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TV Notes: 12/20/03

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Originals on TV Land, Nick

TV Land and Nick at Nite, for which time has always stood still, say they will start producing new series for the first time.

It seems counterintuitive to try something new on the two cable channels built upon showing classic reruns, but executives say they are trying to carefully extend the brand.

First up on Nick at Nite: "Fatherhood," a cartoon based on Bill Cosby's best-selling book, scheduled to air in June.

"It's really not fundamentally a big change in our strategy," said Larry Jones, general manager of both TV Land and Nick at Nite. "It's taking a business opportunity in a particular hour in a targeted way.

"Yeah, it's a bit of a risk, but a smart risk, I believe," he said.

Nick at Nite airs reruns on the Nickelodeon children's network when the kids go to bed, from 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays) through the overnight hours. TV Land is a separate basic cable outlet devoted exclusively to old TV. Both are owned by Viacom, which also owns CBS, UPN, MTV and the BET cable channels as well as the Paramount movie studio.

Other series in development for Nick at Nite include "Zen & Buster," a cartoon about dogs in Hollywood created by Kelsey Grammer, and "ALF's Hit Talk Show," with the puppet alien interviewing celebrities.

Nick at Nite is aiming the new series for the 9 p.m. "transition hour" after the kids' fare ends, starting with one night a week and shooting eventually for five.

TV Land has produced occasional specials in recent years, and now will branch out into series, probably on Sunday nights. Starting in April, Merv Griffin will be host of a six-part series profiling TV's pioneering producers.

The network's proposed series don't stray too far from the brand: "Living in TV Land" sends cameras into the lives of veteran actors such as Dick Van Patten and Jack Klugman, and "Table Read" reunites TV series casts for readings of some of their shows' best scripts.

Another series, "Hello Out There," is described as a comedy about the behind-the-scenes antics of running a classic TV network.

Television analyst Larry Gerbrandt, chief operating officer of Kagan World Media, said the two networks are living proof of the long and profitable lives of successful series.

"Why wouldn't you want a piece of that?" he asked.

Running new shows an hour or so a day doesn't represent much of a risk, Gerbrandt said.

"If it works, you have the next 'Queer Eye,' the next 'Osbournes,' the next 'Road Rules,' " he said. "More importantly, you may have something that takes the network on to the next level. Do you want to spend the rest of your life being somebody else's reruns?"

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

Hilton beats Bush

Paris Hilton was a bigger television draw than President Bush this week. So, for that matter, was Mark Harmon.

ABC's interview of the president by Diane Sawyer, telecast Tuesday, only two days after the capture of Saddam Hussein was announced, was seen by 11 million people, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Meanwhile, Fox's "The Simple Life," with Hilton terrorizing an Arkansas town, was seen by 11.9 million, Nielsen said Thursday. During the half-hour when the two shows competed directly, ABC's Bush interview had 11.3 million viewers.

Meanwhile, the CBS drama "Navy NCIS" starring Harmon had an audience of 12 million.

Bush can console himself with the knowledge that he was more popular than a "Whoopi" rerun, which had 7.3 million people watching on NBC.


Channel surfing

"60 Minutes" correspondent Ed Bradley was spotted in Downtown Pittsburgh this week. Bradley was in town for an upcoming story about the controversy surrounding the ordination of a gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire. Bradley was here to interview Pittsburgh Bishop Robert W. Duncan Jr., who opposes the gay bishop's ordination. No air date for the report has been set. ... Jason Priestley will join the cast of Fox's drama "Tru Calling" for a seven-episode story arc. He'll play a morgue attendant alongside star Eliza Dushku in the series, which was recently renewed for a full season. ... David Newell, Mr. McFeely from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," is scheduled to collect toys for needy children at New York's Rockefeller Plaza Monday on NBC's "Today." A year ago, Fred Rogers was one of the show's "celebrity elves."

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV editor)

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