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TV Notes: 5/6/03

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

Political reality show too pricey for FX

FX is dropping plans for the reality series "American Candidate" because, it turns out, money is the mother's milk of television as well as of politics.

The series, intended to let viewers pick a 2004 grass-roots presidential candidate, proved too expensive for the cable channel, FX Entertainment president Kevin Reilly said.

Reality shows are cheaper to produce than scripted series, but "American Candidate" would have been "in the upper ranges of cost" for the reality genre, Reilly said. He declined to give a figure.

The series "needed to be done in a credible way that didn't make a mockery of the process," he said. When efforts were made to cut the budget, "it seemed like it would compromise the concept."

Filmmaker R.J. Cutler, the show's producer, said he was disappointed. Cutler, who made "The War Room," a documentary on the 1992 Clinton campaign, is shopping the project elsewhere.

(Lynn Elber, Associated Press)

Muslim channel

A group of investors want to start a television network aimed at the interests of an estimated 8 million Muslims living in the United States.

The network, to be called Bridges TV, would begin in summer 2004.

Omar Amanat, founder of the Internet brokerage firm Tradescape Corp., leads the group. Bridges TV has $1 million and is seeking 10,000 Muslim-Americans to pledge $10 a month for the service to convince cable and satellite operators of a demand.

Many Muslims now use satellites to retrieve Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-American news station, or other Arabic networks that originate from overseas. But there are no English-language alternatives that focus specifically on Muslims who live in the United States, Hassan said.

The network is being named Bridges TV because it hopes to build bridges of understanding between Muslims and other Americans, said Muzzammil Hassan, one of the investors.

"Bridges TV is not going to be an Al-Jazeera," Hassan said. "It's going to be a very patriotic channel."

Bridges TV envisions broadcasting four to six hours per day at the start, offering a mix of news, talk shows, sitcoms, children's programming and movies. The hope is to eventually become a full-time network like BET or Telemundo, the investors said.

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

Trading spaces

Katie Couric doesn't believe that trading her "Today" show gig for the "Tonight" show for one day will dent her reputation as a journalist.

"Because I've been doing this show for 12 years and been in the news business for 24, I think my news credentials are pretty well established," she said. "It's given me the freedom to have fun and let my hair down.

"If you're asking me if this is a threat to my credibility, I don't think it is in any way, shape or form."

On May 12, Couric will take over for Leno on "Tonight" -- his first guest host in a decade since taking over from Johnny Carson -- and Leno will join Matt Lauer, Al Roker and Ann Curry on "Today."

Couric and Jay Leno, in a conference call interview promoting their sweeps-month stunt on NBC, agreed that their jobs are not as different as it may appear.

Leno "may be interviewing someone one night and three days later they may show up on the 'Today' show if they're flacking a movie," Couric said. "There are very similar skills involved in the jobs."

Joke-telling isn't necessarily one of them. Couric will attempt a monologue, depending on Leno and his staff for the punch lines.

"If a joke works, it's funny," Leno said. "If a joke doesn't work, that will be even funnier."

The switch came at Couric's instigation. "Do you think I would dream something like this up?" Leno said. "This isn't a guy's idea. ... You don't ever hear, 'Bob, let's trade places.' "

Leno has never given up his chair, saying that it would be too taxing for his staffers to prepare someone not used to the role. Reruns are aired when Leno vacations.

Couric said she had suggested the idea before, but that NBC entertainment chief Jeff Zucker had been reluctant.

Already, Leno said he's been getting notes of advice like, "Jay, it's the morning, so don't shout."

Couric joked that on "Today," Leno will get the easy interviews: "Tariq Aziz, Rick Santorum and, in the last half-hour, J.D. Salinger."

Leno, clearly a connoisseur of local news sweeps stories, said because it's currently the May sweeps period, he'll report on "strip searches at Catholic girls schools and are they necessary?" and "housewife hookers, are they in your neighborhood and are you at risk?"

(D.B.)

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