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TV Note: 8/20/02

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Power dialers try to skew results of 'American Idol'

Producers of the hit Fox show "American Idol" say the talent contest is being slammed by "power dialers" trying to influence the results by making as many as 10,000 votes a night from a single phone line.

With fast Internet connections and powerful computer autodialing software, about 100 "phone phreaks" are casting thousands of votes with the touch of a button, producers acknowledged.

"They're all over the country, and they tend to be slamming the system at all ends," said Michael Eaton, vice president of home entertainment for FreemantleMedia, the show's London-based producer.

So far, these calls have had a "statistically insignificant" impact on the outcome, Eaton said, but he wouldn't release any data on individual contestants and their vote totals.

Still, an individual viewer who lacks this technology doesn't stand a chance at matching the influence of the power dialers. Redialing manually maxes out at a few hundred calls per evening, Eaton said.

He also said 95 percent of all calls are getting through to the toll-free numbers representing each competitor. The calls then are tabulated to determine each week's survivors and loser.

The show's producers could have frustrated efforts to skew the results by imposing stricter ground rules or insisting that each voter punch in a code or number during the call, said Dave Hoch, an expert on telephone systems.

"There's different levels of security. This is no security. What it is, is a very dumb system which is great for generating call volumes but does nothing for security," said Hoch.

Instead, Fox Broadcasting Co. has been promoting the calling volume as a sign of the show's success. Vote totals have grown during the show from 9.2 million on July 30 to 14.5 million Tuesday, and the show has been among the top 10 in the ratings, according to Nielsen Media Research.

"We're actually thrilled that America is so obsessed with the show that they're willing to log in this many phone calls," said Fox spokeswoman Michelle Hooper, who insisted the system is fair.

If the power-dialing volume skews votes toward one of the four remaining contestants, Eaton said they may contact the people responsible and ask them to stop.

(Ron Harris, Associated Press)

WQED program changes

Despite listings information in newspapers and on its own Web site, WQED failed to air "The Sid Caesar Collection" and "Richard Rodgers: Some Enchanted Evening" on Saturday night. Both programs were pre-empted for alternate pledge programming.

"Caesar" will now air at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Rodgers program, which failed to generate many pledges on other PBS stations across the country, has not been rescheduled.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

Quecreek movie update

Elwood Reid has signed on as writer of the ABC movie about the rescue of the nine Quecreek miners. Reid has written three novels ("If I Don't Six," "Midnight Sun" and "D.B."), scripts for three unproduced films and a pilot he worked on with Larry Sanitsky, producer of the Quecreek movie. He's also the Tennessee Williams Writer in Residence at The University of the South and a frequent contributor to GQ, Outside and Men's Journal magazines.

In addition, Hyperion has hired Jeff Goodell to write the companion book to the Quecreek movie. His past books include "Sunnyvale: The Rise and Fall of a Silicon Valley Family" and "The Cyberthief and the Samurai: The True Story of Kevin Mitnick and the Man Who Hunted Him Down."

Both writers have been in Somerset conducting interviews.

(R.O.)

Boss to open 'SNL'

The Boss is adding "Saturday Night Live" to the list of stops along the way to promote his new album "The Rising."

Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band will appear on the Oct. 5 season opener of "SNL," reports The New York Daily News. The appearance will mark Springsteen's second visit to the show, but his first with the full E Street Band.

He appeared on "SNL" in 1992, though he was backed by a band consisting mostly of non-E Streeters. The show has yet to name a host for Oct. 5.

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