Friday, August 29, 2008

Toll-Free TV

This weekend, in celebration of Labor Day -- and to get you to watch its new Steven Bochco-created law series Raising The Bar -- TNT has come up with a pretty clever, attention-grabbing promotion.

Starting tomorrow, the network will pay your tolls at select roadways in four major cities. So as you zip on by, remember to thank the series' stars, Jane Kaczmarek, Gloria Reuben and hunky Saved By the Bell alum Mark-Paul Gosselaar, for that extra change in your pocket. The free tolls this weekend are as follows:

  • Friday, August 29, from 4-6 PM Eastern: the Georgia 400 highway in Atlanta
Monday, September 1:

  • 3-5 PM Eastern: Pennsylvania Turnpike - Mid-County Interchange in Philadelphia

  • 3-5 PM Central: Indiana Toll Road - Westpoint Interchange at mile post 1 in Chicago

  • 4-6 PM Eastern: Orlando-Orange County Expressway - State Road 528 Mainline Plaza (westbound) in Orlando

Wait -- I'm just getting this -- is this a play on Raising the "Bar," as in the toll booth arm? What can I say -- Labor Day weekend has already set in in my brain. Oh well -- have a happy, everybody!

Raising the Bar
Raising the Bar
Premieres Monday, September 1
10 PM Eastern

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Radio Recap, August 27, 2008

It's time for a RADIO RECAP
"Must Hear TV" on "The Frank DeCaro Show" on Sirius OutQ 109
Wednesdays, 1-2 PM

In news from today's "Must-Hear TV" report...

  • August usually is a slow month in the "front office" for TV, with rerun doldrums continuing until premiere week at the end of September. Things are usually busier behind the scenes, because it's just about now when writers begin to enter the gates at the networks, to pitch shows for development in the spring, and for possible airing in the fall of next year.

    But with the writers' strike this past winter, everything is in flux. With no pilots finished by the usual May "upfront" announcements, NBC opted to pick up shows like My Own Worst Enemy and Kath & Kim sight unseen. ABC took a more conservative route, announcing only one new show for fall (Life on Mars). Now, at a time of year networks are usually "Gone Fishin'," ABC is announcing five new series pickups -- two comedies, and three rather comedic-sounding dramas -- for air sometime this coming season.

    On the comedy side, Better Off Ted is a satirical office comedy featuring a successful but morally conscious man, Ted, who runs a research and development department at a morally questionable corporation, Veridian Technologies. The show stars Jay Harrington, Andrea Anders (who was so fabulous in both Joey and The Class -- hopefully this is the vehicle to bring her deserved acclaim), and our own gay newlywed bride, Portia De Rossi.

    Another comedy, Single With Parents, is about Lou, a woman in her mid-30s who is determined to have her own life despite her crazy blended family, including her divorced parents, getting in the way. The show stars Alyssa Milano, with great casting as the parents -- Designing Women's Annie Potts, and Beau Bridges, who has been really fun as Mr. Hickey Senior on My Name Is Earl.

    The dramas include an extreme rarity for network TV: a do-over. In September of 1998, ABC debuted Cupid, a quirky dramedy from creator Rob Thomas (who then went on to create Veronica Mars and another remake for this season, 90210.) The show -- which attracted a dedicated cult audience but was nonetheless cancelled after just one season -- starred Jeremy Piven as Trevor, a maybe-crazy guy who may or may not be the Roman god of love Cupid, sent to earth to bring couples together. Paula Marshall played Dr. Claire Allen, a psychologist treating Trevor. Now, exactly a decade later, both ABC and Rob Thomas are trying again. With Piven busy on Entourage and Marshall about to debut on CBS' new sitcom Gary Unmarried, Cupid's new leads will now be Bobby Cannavale (LOVE him!) and the fab Sarah Paulson.

    Another drama, Castle, is a comedic crime procedural about a famous mystery novelist, Nick Castle, who has gotten bored with his success. When a real-world copycat murderer starts staging scenes from Nick's novels, he's teamed up with NYPD Detective Kate Beckett, and the challenge gets his blood pumping as he steps in to help solve the crime. Nick Castle will be played by none other than the most-sexually harrassed Frank DeCaro Show male guest of all time, Nathan Fillion. And also in the cast, someone I love: It's A Living, Falcon Crest and Dharma & Greg star Susan Sullivan, who's currently here in NYC headlining A.R. Gurney's play, Buffalo Gal.

    And finally, there's The Unusuals, a "unique comedic procedural" also set in a New York police precinct. Two comedic dramas set in NYC squad rooms? Well, if any network can pull that off, ABC can -- their bread and butter lately has been funny one-hours, from Desperate Housewives to Boston Legal to Grey's Anatomy to Eli Stone.

  • Another series order to talk about -- and in cable, those can come at any time of year -- TBS has ordered a second series from one-man powerhouse Tyler Perry. Perry's House of Payne is currently the #1 original sitcom of all time on ad-supported cable. So it's a no-brainer that TBS has ordered 10 episodes of Meet The Browns, to debut in January 2009. The show stars David Mann as Leroy Brown, a character who earlier this year was featured in Perry's hit film of the same name, and has also appeared in several episodes of House of Payne. The new series begins after Brown inherits a dilapidated house from his deceased father.

    It's great to see a writer having such success with a traditional, multi-camera sitcom as Perry has with House of Payne. But even cooler still, this fall, the TV and film impresario will also unveil Tyler Perry Studios, a 200,000 square foot studio created from a former Delta Airlines facility in Atlanta, where his films and TV shows will be shot. How cool is it to have that much power that Hollywood comes to you?!

  • This summer, in addition to its now-traditional reality fare like Big Brother and Greatest American Dog, CBS has "repurposed" a Canadian crimefighting series, Flashpoint, and has been rewarded with surprisingly big ratings: an average of weekly U.S. audience of 7 million. Flashpoint originally made it to the American airwaves as a way to fill time during the writers' strike; it was first Canadian production to air here since Due South, which also found its way from CTV to CBS back in 1994-96.

    The show's first season was a big hit in Canada too, of course, and so CTV has announced its renewal, ordering 13 more episodes into production in early 2009. No word from CBS yet whether we'll be seeing those episodes next summer as well -- but stay tuned.
And you callers asked...
  • Brian in Toledo: I'd heard a lot of buzz about the pilot Manchester Prep, too, back when it was cancelled right before going to series in 1999. (Reportedly, Fox executives became concerned about its obscenity factor.) The show was a TV soap adaptation of Cruel Intentions, which itself was a teenybopper version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. In fact, the show's lead villainess -- played by Enchanted sweetheart Amy Adams, if you can believe that -- was named Kathryn Merteuil, the same surname as the Marquise's in Laclos' original novel. In the end, the three episodes which had been shot prior to cancellation were edited together with some new, even racier material and packaged as a direct-to-video movie, Cruel Intentions 2.

  • Steven in Blacksburg, VA: You can rest easy. Your new discovery, Showtime's Secret Diary of a Call Girl, isn't going anywhere for a while. The show's first season of 8 episodes has just finished airing -- but a second season is on the way. Showtime had committed back in December -- before the show even debuted -- to acquiring a second season of 12 episodes of the British hit, to air sometime in 2009.

  • Bill in NJ: For some reason, Fox has not yet released any complete seasons of Ally McBeal in the U.S. The studio did, however, release one best-of DVD with 6 episodes, Ally McBeal - Ally on Sex and the Single Life, back in 2000. It's available on Amazon also sells Region 2 imports of the show, season by season, on DVD, but that won't help us much...

  • Joe in NY: Radio DJ Wendy Williams' TV talk show this summer -- which was just a six-week, four-city tryout, actually -- went very well. Ratings in those cities (Detroit, L.A., New York and Dallas) were so good, that Fox has announced: starting in mid-2009, Wendy is renewed and going national.

  • Thomas in AR: As I said, I'm not one for spoilers. But I understand those cravings to know what's going to happen to a favorite show! TV's Matt Webb Mitovich always has some good Brothers & Sisters dish. For example, click here.

  • Chris in New Orleans: The show you were thinking of was Fox's Drive, the mysterious cross-country road race show which was cancelled almost as soon as it began in April of 2007. After springing for a huge publicity campaign, Fox detoured Drive -- which starred the aforementioned hottie, Nathan Fillion -- after airing only 4 episodes over the space of 8 days. Fox then burned off the remaining 2 episodes in July of that year. To catch all 6 installments, you can download each one for $1.99 on, or on iTunes.
  • Chris in LA: The guy you see in those Kath & Kim promos on NBC is John Michael Higgins, a familiar [and hilarious] face you probably know from Best In Show, or from the Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn movie The Breakup. In both of those films, he may have played gay characters, but according to his profile on, he's married with child.

  • Richard in Atlanta: I loved MTV's animated show Daria, too. The smart, sarcastic comedy was a spinoff of Beavis & Butthead (believe it or not!), and ran for 5 seasons of 13 episodes each from 1997-2002. According to the show's entry on (and who doesn't believe everything there!), MTV wanted a 6th season but its creator Glenn Eichler didn't want to do it.

  • Reed in SC: Sorry, but Comedy Central's animated raunch-fest Drawn Together is no more. It was cancelled in April of this year, after 3 seasons and 36 episodes.

Well that's it for me -- my theme music is playing me out. Tune in next Wednesday for the next installment of...

"Must Hear TV!"

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bid on Will's Ride

Back in the spring of 1999, as the story goes, NBC was so happy with the performance of its freshman sitcom Will & Grace that, in a show of gratitude, it rewarded the show's four principal cast members each with a brand-new Porsche Boxster. After taking them to lunch, then-NBC president Scott Sassa surprised the four actors with sets of keys to their new wheels, valued at just under $100,000 each. (If you don't remember all the press on that, click here for a fun piece by my friend Dennis Hensley or here for a USA Weekend piece on Debra Messing.)

[By the way, as an aside -- NBC got a lot of ink for that apparently generous move. But in 2004, I found out while researching my book Will & Grace: Fabulously Uncensored that it wasn't the network at all who really ponied up for all that horsepower. Will & Grace co-creator Max Mutchnick told me that, thirteen episodes into the run of the series, "James Burrows [the show's fabled director] had the idea that we should reward the cast early, and let them know that they are doing a good job. We did that by way of buying them all Boxsters. I like saying that we bought them, because we did -- we paid for them. NBC likes to say that they paid for them, but the truth is that the show paid for them. And we own the show, so we paid for them."]

Whoever truly did ultimately get the Porsche dealer's bill, we do know from subsequent photos and sightings that the four stars sure did seem to enjoy tooling around L.A. in their fancy new wheels. Now, Eric McCormack, fka Will Truman, has decided to share the ride, and all for a good cause. In an email circulated this morning by the L.A.-based charity Project Angel Food, Eric explains why he's willing to part with the car in order to provide funding for the preparation and delivery of meals to those suffering from HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening diseases.

As Eric notes above, the car is a 1999 Porsche Boxster, silver with jet black leather interior and gleaming chrome wheels. The odometer reads at only 24,601 miles. There are, he says, a few nicks and scratches -- each of which brings back memories.

"I hate to give it up," McCormack writes, "but Janet and I feel strongly that the sexiest kind of vehicle is the one that delivers meals to those who are in need."

As Grace Adler might say, "That Will -- what a mensch!"

To bid on Eric McCormack's Porsche Boxster
(plus a personalized message and autographed set of Will & Grace DVDs)
now through 3 PM on September 5, 2008:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Come to next week's Golden event!

On September 2 here in New York City, I'll be joining former Golden Girls executive producer Richard Vaczy for a discussion of all things Bea, Betty, Rue and Estelle. The 8 PM event is free of charge, at the East of Eighth restaurant on 23rd Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues) in Manhattan. Come join us!

(Caricature by Glen Hanson )

TV in 3-D, Part Two

This September, here's yet another way for TV lovers to get a jump on the 2008-09 fall season. The Paley Center for Media (formerly the Museum of Television & Radio) in both New York and Los Angeles is holding a series of screenings in early September.

In New York, screenings will be preceded by Members-Only receptions at 6 PM, but the 6:30 screening series is free and open to the public (RSVP required.) In Los Angeles, talent from the respective shows will be attending, and food will also be served. Again, the events are free, but tickets are required. Here's the info:

with Members-Only reception at 6:00 pm each night

See the new fall series before they air.
Members-Only receptions at 6:00 pm. Free screenings at 6:30 pm.

Location: The Paley Center for Media, 25 West 52 Street, New York City

Fox Thursday 9/4: Fringe, Do Not Disturb
The CW Friday 9/5: Privileged, 90210
CBS Wednesday 9/10: Gary Unmarried, The Ex List, Worst Week, The Mentalist
NBC Thursday 9/11: My Own Worst Enemy, Kath & Kim, Crusoe, Knight Rider
ABC Friday 9/12: Pushing Daisies, Private Practice, Eli Stone, plus a preview of Life on Mars

NEW YORK: Reservations required for each evening. Specify which evenings you would like to attend.

New York Paley Center Members:
Contact or 212.621.6780 to RSVP for receptions and screenings. Membership card must be presented each night for admission to the reception.

General Public:
Contact to RSVP for screenings.

featuring a panel of series talent each night!

See the new fall series before they air.
Parties start at 6:00 pm; Screenings at 7:00 pm
Free food. Free drinks.

Location: The Paley Center for Media, 465 North Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills, CA

Fox Friday 9/5: Fringe, Do Not Disturb
The CW Saturday 9/6: Privileged, 90210
NBC Monday 9/8: My Own Worst Enemy, Kath & Kim, Crusoe, Knight Rider
CBS Tuesday 9/9: Gary Unmarried, The Ex List, Worst Week, The Mentalist
ABC Wednesday 9/10: Pushing Daisies, Private Practice, Eli Stone, plus a preview of Life on Mars

LOS ANGELES: Admission is free but RSVPs are required.
Don't miss out—reserve your tickets now.

Monday, August 25, 2008

TV in 3-D

For the third year in a row, this September the New York TV Festival will be bringing New York City sneak premieres of some of this fall's hottest shows. I've attended the festival since the very beginning, and got to see the pilots of some of the shows I was most curious about -- followed by Q&A panels with writers and cast which were fun and fascinating.

Unfortunately, most of those shows -- among them, NBC's Kidnapped, Fox's New Amsterdam, ABC's Knights of Prosperity -- quickly came and went. (And it's a shame, because they were all good, too!) If you're a fan of TV and will be in the New York area in mid-September, check out the festival here:

The premiere schedule this year (most screenings are followed by writer/cast Q&A panels) is as follows:

  • Friday 9/12: ABC's Life on Mars -- highly anticipated, with a built in fan base of the British version. (On-air debut date: Thursday, 10/9 at 10 PM Eastern)

  • Saturday, 9/13: FOX's Fringe -- a pilot I've already seen. It was somewhat silly, but fun! (On air debut will already have happened: Tuesday 9/9 at 8 PM Eastern).

  • Sunday, 9/14: CBS' Worst Week -- probably the best new comedy this season. (On-air debut date: Monday, 9/22 at 9:30 PM Eastern)

  • Sunday, 9/14: CW's Easy Money -- this one will be interesting, because it's among the first crop of shows produced by CW's "subcontractor," Media Rights Capital. (On-air debut date: Sunday, 9/21 at 9 PM Eastern)

  • Monday, 9/15: 2nd season sneak peek at NBC's Life (Season 2 premiere date: Monday, 9/29 at 10 PM Eastern)

  • Wednesday, 9/17: HBO's animated The Life and Times of Tim. (On-air debut date: Sunday, 9/28 at 11 PM Eastern)

Tickets for each screening are free, but may be limited, so check the web site for more info ASAP.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Return of Lucille?

In its previous incarnation, the 1990-2000 Fox series Beverly Hills, 90210 made household names out of its core group of originally unknowns: Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Luke Perry, Brian Austin Green, Jason Priestley – and its producer’s daughter Tori Spelling. This September 2, as the CW prepares to launch a 21st Century 90210, all eyes will undoubtedly be on its new generation of young actors eager to step into the spotlight.

But let’s not forget, this new version of the teenybopper soap also features one older performer who, ever since her role on one of TV’s most beloved cult hits of recent memory, has become comedy royalty. Jessica Walter [pictured at CBS networks' TCA party, with a fan – me!] had forged a long career on stage, TV and film – perhaps most famously as Clint Eastwood’s psycho stalker radio fan in 1971’s Play Misty For Me -- before striking it rich in comedy as Lucille Bluth, the matriarch of the hysterically dysfunctional clan at the center of Fox’s Arrested Development. For three seasons starting in 2003, Lucille babied her youngest, weirdest son Buster, waged war on her rival Lucille 2 – and won for Walter a whole new generation of fans.

Now, the sixtysomething actress is about to debut on another show aiming for that young demographic. Walter’s 90210 character, Tabitha Wilson, is described as a fading Beverly Hills actress, whose alcoholism precipitates Harry and Debbie’s move back from Kansas to the California homestead manse with their two teens in tow. Just as the Walsh kids found themselves out of place at Beverly High, the new 90210’s teens Annie and Dixon will have some adjusting to do when, according to Walter, "they come back to Beverly Hills to take care of me because I have been drinking.” But, “I’m now on the wagon,” the actress told the semi-annual assembly of TV critics at last month’s TCA convention in Los Angeles. “I [Tabitha] promised them I’m going to try, and that’s something Lucille never really tried.”

But while Tabitha and Lucille may be similarly screwed up, the actress added, the Wilson family has it much more together than the Bluths ever could. “This family is so wholesome, their values are really good values, they’re on the straight and narrow, and they’re hard workers,” she explained. “They’re very different families. Both terrifically interesting, but really different.”

As reported earlier, the CW network has made what they’re calling a “strategic decision” not to preview the new 90210 for TV critics before its debut the day after Labor Day. But because the new show has been created by Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs, the writing duo trained on NBC’s sitcom Just Shoot Me and on another cult teen angst-a-thon with a comedic edge, ABC’s short-lived but adored Freaks and Geeks, there’s good reason to hope that, amongst all the soap, Walter will still get the chance to deliver some delightfully sarcastic gems.

After all, it sure sounds like the wealthy Tabitha and Lucille may have been cut from the same designer cloth. So could we fans conceivably see Tabitha as an extension of Walter’s Arrested character? “I think with every character that you play as an actor, you put a lot of yourself into it,” Walter mused for the questioning critics. “The difference between Lucille and Tabitha is,” she added jokingly, “first of all, Lucille liked vodka and Tabitha likes scotch.”

Premieres Tuesday, September 2
8 PM Eastern
The CW

Thursday, August 21, 2008

And Now, a Word From...

Oliver Goldstick
Executive Producer, NBC’s Lipstick Jungle

By the time I caught up with Lipstick Jungle executive producer Oliver Goldstick at the Television Critics’ Convention last month, the show already had three episodes for its second season in the can. Having recovered from the chaos wrought by last season’s writers’ strike, Goldstick and company had gotten an early summer jump on producing more Lipstick on location in New York. Now, as the seasoned writer took a break to shmooze some critics at this party in LA, it was refreshing to see how this is a show he’s obviously quite proud of.

Must-Hear TV: MHTV: At the end of last season, Lindsay Price’s character Victory shared a kiss with another woman, but the storyline ended abruptly. Was that intended to anywhere that it didn’t?

Oliver Goldstick: Due to the writers’ strike, that script was shot before the writers really got to work on it. It was a first draft. The story was supposed to be about a couple that hired Victory where they both were interested in her. It wasn’t about Victory coming out in any way, or an intention to say she was going in a different direction in her sexuality. But there is a certain fluidity in her world -- she works in fashion, so nothing should surprise us.

What we had intended for the storyline was that, on the heels of her horrible breakup with Joe Bennett [Andrew McCarthy], where she’s not feeling desired at all, we wanted two people to desire her. So we put her in a situation where she went from being invisible to suddenly being toast of the town. But with the strike, we never got to write the full storyline. We didn’t even get to hear Victory say why this all happened -- what was going on with her vulnerability and why she was open to being with a couple. We weren’t trying to play a joke or be exploitative [by introducing and then wrapping up a lesbian plotline in just one episode]. I wouldn’t do that. I have too many GLAAD awards under my belt for that one.

MHTV: Speaking of exploitative – in a good way – who’s that guy who’s always shirtless on the show?

OG: That's Kirby [Robert Buckley]. I’ve had people ask me, “Will we be seeing any more of Kirby?” And I want to say, “NBC censors won’t allow us to see any more of Kirby.” In fact, all last season, when I got to post-production, I had to do a lot of cutting thanks to Kirby. But yes, you’ll see a lot of Kirby coming up – he’s a regular now. I don’t want to tell you too much, but we’ll be exploring what it means for an older woman to be with a younger man.

MHTV: Do you think the shirtless Kirby buzz on the internet helped Lipstick Jungle’s ratings?

OG: Look, the right pecs can get you a lot of publicity I guess. I’m very fortunate for it. I guess the show’s lucky. Robert works out at the gym a lot, and just likes to take his shirt off. He’s 26 years old – wouldn’t you? He would do every scene in a towel if he could. We don’t have to ask.

MHTV: You mentioned the strike hampering your ability to tweak little details on the show last season. Now that it’s over, how has the writing process changed?

OG: We didn’t get to try to write for these actors last year, because of the strike. But now I’ve been able to stand back and watch these episodes and spend time with them. I can try to write for the individual actors and their strengths now.

MHTV: Since the show is set in New York, can we expect more gay characters to pop up? Having the New York actor pool to cast from, where there are a lot of gay theater actors available…

OG: Well, Victory’s assistant Roy [Matt Lauria] will come out in this season. Not in a big way – he just comes out. And I can’t tell you too much, but Wendy [Brooke Shields] is going to have a new colleague. But gay people are part of New York’s fabric, so why wouldn’t we have them on the show? I’ll be honest with you, one of my agendas coming in to work on the show [replacing the original executive producers] was to make it resemble New York more. Because the New York I lived in for 10 years really wasn’t represented that well earlier. We needed more people who just looked like they lived in that city.

MHTV: So you’re trying to make Lipstick Jungle more multicultural overall?

OG: Yes. We’ve added Rosie Perez [as Victory's new publicist Dahlia], and James Lesure is the new boss. You can’t work in New York City without hearing five languages when you’re standing at Starbucks in the morning. That’s just what New York is. Unlike in L.A., where you can be very insulated, the city doesn’t allow that. In New York, you are in the maelstrom of humanity when you walk out your door. So I think we’re making some changes to reflect that. And Lorraine Bracco, who appeared on the show last season, is coming back too. I remember, when the strike was over and I was able to go into the editing room and watch the show, I noticed that the minute Lorraine opens her mouth, I know where I am. You can get rid of the background, close the blinds – we still know this is New York. It’s the same way I feel with Rosie and with James. This is what I want in the show. We don’t have to feel we have to show 30 Rock to know where we are. We know where we are because Lorraine Bracco is telling somebody off.

MHTV: She’s your own one-woman establishing shot. Speaking of guest stars, how much will we see of guest star Mary Tyler Moore as Wendy’s mom?

OG: Mary’s in two episodes right now so far. We don’t commit to anything. The show was based on a novel, so we’ve been busy in the writers’ room collapsing [and condensing the source material.] And now [in season two] we have the prerogative to pick and choose what we want. That has dictated how we’re doing things this year. Some things are going to be from the book, and some things are not. We’ll still pay some allegiance to the book, but we’ll also say, “You know what, this is a series now and we need 100 episodes. I have to make some changes and make some different choices.”

Lipstick Jungle
Season 2 Premiere
Wednesday, September 24
10 PM Eastern

Lipstick Jungle - Season One
Release Date: May 27, 2008

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Radio Recap, August 20, 2008

It's time for a RADIO RECAP
"Must Hear TV" on "The Frank DeCaro Show" on Sirius OutQ 109
Wednesdays, 1-2 PM

In news from today's "Must-Hear TV" report...

  • NBC continues to brag about their ratings for the Olympics. In the first 10 days of the games, 196 million people have tuned in -- more than 11 million more viewers than Athens at that point in 2004.

  • These Beijing games have provided NBC with what they're calling "the most dominant primetime week in PeopleMeter history." That is, since Nielsen began measuring ratings via an electronic set-top device, around 21 years ago.

    The other fun bit of trivia the network has released is that these Olympic games have provided for NBC's top Saturday night telecast since... well, that part's confusing. Originally, they said since a February 24, 1990 telecast of Empty Nest (and that night's episode wasn't even particularly special.) Now, the latest press release says it was that night's Golden Girls which was the previous ratings champ. So which one is correct? Golden Girls was definitely always the more popular show of the two, but Empty Nest had a later time slot, and thus greater ratings potential. The controversy rages...

  • It's official: replacing William Petersen on CSI this fall will be... Laurence Fishburne. After Petersen announced this summer that, after 8 seasons, he would be leaving the show, the race to replace the lead actor on one of TV's top shows was on. Petersen's character Gil Grissom will be phased out slowly over the beginning of this upcoming season, and Fishburne will debut in episode 9. As has been reported, he'll be playing an academic type who identifies a DNA marker for a propensity for violence, and soon discovers that marker in his own genetic makeup. The idea is so new with CSI's head writers Carol Mendelsohn and Naren Shankar that they don't even have a name for him yet. On the conference call for critics in which I participated yesterday, one guy suggested they call him "Professor Morpheus." Fishburne, who seemed to have a good sense of humor about himself and even brought up his role as Cowboy Curtis on CBS' long-ago PeeWee's Playhouse, laughed.

  • And in other casting news, Fishburne's Tuskegee Airmen costar Courtney B. Vance has a new primetime gig as well. It had already been announced that Vance's real life wife, the fabulous Angela Bassett, would be joining the cast of ER as a regular for its 15th and supposedly final season. Now, Vance is set to appear as well as Bassett's TV hubby, too. No word on how many episodes he'll do or when they'll air -- only that he has a "multi-episode story arc" as new character Russell Banfield.

  • More 90210 news -- or make that, no more news. That's because the CW has decided not to preview the show for critics before its September 2 debut. (9/02 -- get it?! Too bad it's not 2010!)

    Now normally, such secrecy is not a good sign, showing that a network is nervous about potential bad reviews. But here's what CW and Paramount had to say on Monday in a joint press release:
    The CW and our studio partner CBS Paramount Network Television have made the strategic marketing decision not to screen "90210" for any media in advance of its premiere. We're not hiding anything . . . simply keeping a lid on 90210 until 9.02, riding the curiosity and anticipation into premiere night, and letting all our constituents see it at the same time.
    So what does this really mean for potential patrons of the Peach Pit? You'll just have to tune in a week from Tuesday and find out.

  • And if you're starved for entertainment during these lean, last days of summer, remember that VH1 is debuting three new series tomorrow, August 21. First up at 9 PM is The Fabulous Life, which as the network press release says, "is spotlighting the hottest trends and names out there." At 10 PM is Glam God with Vivica A. Fox. It's a reality show search for the next great celebrity stylist, with sought-after stylist Philip Bloch and US weekly's Melanie Bromley joining Vivica on the judges' panel. But only Ms. Fox gets her name in the title -- SNAP!

    Finally, at 11 PM, it's The Cho Show, which Margaret has described, including during her visit with Frank on the air recently, as a hybrid "reality sitcom." I guess that means that while the situations may be contrived for television, the dialogue and reactions are real. As Frank pointed out, maybe if the cameras hadn't been rolling, it might not have been that imperative for Margaret to get an anal bleaching.

    But just in case you can't wait until tomorrow night for The Cho Show, VH1's sister channel Logo has uploaded the show's premiere episode to its web site here.

And you callers asked...

  • Brian in Toledo: You sure are a big fan of the British shows! I've heard about the new, rather explicit teen drama Skins on BBC America, but haven't seen it yet. It premiered this past Sunday, August 17 at 9 PM -- and apparently had to be cleaned up and bleeped for American TV. You can get more show info from Skins' official site.

  • Trucker Sharon: Thanks for your questions! Grey's Anatomy begins season 5 with a 2-hour premiere on Thursday, September 25 at 9 PM Eastern. Seasons 1-3 are already on DVD, and Season 4 will be released on Tuesday, 9/9. Here's the "Starter Kit" ABC has put together to get you up to speed on Grey's storylines.

    And as for In Plain Sight, USA network announced back in July at the Television Critics' Convention that Mary McCormack and the rest of the feds will be back for a second season of 16 episodes sometime in 2009. Production starts in October in Albuquerque, where the show is set.

    • Well that's it for me -- my theme music is playing me out. Tune in next Wednesday for the next installment of...

      "Must Hear TV!"

      Tuesday, August 19, 2008

      The American Idol Truth Tour

      In the eloquent style of American Idol judge Randy Jackson, this afternoon over 150 writers and union supporters marched in front of the show's production company FremantleMedia North America to let them know that substandard wages and working conditions just ain't right, "dog."

      Although Randy might say our chants were a bit "pitchy," we were there to deliver an important message: as the producer of TV's top-rated show, which makes them over $1 billion annually, Fremantle should do the right thing when it comes to its talented writing and production staffs.

      In addition to Idol, Fremantle produces many other network primetime programs, including Million Dollar Password for CBS, Farmer Wants a Wife for the CW and America’s Got Talent for NBC. In 2007, Fremantle produced more than 1,000 hours of television in the United States. And while Fremantle profits so handsomely from Idol and other shows it produces, the writers and other workers who make these shows successful do not. Workers on Fremantle shows have reported serious workplace issues such as the withholding of overtime pay, and failure to provide meal or rest breaks. Many Fremantle workers do not receive benefits that are standard in the entertainment industry including minimum compensation, health insurance or retirement benefits.

      It's all part of the sweat-shop atmosphere fostered by many producers of reality TV -- as they routinely work their employees round-the clock, they make one message clear: complain, and you'll simply be fired. One rally speaker today, former Idol production assistant Justin Buckles, calculated that, as he routinely worked 17- or even 20-hour days, his $550 per week flat fee salary worked out to about $4.50 per hour -- well below California's legal minimum wage.

      Another speaker, Ro DiSalvo, said it was particularly fitting to return to New York, where her Italian immigrant grandmother had worked as a seamstress in a sweat shop; as a writer on Fremantle's game show Temptation, she experienced the 21st Century equivalent. DiSalvo was refused even meal breaks, as she and her coworkers rushed to film 170 shows in 8 weeks. "Remember what it was like in college to pull an all-nighter," she explained. "Now imagine doing that every day for months."

      All four of Temptation's writers eventually walked off the job -- and were quickly replaced. But in April of this year, eight former employees of Fremantle, the majority from American Idol, filed more than $250,000 in wage and hour claims with the California Department of Labor Standards Enforcement alleging failure to pay overtime.

      With the "American Idol Truth Tour," the Writers' Guild is taking a much more fun approach in appealing to Fremantle to end workplace practices which are, let's face it, more wrong than William Hung's version of "She Bangs." In a thankfully now typical show of solidarity between the two branches of the Guild, East president Michael Winship and West president Patric Verrone appeared together at today's rally, after Verrone traveled the entire route of Idol's audition tour for the upcoming season, bringing the Guild's message to all of the show's tryout sites this season, in San Francisco, Phoenix, San Juan, Jacksonville and East Rutherford, NJ.

      Today's stop in front of Fremantle's offices in New York City represented the end of the line -- for now. The funk band which had played throughout the rally on this sweaty afternoon wrapped its last number, and it was time to temporarily deflate the giant rat which has become de rigeur for any well-appointed picket line these days. Symbolically staring up at the 9th floor of the Ziff Davis building on 28th Street, we protesters vowed to continue the fight.

      But for now, "Writers Guild... OUT!"

      For more information, or to get involved, please visit

      Monday, August 18, 2008

      Catching Up with... Desperate Housewives

      As everybody knows by now, when Desperate Housewives returns for its fifth season this fall (Sunday, Sept. 28th at 9 PM ET), the show's storyline will have skipped ahead five years. Mischievous kids will have turned into full-on troubled teens, and yet our leading ladies will remain just as young and beautiful. Isn't it wonderful how TV works?

      "I was originally going to do an eight-year jump," the show's creator and executive producer Marc Cherry revealed to us TV critics at our semi-annual convention in LA last month. "But then when someone explained to me how the actresses would react to the idea that they were eight years older, I thought, 'Maybe five. Maybe I could get away with five.'"

      Cherry says he was inspired to bend time as he struggled for new ways to keep the Housewives' lives juicy yet still anchored in some kind of reality. "I felt that the soap had really started to build up, and so I wanted to pare down to where everyone's problems were small but very relatable." He did, however, want this decision to remain a surprise to us viewers until we tuned in in late September. But "it leaked like everybody's business," he told the TV critics in mock annoyance. "I made the mistake of telling one of my actors, and the next thing, I read it in the Times, going 'Dammit, Marcia!'"

      In case you don't have Marcia Cross, aka the series' delicious Bree Van De Kamp, to keep you posted on the latest Housewives gossip, there are a few other ways to come up to speed on the show's first four seasons' worth of soap (where has the time gone?!) For one, ABC has created a "Starter Kit," which is a four-minute or so video summarizing the show (just like in the Eli Stone and Ugly Betty entries below.) Or, you can watch full episodes of the show on And if you're a DVD fan, you probably have seasons 1-3 of Desperate Housewives already. On September 2, you'll have the chance to add season 4 to your shelf.

      Desperate Housewives (Season 5 premieres September 28 at 9 PM ET)

      OR Click here for full episodes on


      Desperate Housewives, The Complete Fourth Season (The Sizzling Secrets Edition)
      Release Date: 9/2/08

      Friday, August 15, 2008

      Catching Up with... Eli Stone

      This past winter, at midseason, ABC introduced the drama Eli Stone, about a lawyer who experiences premonitions which may or may not be the result of a brain aneurysm.

      The show, which was lucky enough to sidestep the writers' strike and thus ran for its full 13 episode order, attracted a mid-sized but vocal cult audience, convincing ABC to bring it back for another round.

      In the season 1 finale, Eli had his aneurysm removed -- and yet, says the show's executive producer, the very busy Greg Berlanti, his visions will continue. So then, are these true prophesies? "In the season [2] premiere, we take on that issue head on," Berlanti told TV critics at their semi-annual "TCA" conference in Los Angeles in July. "We'll resolve pretty definitely whether or not Eli believes he's a prophet."

      According to Berlanti, Season 2, which premieres on October 14, promises more of the whimsical touches -- including musical numbers -- for which the show became beloved. Admittedly to pump up ratings and awareness, Berlanti has tapped his old Dawson's Creek co-worker Katie Holmes to appear in the season's second episode on October 21 -- and yes, she'll be singing and dancing. And schedules permitting, Eli's muse George Michael may be back, too; at the time of the TCA, producers were aiming to slot him into the Christmas episode, around the ninth of the season.

      Following the strike, so many of last year's freshman shows across all networks are viewing this fall as a "do over," a second chance to do some fine tuning. And in Eli's case, with his brain problems gone, Season 2 represents a chance to redefine and perhaps expand the scope of the show -- and to expand its ratings. "Because of the nature of where Eli was at the end of the first season, having had the aneurysm removed," explains the show's other executive producer, Marc Guggenheim, "the season 2 premiere really kind of plays like a second pilot. So you can come in totally cold if you hadn't seen the show back in the spring. It's designed to be viewer-friendly."

      Even so, ABC has come up with a few clever ways to help you get up to speed on Eli Stone before the fall. One, a "Starter Kit" (see the Ugly Betty entry below), is a four-minute video encapsulating the season. Or, you can watch full episodes of the show on And of course, since Eli Stone's first season DVD's are set to be released soon, there's still time to put in that request to Netflix and set aside 13 hours for a weekend viewing marathon.

      Eli Stone (Season 2 premieres October 14 at 10 PM ET)

      OR Click here for full episodes on


      Eli Stone, The Complete First Season
      Release Date: 9/2/08

      Thursday, August 14, 2008

      Catching Up with... Ugly Betty

      In preparation for a brand-new -- and hopefully, uninterrupted -- season of primetime network TV, ABC had an idea. Since so much of the network's shows have serialized storylines, the execs there have put together abridged "Starter Kits" designed to get you back in touch -- or if you're a first-time viewer, up to speed -- with all the important plot twists that have gone before.

      Of course, if you want the full Ugly Betty treatment, or to witness every single one of Eli Stone's hallucinations, you might just want to catch up on each series via full episodes on, or by spending a weekend with the DVD box set. For each show, the DVD release of last season is timed, conveniently enough, for just a few weeks before the 2008-09 season kicks off in late September.

      Today, let's get up to speed with the backstabbing goings-on at Mode magazine.

      Ugly Betty (Season 3 premieres September 25 at 8 PM ET)

      OR Click here for full episodes on


      Ugly Betty, The Complete Second Season
      Release Date: 9/9/08

      Wednesday, August 13, 2008

      Radio Recap, August 13, 2008

      It's time for a RADIO RECAP
      "Must Hear TV" on "The Frank DeCaro Show" on Sirius OutQ 109
      Wednesdays, 1-2 PM

      In news from today's "Must-Hear TV" report...

      • The latest word out of NBC is that the Beijing Olympics are on track to be the most watched games in history. As of this afternoon, the network is saying that total viewership for Beijing in these first 5 days has reached 168 million people – that’s nearly 15 million more than Athens in 2004.

        Monday night’s coverage has been so far the highest rated night of the games. As Michael Phelps worked towards a new record for the most Olympic medals ever won, his triumph reached 82 million total viewers, posting a 19.9 rating and 34 share. (34 share is HUGE – that means of all television sets that were on at the time, over 1/3 were tuned to NBC’s Olympic coverage. With so many channels for us to choose from, that kind of concentration of viewers never happens anymore.) To compare, Athens’ numbers were an 18.3 rating and 30 share.

        And of course, more and more of us are catching up on the games online. Since the internet has grown exponentially since 2004, it’s no surprise that so many more of us are watching online since then. is reporting 17.7 million video streams so far for Beijing, as compared to 2.2 million for the entire Athens games. Presenting the Summer Olympics for the 11th time, more than any other network, NBC will be bringing us a record total of 3,600 hours of coverage, with 2,900 of those live, and across more platforms than ever. “Obviously our multi-platform Olympic strategy is a success,” NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker brags. “But this record-breaking Olympic performance is proving that network television is more alive than ever.”

      • Diana in TX perfectly anticipated my next item: yes, I have Big Bang Theory news. Not only will the show return – on Monday Sept. 22 at 8 PM ET – but it comes back with a new cast member. After making a guest appearance last season as Leonard [Johnny Galecki]’s love interest Leslie Winkle, Sara Gilbert is back to stay as a series regular. For those of us who loved them as a married couple on Roseanne, it’ll be fun to watch their continued chemistry – even if it does screw up Leonard’s chances of making it with neighbor Penny [Kaley Cuoco.]

        By the way, in case you missed season 1 of this fun comedy, it's due out on DVD on September 2.

      • We’ve all heard about the updated version of 90210 premiering soon on the CW network (a 2-hour launch on Tuesday, Sept. 2 at 8 PM ET). Many of us have also heard the rumor that this show may be the CW’s last chance. Yes, Gossip Girl is popular, but only a minor ratings hit – and according to rumor, the CW needs 90210 to break big in order to stay alive.

        Things were looking up for the show when early on, producers announced they’d enticed three original West Beverly High alums – Jennie Garth, Tori Spelling and then Shannen Doherty – to return. Then, with the birth of Tori’s baby, plans were reportedly delayed a bit. Now Tori’s a no-go altogether; both her reps, and those for the CW, confirm that Tori’s Donna Martin will not be back. US magazine is reporting the real reason: whereas Jennie and Shannen are to be earning $35-50K per episode, Tori was offered just $10-20K.

        And yet another actor from the original has weighed in: Ian Ziering’s Steve Sanders will not be back. “It’s not really where my career goals are focused right now,” Ziering told People magazine. “I think that it’s fantastic that they’re trying to recapture some of the excitement that 90210 brought to a decade. I wish them all the best of luck.”

      • In other revival news, CBS is reportedly considering a revamped version of its incredibly long-running detective series, Hawaii Five-O. The original show ran on the Eye Network for what was then a record-breaking 12 seasons, from 1968-80 (a drama record broken now by Law & Order, about to enter its 19th.) Criminal Minds’ showrunner, former Chicago cop Ed Bernero, will be at the helm of what he’s codenaming “Hawaii Five-O 2.0.”

        “We will try to keep as much of the original show as possible,” Bernero told The Hollywood Reporter. “I’m not trying to reinvent it.” And so, the new show will, like its predecessor, film on location in Hawaii, and the famous theme song will be back, albeit modernized. Alas, Jack Lord has gone off to the great luau in the sky, and so the fictional Hawaiian police department at the show’s core will now be run by his character Steve McGarrett’s son Chris, yet to be cast.

        My two cents: don’t you think Frank should be cast on this show (so that I can go with him and live in Paradise)? Don’t they need comic relief? (And no, Frank, you can’t play the villain Wo Fat just for the sake of a silly pun.) Hey, Mr. Bernero: Frank loves all things Hawaiian, can save you budget by providing his own full wardrobe of flowered shirts and muumuus, and will even ship you a bunch of his tiki mugs to use in bar scenes. Sure, Frank Sr. will be sorry to see us move 6,000 miles away – but on the plus side, with all Frank’s tiki crap cleared out, the man will have half of his house back!

      • And finally, if you were listening to the show yesterday, Frank’s guest Alison Arngrim wasn’t lying: the Little House on the Prairie musical – starring original “Half Pint” Melissa Gilbert (Sara’s big sis) this time as Ma Ingalls -- is hotter than a grass fire. It hasn’t even opened yet – that’s this Friday, August 15 – but it’s breaking box office records at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater, and has already been extended by 2 weeks, to October 19. After that, is already announcing, these prairie girls are hitting the road, taking the show on a 40 city tour starting in Fall 2009.

      And you callers asked...

      • Brian in Toledo: Here’s some info you asked for regarding Doctor Who’s ratings. Looks like things are looking up in the UK!

      • Chris in New Orleans: the fire on the Universal Studios backlot in early June did badly damage an area as large as two city blocks, including the Courthouse Square set used in Back to the Future and, as you noted, currently being used by Ghost Whisperer on CBS. However, as this article notes, that is just a secondary location for the series, which is now back in production as usual. In fact, Ghost Whisperer is set to start its fourth season on CBS on Friday October 3 at 8 PM ET.

      • Mark in FL: Here’s some more info on the show you recently discovered, TNT’s The Closer, starring Kyra Sedgwick. The show started its 4th season in early July, and is still a ratings juggernaut for basic cable. Its season 4 premiere episode attracted 7.8 million viewers, which is more than most shows on network TV! It was slightly off from the 8.8 million who tuned in for the season 3 opener – but still, it’s enough for the show to remain the most popular show so far this year on ad-supported cable.

      • Paul in MA: Good question! I have not yet seen any Nielsen ratings for LOGO’s Sordid Lives: The Series, and I’m not sure they’ve been released. And with only 4 [of 12] episodes having aired, it’s probably too soon to speculate about renewal (but isn’t the show fabulous! I SO hope there’s a season 2!) But I’ve emailed a source who might be able to shed some light on this situation, so check back right here for more info soon!

      • And lastly, Randy in Vancouver, this one’s for you! Check It Out!

      Well that's it for me -- my theme music is playing me out. Tune in next Wednesday for the next installment of...

      "Must Hear TV!"