Monday, January 30, 2006

Catching up....Monday TV

CBS has given a greenlight to JOAN OF ARCADIA's creator Barbara Hall for a pilot based on the comicbook ULTRA.

The story revolves around a female superhero EDITOR'S NOTE: YAY! A GRRLLL ACTION HERO! who must contend with saving the world while pursuing a life as a single girl in the city. In the comicbook, which parodies celebrity magazines, Ultra's alter ego, Pearl Penalosa, is a semi-icon who graces billboards advertising popular products.

Barbara Hall, David Engel and David Alpert will executive produce.

CBS has also ordered the supernatural pilot THE WAY from writer Adam Kulakow. Michael De Luca and Adam Kulakow will executive produce.

The show will center on a New England family that copes with the death of the powerful clan's matriarch by using witchcraft to hurt their rivals and build a successful business empire. EDITOR'S NOTE: WONDER IF THIS IS BASED ON ANY FAMILY EMPIRE WE KNOW? (CAUSE IT COULD EXPLAIN A LOT....)

[Updated: Please pardon the typo. Changed "her" to "the" in reference to Ultra. Yes, the script/pilot is based on the comicbook written by Jonathan & Joshua Luna, with art by Jonathan Luna.]

Chandler lights up 'Friday'
Kyle Chandler has been tapped to play the lead in NBC's drama pilot "Friday Night Lights," based on the 2004 movie, while America Ferrera has been cast in the title role of ABC's comedy "Ugly Betty," based on the popular Colombian telenovela.

Additionally, Matthew Lillard has signed on as the star of Fox's one-hour pilot "13 Graves," which feature director Dominic Sena has come on board to direct, and Jay Harrington has been cast in CBS' comedy pilot "Sex, Power, Love & Politics."

On the pilot-pickup side, ABC has given a six-episode commitment to Touchstone Television for a comedy from "According to Jim" executive producer Howard J. Morris about four friends from high school who reunite unexpectedly when each hits a crossroad in their lives.

Pilot keeps Rifkin with ABC
Ron Rifkin has been tapped to co-star in ABC's drama pilot "Brothers & Sisters," while Chi McBride has been cast in another ABC drama pilot, the untitled Hank Steinberg project (formerly "Nine Lives").

In other pilot casting news, 14-year-old Keir Gilchrist has landed a co-starring role on Fox's comedy pilot "Becoming Glen."

On the cable side, Ryan McPartlin (WB Network's "Living With Fran"), Joanna Canton (Fox's "That '70s Show"), Brian Howe (Fox's "A Minute With Stan Hooper") and Dhirendra round out the cast of USA Network's one-hour pilot "Underfunded."

"Brothers & Sisters," from Touchstone TV, is a family soap revolving around adult siblings. Rifkin will play the siblings' uncle.

'Brokeback' duo at ABC for 'Sheriff'

Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, riding high on the awards season range with their script for "Brokeback Mountain," have set up an ensemble drama TV project at ABC and Touchstone TV.

Tentatively titled "Sheriff Luke," the project centers on a sheriff -- a widower and Gulf War veteran with two teenage children -- in a small Midwestern town beset by such urban ills as illegal immigration and illicit drug use and dealing.

The project was originally brought to the network and studio more than a year ago by Francie Calfo, ABC's executive vp development and current programming. But because of pre-existing commitments, including the upcoming CBS miniseries "Comanche Moon," McMurtry and Ossana have not had the time to pen the script, which is now slated to be developed for the 2007 pilot crop.

Ritter joins eye's 'Class'; 4 for T'stone

Jason Ritter has been tapped to star in "The Class," CBS' new comedy series from David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik.

Meanwhile, on the heels of the ABC/Touchstone TV hot trio of "Lost," "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" each winning a Golden Globe on Monday, the network has given the green light to another trio of Touchstone TV-produced hourlong hopefuls, the pilots "Sixty Minute Man," "Day Break" and "Brothers & Sisters."

Additionally, ABC has given the go-ahead to "Our Thirties," a comedy pilot from writer/executive producer Dave Walpert and Touchstone TV. "The Class," from Warner Bros. TV, begins with a party thrown by 27-year-old Ethan (Ritter) for his girlfriend, whom he met in third grade. Ethan invites six other people who were in the class with them, all of whom have since lost touch with one another. The party then becomes the springboard for following how the lives of the reunited characters continue to intersect.

Mr & Mrs Smith, The TV Show?
Though it’s doubtful the Jolie-Pitt’s will be involved in any capacity whatsoever, Contact Music has announced they’ll be bringing their big-screen characters of “Mr & Mrs Smith” to the smaller refines of Television.

Director Doug Liman and writer Simon Kinberg are re-teaming to develop a series spin-off of the 2005 action hit which bought Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt together on-screen and off.

So who is going to play the new Mr and Mrs gun-tote?


NBC Plans Post-Olympics 'Heist,'
Other Changes To Steal Prime-Time Momentum
PASADENA, CALIF.--NBC HAS A LOT to prove, given its last-place standing and in March, after its Winter Olympics coverage, it will make major programming changes.

During a presentation on Sunday at the Television Critics Association tour here, NBC announced a big move, switching its long-running dominant Wednesday 10 p.m. show "Law & Order" back an hour to 9 p.m. to make room for an "Oceans 11"-type of light-drama thief series, "Heist," from Doug Liman, director of "Swingers" and "The Bourne Identity" theatrical releases. EDITOR'S NOTE: ALL TIMES EST, NATCH. AND THIS IS JUST PEACHY. SO NOW WEDNESDAY...ALREADY RUNNING AND EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES....IS GOING TO BE A 6-CAR PILE-UP AT 8PM (CST). GUESS WE'LL HAVE TO START CO-ORDINATING TAPING AGAIN. (LIKE THE OLD DAYS, BEFORE DVR).

But NBC didn't leave its long-time "Law & Order" executive producer wanting. It is giving Dick Wolf another show on Fridays (without the usual "Law & Order" brand name). "Convictions" is a multiple story-line show about young lawyers, which will play on Friday at 10 p.m. Running right before it will be "Las Vegas," which moved from Monday night.

Critics groaned with disappointment upon hearing of the move to Friday. Typically, many networks send shows to Friday as a place to fade away. But Kevin Reilly, president of NBC Entertainment, doesn't look at it this way--he sees opportunity. "Sure, shows win on Friday--but they win by default," he said. "The networks put in leftovers on Friday and don't market them."

Other major changes to start in March include a home for its decently rated game show, "Deal or No Deal," hosted by Howie Mandel, at 8 p.m.--which will be followed at 9 p.m. by "The Apprentice." The Mark Burnett-produced reality show has already moved off of the network's premiere Thursday night spot in favor of NBC's growing comedies, "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office."

NBC's major decision of the year--moving "Earl" and "The Office" onto its long-time heralded Thursday lineup some weeks ago--has given the network a 31 percent ratings boost, said Reilly. "All this stuff gives us a will to live," he noted. EDITOR'S NOTE: WELL AS LONG AS YOU ARE HAPPY. DON'T MIND US...THE VIEWERS. (OR SHOULD I SAY, FORMER VIEWERS, WHEN WE CAN'T FIND OUR SHOWS.).

Also in March, "The Office" is taking a strange mid-season break because its star Steve Carell is scheduled to shoot a movie for NBC sister division Universal Pictures. This was scheduled long before NBC put "The Office" in on Thursday night. A new sitcom, "Teachers," takes the place of "The Office."

As expected, two of NBC's long-time high-profile shows--which have seen better days--will have their series finales in May: "Will & Grace" will end on May 18; and "The West Wing" will stop on May 14.

In regard to networks' recent iTunes deals, and other new on-demand deals, Reilly said one of the key battlegrounds will be with the unions. "It's going to be a big issue--no question," he said. "These are uncharted waters. It will certainly be a priority for us." But while iTunes-like deals are making major headlines, there's no doubt about what is still most important, said Reilly. "The network is still the premiere platform." EDITOR'S NOTE: CAUSE WE HAVEN'T FIGURED OUT HOW TO MAKE THE OTHER STUFF PAY YET?

'Law & Order' Creator Gets Fresh
· A new series from Dick Wolf about young D.A.s stars a bunch of hotties, much to NBC's liking.

By Meg James, Times Staff Writer

Dick Wolf, television's king of the procedural cop drama, built his empire on a string of grumpy old men. EDITOR'S NOTE: GRUMPY OLD MEN PAIRED WITH SKINNY YOUNG WOMEN, YES?

So when his newest series debuts in March, fans of the character actors who gave Wolf's "Law & Order" franchise gravitas — Jerry Orbach, Fred Thompson and Sam Waterston — will be in for a shock.

"Conviction," a sudsy look at the lives of seven New York assistant district attorneys, features a passel of beautiful people as its main characters, just one of whom is over 40. And that poor guy is killed off before the end of the pilot. EDITOR'S NOTE: NO DOUBT SUICIDE FROM HAVING TO LISTEN TO A BUNCH OF SELF-INVOLVED PRETTY-YOUNG-THINGS WHINING. (YES, I'M OLD AND BITTER. AND I'M GOOD AT IT).

Asked last week whether "Conviction" is trading furrowed brows for fresh faces in a play for younger viewers, Wolf was characteristically frank.

"Unabashedly," said the 59-year-old hit maker. "That's who the advertisers want to reach. That's who the networks want to watch their shows. And it's not a mystery that people like watching people who are like themselves."EDITOR'S NOTE: WHICH IS WHY I'LL BE ROOTING FOR THE KILLERS. (UMM...THAT MIGHT HAVE COME OUT WRONG?)

Wolf's wooing of the youth market, which he will officially unveil today in Pasadena at the semiannual gathering of the Television Critics Assn., couldn't come at a better time for NBC, the network he has made his home for more than two decades.

Last season, NBC plummeted from first place to fourth in prime time among 18- to 49-year-old viewers. Just as alarming to executives there was that their audience was rapidly turning gray. Two seasons ago, the median age of NBC's prime-time audience was just under 46 years old. This season, NBC's audience has "aged up" to 49 years.

"We're trying to turn a page right now," said Kevin Reilly, NBC's entertainment president. "We're trying to rebuild our schedule by introducing new shows that have distinct points of view. And the fact that Dick Wolf is on board with us says that he's turning a page too."EDITOR'S NOTE: BY 'DISTINCT POINTS OF VIEW' I GUESS THEY MEAN JUVENILE AND VAPID?

Wolf wasn't always "on board." Last year, NBC executives gave the quick hook to Wolf's fourth installment of his profitable franchise, "Law & Order: Trial by Jury." Wolf, whose shows have been the bedrock of NBC's prime-time schedule and made the company hundreds of millions of dollars, was furious.

Then, NBC delivered to Wolf what to him was the ultimate slap: It replaced his ripped-from-the-headlines show with "Inconceivable," a hormone-charged drama about a fertility clinic that survived on the air just two weeks.

NBC's reasons for canceling "Trial by Jury" were twofold, said executives involved in the decision. The network was trying to send a signal to advertisers and Hollywood's creative community that NBC was more than the "Law & Order" network. Plus, the median age of the audience for "Trial by Jury" was nearly 54. EDITOR'S NOTE: OOOO..ALMOST DEAD.

But Wolf fumed that NBC seemed to have predetermined that the show would skew older when it placed it in the 10 p.m. Friday slot, when nearly half of the broadcast networks' audience is older than 50.

So when it came time to tear down the elaborate "Trial by Jury" sets, which had cost $2 million to build, Wolf refused.

And that, it turned out, would prove to be a masterful strategic move that eventually helped get "Conviction" greenlighted.

NBC isn't the only network sensitive about the age of its audience. Last May, CBS canceled its oldest-skewing shows: "60 Minutes 2," "JAG," "Judging Amy" and even "Joan of Arcadia." CBS was attempting to dial down the median age of its prime-time audience, which is 51.7.

In comparison, ABC's audience comes in at 46.3 and Fox Broadcasting is the youngest of the Big Four networks at 41.8. EDITOR'S NOTE: I BET THEY FIND OUT THAT THE AGGREGATE FOX AUDIENCE ALSO HAS THE LOWEST IQ.

But NBC was in a particular pickle. "Our [median] age has climbed dramatically because we have older shows on our schedule," Reilly said. "Shows tend to get older audiences when they stay on the air longer."

For example, viewers who were in their mid-30s in 1990, when Wolf's first "Law & Order" launched, now are over 50. EDITOR'S NOTE: POOR OLD THINGS. THAT'S ASSUMING THEY ARE EVEN STILL ALIVE, RIGHT? The median age of that Wednesday night show's audience is 52.1. "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," the Sunday installment, is even older: 53.2. Only the Tuesday night show, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," has a median within the desired demographic and just by a whisker: 49.

"Dramas have always skewed older," Wolf said. "You have to have a certain number of miles on the odometer to have the desire to sit down and watch something that requires some thinking."EDITOR'S NOTE: OR YOU JUST CAN'T GET UP OFF THE COUCH. (I MEAN, IF YOU WERE STUPID WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER, YOU'RE NOT SUDDENLY GOING TO GET SMART WHEN YOU'RE OLDER. YOU JUST CAN'T REACH THE REMOTE AS EASILY)

So when Wolf agreed to stock the "Conviction" cast with nothing but hotties, he got a warm reception. Gone was the "Law & Order" signature in the title. Gone was the familiar percussive theme song. And most important, Wolf deviated sharply from his tried-and-true formula: building each episode around solving a single crime.

"Conviction" will have multiple story lines and delve deeply into the fears, foibles and sex lives of its young professionals. EDITOR'S NOTE: ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ And yes, it will be shot on those $2-million "Trial by Jury" sets that Wolf stubbornly refused to destroy.

"I knew I'd never get to build another set like that," Wolf said.

Reilly acknowledged that within NBC's Burbank office, "saving the sets" became "kind of this interesting inspiration. We had wanted to do a show about D.A.s — that concept was in the ether. And about the same time, Dick started talking about doing a show about young D.A.s."

Although NBC didn't greenlight "Conviction," which costs the company about $2.4 million an episode, just to save the sets, nobody minded that the recycling saved the network money and time.

"We were able to fast-track the show because we didn't have to spend time building sets," Reilly said. "We had the need and the opportunity to make it work."EDITOR'S NOTE: SO IF I OFFER TO FILM A SHOW IN MY DINING ROOM, DOES THAT GET IT TO THE HEAD OF THE LINE?

Last week, NBC executives debated where in its lineup to place Wolf's new show. They don't have a lot of options.

NBC doesn't want to schedule it on Tuesdays opposite Fox's younger-skewing doctor drama, "House," or "American Idol," which returned last week to 35 million viewers, the show's biggest audience ever for a season premiere. Nor does NBC want to put "Conviction" in another suicide slot — Wednesdays at 9 p.m. — in which it would compete against ABC's juggernaut "Lost."

That leaves 10 p.m. Friday, the slot previously occupied by "Trial by Jury."And that, say analysts and advertisers, won't go far in helping attract people under 35.

The show's success "depends on where on the schedule NBC puts it," said Jason Maltby, president of national TV for ad-buying firm Mindshare. "And putting it on Friday night isn't going to help."

Shari Anne Brill, programming director for another ad-buying firm, Carat USA, agreed: "It's tough to launch a show at Friday at 10 when younger viewers aren't around."

Reilly defended the Friday night slot, saying "Law & Order: SVU" and John Wells' "Third Watch" prospered in that hour.

Although Wolf grouses about the advertising industry's obsession with the 18-to-49 demographic, he has to admit that he's excited by the freshness of "Conviction." Instead of the police "procedural," his stock in trade, Wolf is calling the new show a "character-cedural."EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT SPINNING SOUND YOU HEAR IS DANIEL WEBSTER, TURNING VERY VERY RAPIDLY IN HIS COFFIN. He scoffs at any suggestion that he might be selling out to the youth-obsessed industry, noting that the average age of an actual New York assistant attorney is 28.

"The show reflects reality. If you walk into any courthouse around the country, you will see young people," he said. "What are people going to say, that I'm selling out to reality?"

And what a reality it is. In the first episode, a tousled assistant district attorney, played by 27-year-old Eric Balfour, accidentally leaves his badge in the bed of a character a colleague later describes as a "skinny chick with an octopus tattoo." Det. Lennie Briscoe, the iconic "Law & Order" character played by the late Orbach, never had problems like that. EDITOR'S NOTE: OOOO,EEEK. THERE'S AN IMAGE TO LEAVE US WITH....JERRY ORBACH GETTIN IT ON WITH A TATTOO'D LADY. URP.

Which is just the way Wolf wants it. On his trademark shows, he said, the main characters have always been portrayed as confident veterans whose personal angst rarely figures into the plot."You don't see Jesse Martin or one of Sam [Waterston's] assistants throwing up in the bathroom," he said. But with "Conviction," you will. EDITOR'S NOTE: GOSH, THERE'S A GREAT MARKETING CAMPAIGN FOR THE SHOW, HUH? YOUNG HOTTIES THROWING UP. (FRANKLY, IF I HAVE TO WATCH BODILY FUNCTIONS, I'D RATHER WATCH JESSE MARTIN'S. OR EVEN SAM WATERSTON'S). "It's great to see the legal system through the eyes of a newcomer," Wolf said. Come March, he'll find out whether TV viewers agree.


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