Sunday, November 12, 2006

Short Takes – November 12, 2006

More network moves: I’ll get to what’s going on at NBC in a bit but I want to focus on what’s going on there apart from the other network moves. First, Fox is pulling Justice off of Monday nights and will be replacing it with a House rerun. Yep, another show I liked gone, but don’t ask me what it means. With Prison Break going on a long hiatus once 24 starts it has to mean something. Next, we’ve got ABC moving Men In Trees, newly anointed with a full season order, to Thursday night opposite ER and Shark. This would seem to be near suicide but there’s a method in their madness because the quirky Alaska show follows the quirky Doctor show. What’s really interesting to me is that Abraham Benrubi’s current series is going head to head with the series that he basically debuted in. Meanwhile Six Degrees has been put on hiatus until January (yeah, right, like that’ll really happen). The CW hasn’t been as kind to Veronica Mars and One Tree Hill in terms of orders for new scripts – they’ve only received orders for three scripts each.

Big things shaking at NBC: Unfortunately none of them are being caused by Jeff Zucker’s head rolling. The first move of the current group is to put Twenty Good Years out of our misery by pulling it from the schedule indefinitely. They’ve also decided to take 30 Rock and move it to the second hour of Thursday nights along with Scrubs. There’s an element of sacrificial lamb being served up there perhaps, but maybe not since these shows are different enough from what the other networks have this time that they might draw an audience or at least retain a significant portion of the audience from the bloc of My Name Is Earl and The Office. 30 Rock starts airing in its new time slot (sort of) this coming Thursday, which means that it fills the time between a 36 minute My Name Is Earl, a 44 minute The Office, and a 59 minute ER.

NBC has also announced that they will be giving a full season order to Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, a show that people love or abhor. The show’s demographics are apparently very interesting to the network. Apparently the while the series hasn’t done well in total viewers or in the coveted Adults 18-49 group (of which I’m no longer a member), which leads Marc Berman of MediaWeek to perpetually label it a “loser”, it does attract some extremely desirable subgroupings. According to NBC it has “consistently delivered some of the highest audience concentrations among all prime-time network series in such key upscale categories as adults 18-49 living in homes with $75,000-plus and $100,000-plus incomes and in homes where the head of household has four or more years of college." That makes it highly attractive to advertisers and may explain why the show actually makes a profit for the network. That said the renewal is not unconditional. Charlie McCollum of the San Jose Mercury News reports that in order to get the full season order Warner Brothers had to promise to cut production costs. Part of this will be absorbed by pay cuts for Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme. Part of the reduction will be made up by reducing the number of episodes that each member of the cast is guaranteed to appear in (actors are paid on a per episode basis with the guarantee being the minimum number of episodes the actor will appear in, or at least be paid for). Finally, NBC has announced that they will be announcing a new schedule next week, and the show will “not necessarily stay on Monday.” One can only hope for a makeover that will not only save Studio 60 but also Friday Night Lights, it being too late for Kidnapped.

NBC all about cutting costs: And I can’t help but wonder why. First we have Jeff Zucker announcing that NBC will no longer program dramas or comedies in the first hour of prime time claiming “that advertisers just won't pay enough money during the 8 pm time slot to cover the costs of comedies and dramas.” Then there’s the demand for reduced production costs for Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. In between we’ve had an announcement that NBC News would be cutting staff members including 17 staff members at Dateline NBC with more cuts to come. I suppose the question is why is NBC-Universal going all out with these cost cutting measures? I suspect that the answer has little to do with actually needing to cut costs and a whole lot to do with padding the bottom line for the NBC part of NBC-Universal. But maybe I’m just being cynical.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Our “friends” at the PTC still haven’t replaced Boston Legal, last week’s “Worst of the Week”, so apparently it was really evil. The PTC does hate someone new this week – it’s the FCC. In a recent decision the FCC overturned two previous indecency decisions on appeal. In the first case the Commission overturned a decision related to a CBS Early Show interview with a recently evicted Survivor contestant in which the contestant referred to one of the other players as “a bullshitter”. The FCC allowed the appeal because the interview could arguably be described as “a news item.” In the other case the FCC overturned a decision stemming from “several complaints about various variants of ‘shit’ on NYPD Blue, which aired at 9 p.m. Central Time in Kansas City.” According to the report that appeared in the Center for Creative Voices in Media Blog the complaint was overturned on a procedural cause when the Commission discovered that none of the complaints about the show actually came from the Kansas City area.

Both sides seem to be engaging in a bit of spin on these two issues. On the Early Show case the PTC stated “The FCC’s ruling about the indecent language on CBS Early Show is troubling. The Commission has arbitrarily created a ‘news exemption’ for indecency where none existed before. In this case the Early Show carried an interview with a cast member promoting another CBS program, and that is considered a “news” event? This creates a loophole big enough to drive a truck through. Even more ominous is the creation of a provision for the networks themselves to determine what fits this ‘news’ definition. Virtually any programming could be called a ‘news’ program. With the networks left to their own devices and already arguing in court for an unfettered ‘right’ to air profanity at any time of day, this means that the American people will be subjected to ‘f-bombs’ and other raunchy, inappropriate language on any program a network chooses to call a ‘news’ show.” For their part the Center for Creative Voices in Media cites Duke University law professor Stuart M. Benjamin an expert on telecommunications law, “This makes it all the harder to claim we've got a set of clear consistent rules, which is what the FCC's claim has been all along." The PTC is of course expecting the worst off the television networks with their claim that “virtually any programming could be called a ‘news’ program.” This is absurd. Like every other network CBS maintains a clear separation between their news and entertainment divisions Admittedly sometimes these definitions can sometimes be blurred – witness the way that the ABC News Division was used to create a series devoted to a “study” of online dating – but on the whole the split is pretty clear-cut. Only in the minds of people like the PTC could a network define a show like CSI or even Survivor as a “news” show. The Early Show has always been considered part of the CBS News division and the interview with the Survivor contestant was both live and unscripted, at least on the part of the contestant. Both the PTC and the Center for Creative Voices in Media do recognize the fact that the FCC’s decision broke new ground and created an exemption where none had existed before.

The decision on NYPD Blue provoked a different reaction. According to the Center for Creative Voices in Media, the original decision was overturned because none of the complaints came from the Kansas City area, which was specifically where the complaints cited the problem as existing. This was discovered by Amy Schatz of the Wall Street Journal – most media outlets simply characterized the decision as “procedural”. The PTC – which was playing its now favourite card, using the time zones to define a show as indecent in one are but not indecent in another area – was defiant. They claimed that the FCC was claiming that “the FCC maintains that only one complaint was filed over ABC’s NYPD Blue in 2003, and because that complaint was incorrect, there is no basis to consider action against ABC for the program in question.” According to the PTC “there were at least 96 separate complaints from individuals in at least 28 states filed with the FCC over the use of the words ‘B.S.’ in NYPD Blue. Once again, the FCC Enforcement Bureau, which has a long, disgraceful and well-documented history of botching, or simply ignoring citizen complaints, has apparently dropped the ball, thus once again violating its charter. This is an outrage.” However, if the complaint about the show was specifically focussed on the airing of the show in Kansas City, which is what the statement from the Center for Creative Voices in Media indicates, the fact that there were 96 (or even 9600) complaints from 28 states doesn’t really matter if none of them came from the Kansas City media market.

I wonder what we can expect from the FCC now that both houses of Congress are controlled by the Democrats, even if a lot of the new Democratic Party members are social conservatives?

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