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TV Notes: 'Average Joe' earns above-average ratings

Thursday, December 11, 2003

By Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

There's nothing average about "Average Joe."

Monday's two-hour finale -- in which beauty queen Melana Scantlin chose the hunk over the clunk -- was a mondo hit for NBC.

"Joe" drew 17.4 million viewers from 9 to 11 p.m., topping every other show for the night. Moreover, it had 11.3 million advertiser-friendly 18-to-49-year-olds -- the most for an NBC series in that slot since April 1993.

"Average Joe: Hawaii," shot on the Kohala coast before "Joe" debuted Nov. 3, launches Jan. 5. It has nine episodes (three more than "Joe").

"Hawaii" will feature a former Miss USA contestant and "the same basic setup" as "Joe," with "multiple new twists," says co-executive producer Andrew Glassman. (Translation: Look for more handsome spoilers.)

"Joe" averaged 12.6 million viewers over six episodes, ranking 25th on Nielsen's hit list. NBC pitched the idea to Glassman and Stuart Krasnow ("Weakest Link"), his partner on an earlier NBC dating pilot that went nowhere.

He says the success of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and "Survivor" set off bells.

"They blew everybody away," says Glassman, 36. "I started thinking, 'I'd love to give that a try.'

"There's such an urgency to watching these shows. You have to see what happens. In a weird way, there's a strong documentary aspect to them. You're tapping into people's emotions and harnessing that into these soap operas."

A sucker for sappy reality shows such as ABC's "The Bachelor," Glassman says the genre's contestants "seem to have an emotional investment that's real."

Unlike Fox's "Joe Millionaire," "Average Joe" didn't misrepresent its star or contestants, Glassman says. "We're not about humiliating anybody. We promised the guys they'd all be heroes. They've all thanked us."

During production, secrecy was paramount. Everyone signed a confidentiality agreement. The show even had a fake title: "Life of the Party."

"You can't leave a scrap of paper around, or a contestant will find it and you'll ruin the twist," he says. "You can't talk on a speakerphone. You can't leave your walkie-talkie open." (Gail Shister, Knight Ridder Newspapers)

'Angels' ratings low

The debut of Part 1 of Tony Kushner's acclaimed two-part epic "Angels in America" had 4.1 million viewers on HBO from 8 to 11 p.m. Sunday.

Though that's not a large number, HBO was quick to point out that viewership remained steady through all three hours of "Millennium Approaches," starring Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson.

"Angels" was the highest-rated original movie on cable this year, according to HBO. Sunday's showing was part of an "aggressive scheduling play" that includes one-hour installments this week.

Part 2, "Perestroika," premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday. (G.S.)

Hammer-ing out a sitcom

Ex-rapper MC Hammer will star in a sitcom for the WB. The project is part of the deal he signed with the network following his stint on the "reality" series "The Surreal Life."

Devon Shepard ("Cedric the Entertainer Presents") will write and executive-produce the project, based loosely on Hammer's life as a minister and family guy after leaving music in 1997. (G.S.)

Channel surfing

"Empire," an eight-episode project about the Roman Empire after Julius Caesar, will air on ABC in the fall. HBO's similar "Rome" debuts in '05. ... Christopher Darden, ex-O.J. Simpson prosecutor, joined CNN on Monday as a legal analyst for six months to focus mainly on the Michael Jackson case. (G.S.)

Miller show has air date

Castle Shannon native Dennis Miller's new CNBC talk show premieres Jan. 26 and will air at 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and Sunday.

Miller will blend hot-button issues with comedy, including a segment called "Daily Rorschach," described as a "high-speed blitz of monologue jokes, news photos and videotape clips."

Miller serves as host and executive producer of "Dennis Miller." (Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

Rogers scholarship established

Tuesday night during a tribute to the late Fred Rogers in Hollywood, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and its children's programming peer group announced the establishment of the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship.

The announcement of the $10,000 annual scholarship was a surprise to Rogers' widow, Joanne, who was in attendance.

The scholarship will be used to support an undergraduate or graduate student studying children's media and childhood education or a recent college graduate pursuing a career in children's media. (R.O.)

WTAE's 'Bundle-Up'

Channel 4's 18th year of community service through Project Bundle-Up begins with the "Project Bundle-Up Holiday Special," airing live Saturday from 8 to 11 p.m.

Meteorologist Joe DeNardo hosts the special with anchor Michelle Wright and meteorologist Stephen Cropper. Local performers who will be featured include Etta Cox and the Al Dowe Band and Bill Deasy.

Volunteers will take pledges from a phone bank throughout the show in an effort to raise money in conjunction with the Salvation Army of Southwestern Pennsylvania to provide needy children and senior citizens with warm winter outerwear.

Since 1986, Project Bundle-Up has raised $7.9 million, serving more than 160,000 people. (R.O.)

Post-Gazette TV editor Rob Owen's Tuned In column will return next week.

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