly true. And considering Fox gave the show more than two full seasons to find an audience, I can't say they didn't give it a chance.

Fox yanked "Arrested" off the air--and the appealing "Kitchen Confidential"--because the poor ratings of those shows were apparently damaging its new buzz-worthy sort-of-hit "Prison Break." But I haven't seen anyone else report this: That the program Fox replaced "Arrested" and "Kitchen" with, a rerun of the previous week's "Prison Break," hardly did any better than an one-hour version of "Arrested" did last week. That's right, "Arrested" got a 2.0 rating among 18-49 year olds (the only rating that really counts for Fox) and "Prison Break" this past Monday garnered a 2.3 in that cohort. That's three-tenths of a ratings point--maybe 100,000 homes in the whole country, if that much. Yes, that "Prison Break" episode was a rerun, while "Arrested" was new, but's not like they haven't paid to film that "Arrested" episode.

Although Fox seems to have indicated that it will show the remaining 8 episodes of Arrested, because it's Fox, I'm not counting on that. They could just put on reruns of "That 70s Show" for no reason. They're Fox. They do stuff like that. As for "Kitchen's" final ten episodes, we have as much chance of seeing all of those as we do of seeing Corey Clark as a guest judge on "American Idol." And yet, their ratings still weren't really all that different from their replacement. But being a TV executive means never having to say you're wrong, I guess.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Could he meet her already!

Imagine if in episode two of "Friends," you learned that Ross and Rachel would never get together--in fact, they would never even date. Oh, and imagine that after that second "Friends" episode, the show stopped being funny. Then you'd have CBS' "How I Met Your Mother." The show is getting decent ratings and basically holding its "King of Queens" lead-in, so it's likely, if it keeps it up, to get a second season--it has already been picked up for a full 22-episode season earlier this fall. But the "surprise ending" in the show's premiere has basically ruined the program.

The concept of this old-fashioned sitcom is that Ted, 20 years in the future, is telling his children how he met their mother by recounting stories from the past. In the present day, Ted (played by a guy who looks a lot like Jimmy Fallon but is less manic) lives in the same apartment with newly engaged couple Allyson Hannigan (is she best known for being Willow in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or the band camp girl in "American Pie"?) and Jason Segal (the guy in"Freaks and Geeks" who dated Lindsay and had a huge drum set). And Doogie Howser (Neil Patrick Harris) plays Ted's "always scamming on the ladies" friend. So in the premiere Ted meets Robin (the very attractive Cobie Smulders, who I've never heard of before), but messes it all up by telling her he thinks he's falling in love with her just a few hours after they met. And the kicker is that when Ted (played in the future by the voice of Bob Saget--no, this isn't one of those scary shows that are so popular this year) finishes recounting this story to his kids, he says, "And that's how I met your Aunt Robin." (By the way, Ted refers to all of his friends on the show as aunt and uncle to his kids, so that doesn't mean Ted is going to marry Robin's sister.)

So it was an audacious beginning, but what did it mean for the show? A disaster. After an episode where Ted continued to pursue Robin, they decided they weren't meant for each other. And so for some reason, the writers have basically separated the two--with Ted and Doogie teaming up in one story line, often an unsuccessful attempt to find women, and Robin playing third wheel to the engaged couple. In the last four or five episodes, Robin has really only had her own storyline once, and that was all about Hannigan and Segal trying to help her learn how to be part of a couple with a new boyfriend but Robin realizing that she wasn't ready for that.

So you have the romantic center of the show destroyed before it ever gets started, an appealing, attractive actress with nothing to do, and Ted not even dating other women in the show but doing things like waiting out all night for some girl he met at a Halloween party four years ago. (Sure, everybody loved the "Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" show, but do we really need a non-cartoon version?)

And then there's the stupid behavior by Ted. Like the episode a few weeks ago where he resumes dating a woman he had broken up with on her birthday a few years before--which he had always felt bad about. So after a few weeks, he decides she's not "the one" and decides to break it off that night at dinner. Then she reminds him it's her birthday. He breaks up with her that night anyway. What? Aren't we supposed to like this guy? Is he that self-centered and stupid?

Well, maybe, because in Monday's episode, Ted goes to a computer matchmaker, who is unable to find a match for him. When he realizes that the only compatible person for him in the matchmaker's computer is a dermatologist that was set up succesfully six months earlier, he decides to check her out and see what her current status is. So he makes an appointment to see the doctor and tells her he needs a mole on his back examined. This part was all fine, since plenty of guys might pull a scam like this. Anyway, he flirts with the doctor, they hit it off, he asks her out, and she tells him she's getting married this weekend. Oh well, Ted goes home dejected, but perks up when he gets a phone message from the doctor telling him she needs to talk to him at the office. Of course, anyone who has ever watched television knows the doctor is calling because there's something wrong with his mole--but Ted apparently doesn't watch TV, he thinks she's calling because she wants to date him and...well, you can figure out the rest and she's not the mother of the show's title. And if we don't meet her soon, I just might have to stop watching.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Is that really an ethnic slur?

So I was going to write about why The Apprentice's ratings are down, but I'll think I'll save that for later after watching Thursday night's very entertaining, yet puzzling, episode.

Was there something we missed in the editing? Because we saw Clay say, in a somewhat joking manner, "Remember, [Adam's] the shy, tight Jewish boy." Then we saw Adam say that Clay had called him a "tight-assed Jew." Isn't that embellishing things just a bit, Adam? Especially since Clay was actually riffing on your at least twice-repeated comment that you were a "nice Jewish boy from Atlanta." It's not like Clay just came up with that remark out of thin air.

But the bigger question here is this: Is "tight-assed Jew" even an "anti-Semitic" comment? Is any adjective in front of the term "Jew" an anti-Semitic comment? "Cheap Jew," yes, "Big-nosed Jew," sure, but "tight-assed Jew"? Are Jews generally tight-assed? I wasn't really aware of that stereotype. And "tight-assed" wasn't listed in my dictionary, so I'm still not 100 percent sure what that term encompasses--is "tight-assed" a synonym for "cheap"? I don't think so, but maybe it is.

But of course, Clay, at least from what we saw, didn't even use the adjective in front of the term "Jew" format for his alleged slur--it just came out that way in the big game of telephone that the boardroom is on "The Apprentice."

Now one could argue that what Clay actually did say, that Adam was simply "tight," was calling him cheap. Then again, Adam was talking at the time about that tremendous burden of paying for dinner on the first date. Actually, maybe the most puzzling thing about the entire episode was that Adam apparently was advising the class to take someone to dinner on a first date. Wow, Adam, were you gearing this session for 12-year-olds? Who doesn't know that? Apparently, his next piece of advice was cut out in editing--he told guys to be sure and tip at least 15 percent.

So do I think Clay deserved to be labeled an anti-Semite for a couple minutes until Donald Trump (who has apparently replaced Abe Foxman at the ADL) cleared him of the charge? No, I think everyone was way too sensitive and, well, uptight.

Having said that, the comment--like others Clay made where he actually did use the word "ass"--still was out of place and inappropriate for the situation and the class.

Oh, and there was one more big puzzle last night--if the students hated the sex class so much, judging from the comments Carolyn read, why was their average score almost identical to the other group's score, for which George read only laudatory scores? The difference was .11 of a point, 7.08 to 6.97 out of 10. Ah, the mysteries of reality television.

And one more thing. Donald Trump, don't ask someone whether they're a virgin on national TV. That's not cool. But I must say, Mr. Trump, your analogy of being gay as like a menu, where some like steak and some spaghetti, was the funniest thing you've ever said.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Come on, Reunion, get it right

So with the vast wasteland of repeats this evening giving us a brief respite before sweeps, I watched episode three (1988) of the Fox show Reunion, which had been lying around on the floor of my bedroom on a videotape for the last five weeks. And while it isn't a particularly good show, it has its appeal. The cast is good looking enough so you don't change the channel (I've been a fan of Amanda Righetti since her appearances on "The O.C." and I only watched one of the worst television shows of the last few years, "North Shore," because of her, and I'm rapidly becoming a fan of Chyler Leigh--although Alexa Davalos, the one who had the baby, doesn't do much for me), and the mysteries and plot twists are often ridiculous but just intriguing enough that you want to know the answers. You want to know how everyone turned out (particularly the annoying guy who went to Seattle, now looks like some kind of spacemen from the future, and apparently signed Nirvana to a record contract or something). And you want to know who got killed.

But what I really wanted to say is that I might have to stop watching the show because the producers seem to not be able to put the proper songs in the proper year. And while characters acting stupidly in a show (which is a problem at times with Reunion) bothers me immensely, anachronisms annoy me too. In episode one, we had that annoying Seattle guy watching A-ha's "Take On Me" video during the summer of 1986. Sure, it's possible, but that song was popular the summer and fall before, I believe. He should have been watching the video for A-ha's followup "The Sun Always Shines on TV"--well, actually, he shouldn't have because no one saw that video. That episode also featured Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which I'm pretty sure was popular at the end of 1984. Not even close.

In the 1988 episode, the problem continued. O.M.D.'s "If You Leave" was played prominently at the start of the show, but that song was a hit in the spring of 1986. It would fit nicely in the premiere, guys. They also played Brian Adams' "Heaven," but to be fair, that was referred to as their "prom song," so the fact that the song was released well before 1988 was acknowledged. And later in the episode, they did get one right! George Michael's "One More Try" was released as a single in 1988. But while there were a number of unintelligible songs playing in the background during the show, if you're going to do a show in 1988, how could you not play songs popular that year like "Don't Worry, Be Happy" (the song my next-door neighbor freshman year played out of his four-foot-high speakers and yelled, "It's all one guy!"), "What I Am" by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians (an album every guy on my freshman hall bought by Thanksgiving and probably hasn't listened to since 1989), and perhaps one of the best rock songs of the past 20 years, "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns n' Roses.

Come on, "Reunion" producers. A little racking your brains for memories from those years, and a little Internet research, and you can do a lot better with the music. Remember, music is powerful--there are times when I hear a song and I can remember exactly what I was doing years ago at a time when I was hearing it. So getting the music right can only help--it can hypnotize viewers into remembering that particular year. But if they're hypnotized into thinking what they were doing in 1986, and it's really 1988 on the show, well, that's just unsettling.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Sweeps are coming!

Yes, on Thursday night, TV's November sweeps begin, always an exciting time of year--although I'd have to rate November sweeps as the second-best sweeps of the year. February sweeps is probably the best--it's really cold and dark when you get home from work, which makes for ideal TV-watching conditions, and the television shows are midway through their seasons already and have built up more momentum than they have in November. May brings up the rear because there's often daylight--or something close to it--when prime-time starts at 8 p.m., and because May sweeps are tinged with a hint of sadness because the TV season is ending for the year. Also, May sweeps are exhausting with everyone running their two-hour finales, etc. Although this year, Feb. sweeps promises to be exhausting too, with the Olympics combined with all the other shows and their new episodes.

One question that I can't figure out: When I was growing up, November sweeps always used to begin on the last Thursday in October and end the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. But in the last few years, it seems to usually start a week later and extend through Thanksgiving. This has left us with, in recent years, new episodes of Friends and CSI and ER on Thanksgiving night. That's nice, but not really necessary--wouldn't you rather have those episodes shown on a Thursday night you didn't have something else to do and hadn't spent the day watching football?Anyway, I don't recall sweeps running through Turkey Day more than a couple times as a kid, but it seems to happen every year now. I've seen TV "experts" say it's because networks prefer having sweeps after the end of daylight savings time--as I said, darkness equals good TV viewing conditions--but the start date of standard time hasn't changed in years. So maybe they just discovered the daylight time thing in the last decade.

Now I've got to rest up for the grueling 28 days of sweeps. It's like going from the desert to the oasis. Wednesday, no new Lost, no new Veronica Mars (although there is the premiere of the Eric Forman-less "That '70s Show"--which should be renamed "That Show That Used to Be Pretty Funny But Has Been on Two Years Too Long"--and a new "One Tree Hill," for those who want to look for the signs of the dissolution of the Chad Michael Murray-Sophia Bush marriage, or just ogle their favorite member of the couple. All I'll say is you must have lots and lots of options if you're cheating on Sophia Bush.)
Thursday, there's a new "O.C." (finally!), a new "Reunion" (not that good a show, but I'll at least hang on until they tell me who got killed), a new "Apprentice" (Will Trump fire five people this week!), a new "Everybody Hates Chris," a new "Smallville" (I'm not a regular viewer, but when I do tune it, I enjoy it) , a new "ER" (a once great show that is a shadow of its former self for reasons I'll get into another time but are pretty obvious) and, of course, a new "Joey." (One I won't be watching.)