Mr. Coogans Monday Groove Tube Update: 5.4.04

I discovered something after writing last week’s Groove Tube Update. Though this may sound bad and a self-attack against my own character, I’ll go ahead and say it anyway. I was almost working TOO HARD on my weekly television column for 411BLACK. As much as I love writing about television for the 411mania family, it felt more and more like a job that had to get done instead of something I enjoyed doing. I started to dread Fridays because I would sit down all day and virtually lock myself in my apartment, and even more specifically chain myself to my desk and computer so I could intensely research television news stories across the Internet and in the industry related publications delivered to my house through the week. Then I would slave for hours and hours putting together insanely long columns that could have easily been broken up into three healthy sized shorter columns instead. After I was finally done, I would walk away from the computer and not think about the industry until the next Friday when it would be time to slave away again.

Seriously, what fun is that?

Then, in slight haste last weekend, since I was busy for most of it, I sat down and pounded out a shorter version of my normal meaty columns, abandoning the usual format of incorporating “Quotes of the Week,” “TV Headlines,” and my “Closing Credits” and just wrote some shorter opinion pieces based on some reader emails, some comments from a fellow 411mania staffer, and some interesting news from the week in television. Not only did I finish in half the time it usually takes me to finish a “Groove Tube Update,” but I remembered why I like doing this in the first place: I love television and I love writing about it.

Basically, I set my standards grossly and unnecessarily high when I probably didn’t need to. So, that’s going to change from here on out. Now, what you’ll probably see from me is shorter “Groove Tube Updates” and a variety of other material both here on BLACK in the form of additional television commentary (and possibly another semi-regular column I’m thinking about debuting) and back in the Movies Zone (my original “zone of employment”) with more reviews and some assorted columns as well.

In the mean time, the new “Groove Tube Updates” will likely feature a couple of opinion pieces based on what EVERYONE is talking about in the television industry and a couple of opinion pieces based on what NO ONE is talking about in the television industry, but are interesting enough to me to be looked at . I hope you enjoy the changes I’ve decided to employ not only to this column but the other stuff you will see across the 411mania zones.

And if you don’t, please send all complaint letters to:

Steve Coogan is an ass
c/o NBC Studios
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112

KIDDING!!!!!

Is “American Idol” a reality show or a scripted drama? I can’t tell anymore

I’m certainly not the first person to talk about recent events on “American Idol” and I probably won’t be the last either, but with all the commotion and fuss from the last two weeks, it deserves a little (more) attention from the “Groove Tube Update.”

First, I discussed at length last week why I felt Jennifer Hudson was ripe to get eliminated. The ouster was a surprise, but I felt the possible reasons being thrown out there were valid and worth paying attention to. Well, two interesting developments arose from the diva’s departure:

First, Elton John, a former participant in the “American Idol” process working with the contestants sing his songs several weeks ago, speaking out and calling the show and its voters “incredibly racist” without trying to set himself up. Nope. You didn’t set yourself up at all big guy. You came out clean as a whistle Also, according to an E! News Online report he also said during a press conference in New York City:

The three people I was really impressed with, and they just happened to be black, young female singers (Latoya London, Fantasia Barrino, and Hudson), and they all seem to be landing in the bottom three.

Unbelievable He gets a boat load of free publicity having an entire night devoted to him, his work, and his newest stuff being plugged to death and he comes back with this horse shit a few weeks later? I can appreciate celebrities using their fame to speak up for a cause that would normally get ignored. They have a significant amount of power in that respect. However, this is ridiculous Pick your battles Sir Elton.

It’s obvious he didn’t consider the fact that the “Three Divas” were probably splitting a lot of votes because of their similar looks and fairly similar styles (though I admit, Fantasia does seem to attack her singing differently than the other two). In addition, due to some inconsistent performances and poor song choices, Jennifer didn’t attract the “fan base” that some of the others did (cough cough John Stevens, Jasmine Trias cough cough).

I imagine that none of that was considered by the rock legend and even if it was, I’m still not sure whether he would have kept his mouth shut. Nonetheless, what’s done is done. For Sir Elton’s sake, I hope this goes away and he shuts his mouth. I find it difficult to call rock royalty stupid or ignorant. However, he certainly came off as such this time.

The second interesting development that surfaced probably thanks to (what many believed was ) the untimely departure of Jennifer Hudson from the “American Idol” finals was the number of votes cast for the audience’s favorite contestants. Last week (April 27th-28th), more than 28 million votes were cast for the six finalists in the competition, another new “American Idol” record. Apparently, passive viewers of the show finally got off their collective asses long enough to grab a (cell) phone to call or text message a vote in or two.

When it was all said and done, 16-year-old Frank Sinatra wannabe, John Stevens, was the contestant sent home from the finals despite having more than four million votes cast for him. “Legitimate” music people believed his departure was long overdue since his vocal range was so limited and specialized, while others rooted for him the whole way because of the perceived PR hit the show would take backing a kid who “can’t sing.” Meanwhile, teenagers who found the young chap curiously sexy (his looks have been compared to Stan Laurel of “Laurel and Hardy” fame) and older people getting into the show and his retro crooner style were upset and bordering on outraged that poor John was the odd man out.

Some people blame poor John Stevens himself for the way “American Idol” fans voted for their favorite performers and he certainly felt the pressure as the weeks wore on according to an interview he gave on “On Air with Ryan Seacrest.” Media people openly either complained about him continuing on the competition or cracked jokes that he didn’t deserve to be there. In fact, after Hudson’s elimination some fans and voters blamed him so much that the poor lad’s mother had to complain to show executives when she heard a radio deejay suggest someone should “take (Stevens) out.” Once it was all over, the teenager from a Buffalo, NY suburb openly said he was “relaxed” and “relieved” his “American Idol” experience was over.

Did Jennifer Hudson’s elimination end up directly causing John Stevens’ elimination? Considering the voting process requires people to vote for their FAVORITE contestant rather than the one they hate the most, I don’t think so. However, Jennifer leaving did get more people to vote and with one of the “three divas” gone, her votes probably went directly to the “other two divas” (Latoya and Fantasia) all but guaranteeing at least another week or two in the contest for them while John Stevens was left with his usual fan base, as loyal and rabid as they may be.

If there is one other ironic final twist to the last two wild weeks of “American Idol,” it’s the fact that this week (May 4th and 5th) pays tribute to the “Big band” era, the one genre that Stevens would have starred and excelled in instead of being forced to sing country and Latin tunes. Considering the barrage of torture the kid has gone through, both from Simon and Randy on camera and the other media off camera, wouldn’t it be nice to see him invited back just to sing a song of his choice even if it’s just during the closing credits? After the emotions shown by the other finalists and even the judges somewhat, I know they would like to see him back one more time and I think he deserves his moment in the sun one last time

Koppel ignites controversy

In case you missed this story, instead of doing the standard newscast he normally does on ABC’s “Nightline,” Ted Koppel abandoned his normal format and instead read the names of the 721 United States servicemen (and women) that have lost their lives in Iraq since the war began in March of 2003 and showed pictures that accompanied the names.

That angered a lot of people and it went further when Sinclair Broadcasting, a huge conglomerate reaching 24% of the American public through the company’s owned local affiliates, decided to yank the “Nightline” broadcast from the ABC affiliates the company owns, affecting several large markets including St. Louis and Charleston, WV.

So many questions arise from this particular event from ABC, “Nightline,” and Ted Koppel himself. The esteemed journalist has been quoted as saying he expected controversy from this but not nearly as much controversy as it has been subject to. Now, people have to ask Is this appropriate behavior for a show devoted to JOURNALISM? Are the network and the “Nightline” people trying to make a political statement? If so, do they support the war and want to pay tribute to the country’s fallen heroes? If not, are they just trying to remind the American public of how senseless this war is by attaching names and faces with the hundreds of people that have lost their lives in Iraq? Should they even be making a political statement or just report the news? Is naming the fallen an example of reporting the news? After all, it certainly adds a human element to an industry that is largely about reporting on the worst events possible because it’s good for ratings.

This is a pretty complex issue if all of those questions are considered. If I was forced to take a position, I’d probably say that the network and the show’s producers didn’t necessarily intend to make a powerful political statement with this broadcast, but the bottom line is they ended up doing just that whether they believe they did or not. Is it necessarily a bad thing? Tough call. There are lots of publications devoted to the “liberal” and “conservative” schools of political thought and aren’t ashamed to admit it. Even Fox News gets a bad rap for being “too conservative” in its reporting. If that’s your mission and your way if interpreting the news, that’s your business. If there’s a beautiful thing about media saturation in 2004, it’s that if I don’t like one media outlet’s reporting, I have loads of other choices that I can get my news from. However, if network/publication executives feel one way, communicate that through the media, and then deny that was what they were trying to do, then all involved come off looking pretty damn foolish. Playing dumb isn’t the best strategy either. If ABC, “Nightline,” and Ted Koppel are doing that, they should look at even the most formulaic sitcoms plots. Chances are, playing dumb doesn’t usually work

Ever wonder what happened to ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show?” Here’s the scoop

Normally, when a perennial Nielsen Top 20 sitcom ends its run after nine years, there’s a whole bunch of pomp and circumstance, assorted good-bye specials, network executives plan the big farewell party(-ies), entertainment journalists start asking “What’s next ?” for the cast members that are moving on, and the millions of fans out there Thank God the show is still available in syndication in one of their local affiliates. Eventually, if the group is lucky, the stars of the show may get their own episode of A&E’s “Biography” and VH-1’s “The Fabulous Life of ” Dare to dream

However, with “The Drew Carey Show,” everything was different. Formerly, an ABC staple that pretty much was synonymous with the network, the show pretty much faded into oblivion. Was in canceled? Was it “put on hiatus?” Did Drew Carey die? Remarkably, the answers to all those questions are “no.” However, the show has not been treated very respectfully over the last 18-24 months or so and the way it’s going out is a definite example of that.

David Bauder of the Associated Press recently wrote a story on the demise of the show and in his report, he stated that the last original episode was taped and that those newbies will run twice per week starting June 2nd until the last order of shows is aired, likely before the beginning of the 2004-05 season in the fall.

Bauder noted that “The Drew Carey Show” used to be immensely popular and that at its height during the 1996-97 season, attracted more than 17 million people per episode. However, the bottom fell out on the show in 2001 and, interestingly, still was able to get a deal for an additional three seasons despite waning popularity. Now that the decision makers behind that deal are out the door seeking other employment (Former ABC Chairman Lloyd Braun and ABC Entertainment Head Susan Lyne), the new management want nothing more to do with the show other than burning off the episodes already paid for.

How did this happen? How did a sitcom that was immensely popular with a great cast and usually good writing go from ratings abuser to ratings loser?

Bauder doesn’t appear 100% convinced of possible reasons himself, but he did venture a few guesses, mentioning that the possibly of Drew Carey overkill might have been in effect considering he had his own sitcom and hosted the mildly successful American version of the British improv show “Who’s Line is it Anyway?” on the another night of the alphabet’s network prime time schedule. He also suggests that the constant schedule shuffling didn’t help “The Drew Carey Show” either. The show was prominently featured as an anchor for Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays. Bauder doesn’t think much of the viewing public was interested in sticking with it considering all the moving around.

I think both points are valid, but the second one in particular is worth discussing. Seeing as the show was so popular, ABC felt it had the flexibility to anchor it at any night in the week it chose and good things would happen. Obviously, that wasn’t the case. Thursdays is always a tough draw thanks to NBC’s “Must See TV;” Fridays is never a good night to build a TV night for, unless it’s the pleasant “TGIF” comedy that the network has returned to and Mondays didn’t make all that much sense because the of “Monday Night Football” screwing up the schedule for one-third of each year. In addition, because the show got so popular, Carey, his running mate, Bruce Helford, and other producers often were given the freedom to go ahead abandon the general sitcom premise of the main character (Carey) living his generally pathetic life with his dopey friends and working at a relatively menial job. While many times, the concept would stay relatively in tact, the producers would work in dopey themes like “finding the mistake in the scene” where a story would be told but with a series of mistakes. In addition, they also tried a live improv show where the scenes were generally scripted but the dialogue was not (a la “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). If you love Drew Carey and love the art of comedy improv, that’s terrific. It’s also wonderful to see a show like that take some chances instead of doing the same thing week after week. However, a show being bounced around the network as much as “The Drew Carey Show” probably would have been better off sticking to what made itself so popular instead of alienating potential new viewers on new nights with wacky concepts after the network estranged loyal watchers committed to one night or another. No matter what the reason is, it appears “The Drew Carey Show” pissed too many people off and in the age of cable television, people can just change the channel a couple of hundred times to get away from it and find something else instead. It’s a shame it had to come to that.

Miraculously (or maybe not so much so), Carey does not hold any ill will towards ABC an the network as he was quoted in Bauder’s article as saying:

I don’t have anything bad to say about ABC. I never will. I only tried to do a good show. After that, it’s out of my hands.

Of course, Bauder reported that even it its final season, the star made approximately $600,000 per episode, so why should he say anything bad about the network? After all, he might like to get that money from them again some day.

In the mean time, Carey has already moved and has signed on to develop another comedy pilot again using the improv style of comedy he appears to hold so dear. The show, “Green Screen,” will employ a series of actors to film a series of improv games in front of a green screen and based on studio audience suggestions. Once the games are completed, a separate company will work in animation with the actors based on the audience suggestions.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, The cast of the project includes “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and “The Drew Carey Show” alumni Colin Mochrie, Kathy Kinney, Brad Sherwood, Jeff Davis, Charles Esten, Jonathan Mangum, Greg Proops and Sean Masterson, with Ryan Stiles set to guest star in the pilot.

With a different concept and an established cast of worthy comedians, the show could succeed and Carey could pick up where he left off from his sitcom glory days. Then again, the show is set to air on the WB. That’s usually “Strike One” for any new show debuting on network television.

Nonetheless, I wish him luck with his new endeavor.

Is it me or does this show sound strangely appealing?

When I talked about the popularity of “The Apprentice” several weeks ago after the finale, one of my theories came from people wanting to see “The Donald” (Donald Trump) in action. His name really is synonymous with wealth, success, and luxury. I think it would be interesting to watch that show, at least in part, because it would always be fun and interesting to see Trump show off his penthouse apartment with gold plated everything or one of the ridiculously fancy properties he owns.

Seeing as this is the case, I think the same type of audience will be interested in another NBC reality competition offering titled “The Good Life.” According to Television Week and Zap2it, the show’s premise is that hotel mogul and Paris and Nicky’s mom, Kathy Hilton will host and coach ten women on how to fit in and succeed in the world of the rich and powerful. The show format will be similar to “The Apprentice” and “Survivor” in that one contestant will be eliminated each week until Mrs. Hilton picks one winner. Ten will start out and after an eight-week run, one of the women will be the winner. She will win a year’s stay at the Hilton owned Waldorf Astoria, a series of other prizes, and of course, a Trump-esque dream job where she can show off all the skills she’s acquired over the course of the competition.

Will this show become a phenomenon like “The Apprentice” did? I highly doubt it. In fact, the “haughty taughty” nature of the show rather than the cut throat drama of business might turn some people off, as might the all-female cast. However, the show is still competitive in nature, so people will be able to pick their “favorite” competitor early on. Also, since Paris and Nicky are so popular that the two have become celebrities in their own right, I suspect that, at least out of curiosity, the viewing audience will be interested to see what their mom and her “empire” are all about.

It’s pretty interesting when I can inspire another 411staffer to write to me

Joe Reid, author of the informative, fun, and well-written “The Friday Movie News Happy Hour” for 411movies was nice enough to send me this thought provoking email after reading my piece about the Fox network announcement to debut six new series for the new summer season:

Hey Steve,

Great column as usual. The one aspect of the news I found most interesting was FOX’s new attitude towards scheduling. It’s a huge deal, obviously, and generally I’d be all about the broadcast networks taking a cue or two from their cable counterparts. However, I’ve got some major reservations as to why I think the same might not work for a network like Fox.

For one thing, if they’re trying to imitate the success of HBO, they really need to take a closer look at what HBO is doing. Since HBO is a network that deals primarily in movies, they only have to concentrate on a small handful of series at a time. Right now there are only 3 original series that are running new episodes on HBO (“(The) Sopranos,” “Deadwood” and Bob Costas’ show). When “(The) Sopranos” finishes its season, “Six Feet Under” will start up. After that, I’d suspect “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and/or “Carnivale” to pop up. This way, HBO only has a small number of shows to promote and the viewers only have a small number of shows to keep track of at any given time. FOX is going to be running SIX shows, five of which will be brand new and in need of heavy launch publicity. That’s a lot of balls to have in the air at one time, especially in the summertime when viewership is down.

Secondly, with fewer shows on, HBO is able to really present the cream of the crop in terms of quality and then promote the hell out of these shows so that their airings are an event. I won’t even get into the separate can of worms that is the effect of HBO’s looser standards for language, sex and violence.

I think if you want to look at how networks ARE succeeding by aping HBO’s limited scheduling, look no further than CBS, which is airing “Big Brother” and “The Amazing Race” this summer. These are shows aired out of season, in limited runs and since they’re likely to be the only two shows with new programming this summer, CBS can pimp the shit out of them. Ditto NBC with their two reality shows (“Last Comic Standing” and “For Love or Money”), inferior as they may be. Fox did the same thing with “American Idol” two summers ago.

Lastly and actually the first thing that came to my mind is the damage that a schedule like this might do to fledgling shows from this season. I can’t tell you how many TV shows I’ve gotten hooked on by watching summer reruns and anecdotally I can tell you I’m not alone. By cramming their schedule full of first-run shows, FOX is preventing shows like “The O.C.” or “Tru Calling” from picking up any new viewers over the summer. Hell, if they wouldn’t have pulled the plug on “Wonderfalls” so soon, that show might have been able to build an audience over the summer as well. I am pleased to see “Arrested Development” on the Summer schedule, however.

Anyhoo, take that for what it’s worth. It’ll certainly be a development worth watching as the summer unfolds.

Thanks for the kind words and the insightful comments Joe. I appreciate your contribution. I think he brings up some great points that are worth discussing.

First, if this were 1974 or 1984, Joe’s point about the amount of publicity pumped into a show wouldn’t be terribly valid primarily because with the three-headed monster that ruled the television world known as ABC, NBC, and CBS, huge amounts of publicity wasn’t really necessary when hyping a new show. The viewing audience had three choices and that was pretty much the end of it. However, in the year 2004, publicity and advertising are vital to a show’s success because basic cable for $40 per month offers at least 60-75 channels while digital cable for $20 more per month gets paying customers in the neighborhood of 200 (give or take depending on where you live and who your provider is). Now, the networks are forced to compete with niche channels offering different products to people whether it’s the Golf, Food, or Home & Garden networks. Sure, these networks will never secure the viewership of a network show, but the broadcast networks lose a piece of an audience every time they throw out a clunker series and causes some people to see what Emeril is whipping up on one of his shows.

So, how do you get your shows any attention? Advertising. Promoting a show on your own network and any other network that will take your money. Of course, this strategy isn’t the guaranteed way to make your show successful as huge campaigns devoted to Fox duds “Skin” and “Girls Club” showed, but the amount of publicity it can generate would be hugely beneficial to the new shows in question. This is true during the summer and its magnified even more at the beginning of the traditional television season (September-October) when each of the six broadcast networks is debuting anywhere between four to twelve different new shows in an attempt to catch on with the public. It’s difficult to advertise multiple shows during the summer (when viewership IS traditionally down, good point Joe) and even harder in the fall when the audience returns to a plethora of different, new choices.

Second, in regards to HBO, I think that network is in an interesting position right now. While the network is an outstanding example of how to keep an audience interested with a limited amount of programming, I also wonder about the status of the network. For the longest time, the network’s attraction to viewers is the fact that if they waited long enough, they could see some of the great movies from the previous year at home on their television without having to go to the theatre or the video store. However, with the new cable on-demand services and DVDs being manufactured at an alarming rate not only in number but in close time proximity to the theatre release date, there is a good chance that by the time the movie hits HBO, people can go out to Best Buy, Circuit City, or any electronic store chain and get it pretty cheap. Does this put HBO in a precarious position? The answer to that question right now may be “not yet.” However, it is something worth considering.

Seeing as that’s true, HBO is going to HAVE TO start broadening its focus and services offered to consumers. They’ve already done that with their scripted programs, not to mention their well-done news shows like the ones hosted by Bob Costas and Bill Maher and the always fascinating “America Undercover” series that’s still plugging away.

How does that relate to Joe’s point? I suppose MY position is that HBO’s marketing and programming schedules are brilliant now. Thirteen new episodes of their sparkling series that run three-to-four times per year. In this instance, every time we look at the network on a Sunday night, chances are, a new episode of the newest hot show will be on and HBO can not only advertise their shows, but they can re-air them 10-12 times over the course of a week and end up securing a monstrous number of viewers the same way ESPN’s “Sportscenter” repeats garners huge numbers in total. HOWEVER, my question is: “Will HBO have to change their long term network goals to account for the fact that new movies are always easy to find BEFORE they come on HBO?” If it does happen, HBO may decide to increase the number of series from three at a time to five or six at a time over two different nights of the week. If that happens, they may be in the same boat as the broadcast networks, trying to figure out what to advertise the most for. Hey, it’s just a thought

Finally, I remember when NBC used to run the advertising campaign “It’s new to you.” during the summer months in an attempt to attract people to watch other shows they may have missed during the traditional television season. It always seemed pretty pathetic and desperate to me and the TV critics usually torched them for such a dopey method of getting better ratings for something that wasn’t new. I can’t imagine the networks would resort to such waywardness again despite Joe’s opinion.

Also, two other points to consider: 1) Seeing as the networks generally don’t OWN the actual shows they air and they merely own the broadcast rights to them, they often have to pay ADDITIONAL fees to the studios that do own them for every repeat airing of a certain show. With established franchises like “Friends” and “Law & Order,” chances are, it’s worth paying additional fees for since even repeats of those shows do well enough to secure some decent advertising revenue. However, in the cases of questionable shows “Whoopi” and “Happy Family,” assuming the network might have to pay for those repeats, it isn’t as lucrative for NBC to air repeats. 2) This goes back to keeping viewers interested in what the networks are doing. While some people may take advantage of the repeats to get into a programming, it’s more beneficial to roll the dice and try something new in the hopes it catches on (like Fox did with “The O.C.” last summer) than to air repeats of the same show. This is especially true considering the constant new programming stream on HBO, FX, Comedy Central, and other assorted entities.

While I don’t agree with that particular opinion of Joe’s, he did have one fantastic point, and it was about everyone’s favorite canceled show: “Wonderfalls.” Wouldn’t it have been nice if Fox tried that show again during the summer, especially since several additional new episodes were already taped before cancellation? They could have re-aired the first four episodes, then burn off whatever was already taped and re-evaluate the show’s progress from there. Unfortunately, the network knuckleheads won again. More crap TV for all

Thanks again for your comments Joe and thanks for reading the Groove Tube Update!

Enjoy the show!

— Coogan