Craig Kilborn: Small Ratings, Big Money

Wednesday June 2

His ratings may be small, but Craiggers is going to be making big money for CBS, according to advertisers.

Since replacing Tom Snyder as host of The Late Late Show , Craig Kilborn has drawn about the same number of viewers as his predecessor–about 1.4 million, which puts the show in second place for the 12:35 A.M. time slot. But based on sales of advertising time that have just been completed for the ’99-’00 television season, Mr. Kilborn will make an estimated $15 million more for the network in one year than the previous host, according to advertising sources. That is because, just as CBS executives had hoped, Mr. Kilborn–with his hair gel and easy sarcasm–attracts 25 percent more viewers between the ages of 18 and 49 than Mr. Snyder did, according to Nielsen statistics. He does even better–75 percent better–with 18- to 34-year-old men, a group considered difficult to reach. And advertisers (foolishly?) are willing to spend more to reach those viewers.

During his May 26 broadcast, Mr. Kilborn made reference to his role at the network. He mentioned that he had some pain in his posterior. Why? “I’m carrying the young demographic on my back for CBS,” he said. “It’s very difficult.”

The guys in the crowd didn’t laugh at that line, but the turn of events has certainly amused CBS.

“Now, at 12:30, it’s a new group of viewers for the most part,” said Mitch Semel, the CBS executive in charge of late-night programming for the network. “Our ad guys are quite happy with us. The ad rates are up substantially and likely will go up even more.”

Advertisers who spoke with NYTV said Mr. Kilborn’s show will fetch between 15 and 20 percent more per 30-second spot starting in the fall; the 30-second spots are going for $15,000 to $20,000.

Mr. Kilborn came up on the network’s radar screen by way of David Letterman, who had become a fan of The Daily Show and mentioned him as the next host of the Late, Late Show , which is produced by Mr. Letterman’s Worldwide Pants.

“Dave said, ‘You ought to be watching this Kilborn guy on cable.’ Dave was such a fan,” said Mr. Semel. “We realized that, without trying to do another version of Dave’s format, or trying to do what Conan does, here was a chance to go after some younger demographics.”

NBC’s Late Night With Conan O’Brien remains off in the distance, with its average of 2.3 million viewers a night and the TV critics cheering it onward.

Will Mr. Kilborn wear well with viewers? So far, the predictions are mixed. Many of the early reviews have been less than stellar, with some critics trashing a comic style that depends on Mr. Kilborn’s vain persona. The punch lines, too, are sometimes absurdly blunt. Take this recent one-liner on Mike Tyson: “Earlier today, taking a mandatory drug test, doctors found an ear floating in his urine.”

Unlike his NBC rival, Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Kilborn does not have a band or a sidekick. He can seem awfully alone out there at times. And given the merry, silly brand of humor over on Mr. O’Brien’s show night after night, Mr. Kilborn’s hard cynicism seems out of step at times.

But Mr. Semel said he was happy with Mr. Kilborn’s shtick: “He’s got a very distinctive sense of humor and a lot of people, not surprisingly, find it snide and like to write it off as frat boy humor and, frankly, the fact that we got any good reviews at all surprised me.”

Billy Kimball, the Late, Late Show executive producer, said he’s not paying much attention to what the show is doing for CBS. “I feel we’ve hit our stride,” he said from his downtown apartment over Memorial Day weekend.

Mr. Kilborn’s guests tonight: Quincy Jones, Tenacious D, and model Sarah O’Hare. [WCBS, 2, 12:30 A.M.]

Thursday June 3

Talk Soup host John Henson, funniest guy on the E! channel, has recently struck a development deal for a show with ABC. But don’t assume that he’ll go on at 12:30 A.M., versus Mr. Kilborn and Mr. O’Brien. “A sitcom suits him, a number of things suit him,” said Rory Rosegarten, who is Mr. Henson’s manager.

Mr. Rosegarten added that his client has not yet decided when he will leave E! [E!, 24, 10 P.M.]

Friday, June 4

Robert Morton, the former David Letterman producer, is tapping into his soft, sensitive side. He has landed, basically, at the yet-to-be launched Oxygen cable network, which is aimed at women and is scheduled to debut in February 2000.

Mr. Morton’s company, Panamort Television, has been hired by Carsey-Warner, which co-owns Oxygen–along with Oprah Winfrey-Mandabach and Gerry Laybourne–to in part develop a slate of shows and scout talent for the embryonic network.

Does he have to get in touch with the feminine him?

“All you want to do is intelligent television,” he said. “If you do intelligent television, people are going to watch.”

You can’t watch Oxygen yet, so tonight, if you’re looking for something about modern women, watch Absolutely Fabulous . [Comedy Central, 45, 10 P.M.]

Saturday June 5

By day, James Greenberg, 31, is a roving reporter for Court TV’s Snap Judgment, the legal channel’s new comic news show. Then comes the night, when Mr. Greenberg, transforms into a tapehead. In his Upper West Side, two-bedroom apartment, he puts together his weekly public access show, Media Shower, a half-hour of rare TV clips and scraps of lost film footage. The clips are followed by Mr. Greenberg’s egghead commentary, making Media Shower a kind of highbrow Talk Soup.

Maybe you’ve seen it in its 12:30 A.M. time slot, “right about the time Saturday Night Live gets really bad,” said Mr. Greenberg. He has shown footage of William Shatner singing Elton John’s “Rocket Man” at a 1976 sci-fi writers convention. “It was sort of before the age of irony, you see,” said Mr. Greenberg. “At that time he was dead serious, man.” He has also shown parts of that special Star Wars TV special George Lucas doesn’t want you to see.

Mr. Greenberg, who was an English major at Cornell University before getting into TV, said he has gotten most of his footage through other friends in the TV business and from regular viewers of his public access show. He’s not exactly sure how many viewers he has, but he gets a lot of calls. “I’m very popular with the gay community, apparently, which is wonderful,” said Mr. Greenberg.

He may be a legit correspondent now, but his heart’s in Media Shower : “There’s this itch that needs to be scratched for some people who need to watch this video.” [Public Access, 34, 12:30 A.M.]

Sunday, June 6

Real World marathon. Hope for the harrowing “Lyme Disease” episode [MTV, 20, all day.]

Monday, June 7

Tom Fontana sounds pretty good for a guy who practically just lost his best friend.

Not long after learning that the Emmy Award-winning television series he created, wrote and produced, Homicide: Life on the Street , would not be returning to NBC in the fall, the Chelsea-based producer looked all right.

“I’m not really pissed off, I’m sad,” he said over a plate of fried chicken and noodles at a Lower East Side benefit for his favorite charity, Arts Genesis, which runs art programs at local schools. “But it is the nature of the business I’m in.”

It’s not like Mr. Fontana’s been left high and dry by NBC’s brutal move. The third season of his HBO prison drama, Oz , kicks off this July. And he’s already developing a new show for UPN about beat cops, The Beat . As with Homicide , its first episode will be directed by Barry Levinson.

In the end, Mr. Fontana, 48, said his show got whacked for the same reason people get killed by the mob: economics. “It wasn’t the ratings,” he said. “They could put a new show up cheaper than putting us on in the eighth year.”

With that, Mr. Fontana’s dinner companion, Celeste Holm, who won the Oscar in 1947 for her supporting role in Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement , piped up: “They’re like a pretty woman who needs a new dress every few weeks,” referring to network executives.

Homicide lives on, as a rerun. [Court TV, 40, 9 P.M.]

Tuesday, June 8

In the penultimate episode of the ’98-’99 season, the NYPD Blue writers killed off Sylvia Costas, the character played by Sharon Lawrence. Ms. Lawrence quit the show, complaining that she wasn’t given enough camera time. So look what happened to her. NYTV asked NYPD Blue supervising producer Bill Clark, a former New York Police Department homicide detective himself, if it’s dramatically legal to just go and kill a character when an actor quits the show.

Mr. Clark, who came to town recently to testify in the Brooklyn Zodiac Killer trial and stayed through the weekend, pleaded innocent. “We don’t kill a lot of people,” he said from a Manhattan hotel room. “I think in six years, to have one of the characters die being murdered and another one dying of natural causes, this is not an epidemic of brutality.”

Maybe not. But with all the tragedies that have befallen Dennis Franz’s character, Detective Andy Sipowicz, there’s a slight Melrose Place danger going on here. Detective Sipowicz has fallen off the wagon; had prostate trouble; lost his son, who was shot to death soon after becoming a cop in Hackensack; lost his partner, Detective Bobby Simone (the heart transplant didn’t take); and now, with Ms. Lawrence up and quitting the show, his wife is among the departed, leaving him to raise his toddler son on his own. Tonight: a rerun about a cop who has troubles with the sauce. [WABC, 7, 10 P.M.]

Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week

Besides Alfred Hitchcock, the other important director of American films whose centenary arrives this summer is George Cukor, and in the first year (of several) he got nominated for a directing Oscar (on Katharine Hepburn’s Little Women ). He also did a remarkable all-star movie that could nearly stand as a time capsule for the state of popular U.S. cinema, circa 1933: Dinner at Eight [Sunday, June 6, Turner Classic Movies, 82, 6 P.M.; also on videocassette] . The nation’s No. 1 box-office attraction, for the fourth consecutive year, was the pug-faced, rotund and aging character actress Marie Dressler, here in her penultimate film. She would be dead from cancer within a year, and this was her last brilliantly personable performance, though not a typical role since she usually played working-class types rather than society women. Three years before, she had won the best actress Oscar in Min and Bill opposite another top favorite, the raspy-voiced and hefty character man Wallace Beery, who also appears memorably in Dinner at Eight , but he plays most of his scenes with Dressler’s antithesis, the original platinum blonde bombshell herself, Jean Harlow, in probably her best, least guarded, and funniest portrayal, as Beery’s equal in gauche, deliriously grasping nouveau-richedom.

This pair is the picture’s comedy high point, but the movie has its potent dramatic moments, too, as the excellently constructed screenplay (by legendary pros Frances Marion, Herman J. Mankiewicz and Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber stage success) steers adroitly from one engrossing character to another, all of them being invited to a fancy dinner party by wealthy businessman Lionel Barrymore (touchingly low-key) and his dizzy social-climbing wife Billie Burke (at her nagging peak). What Billie doesn’t know is that Lionel has developed a serious heart condition and his company is in bad trouble. In even worse trouble is the former matinee-idol movie star, on his last legs, and superbly incarnated by the great John Barrymore in one of his most naked and totally unsentimental performances. Equally convincing is the actor’s fast-talking agent done by Lee Tracy, whose edgy scenes with Jack Barrymore are riveting. And Barrymore’s concluding sequence, when he prepares to commit suicide, is unforgettable, aided in no small measure by Cukor’s superb directional touch of having the character trip and fall badly while going about those desperate final acts. Among other familiar faces in the fine ensemble cast are Edmond Lowe, Jean Hersholt and May Robson.

Produced by David O. Selznick, Dinner at Eight is exactly the kind of literate, civilized, urbane and people-oriented material to which George Cukor was drawn and which he illuminated so beautifully throughout his long career. Born in New York City and having been attracted to the stage as a young man, he made a name for himself as a Broadway director before being coaxed to Hollywood with the arrival of sound. Consequently, he started directing movies at a considerably older age than most of his more cinematically inclined contemporaries, but he also lasted longer. Known for his amazing alchemy with actors, Cukor was responsible for some of the most notable performances in pictures, like Garbo’s Camille and Judy Garland’s A Star Is Born , introduced Katharine Hepburn to films, as well as Jack Lemmon, Judy Holliday, Angela Lansbury and Shelley Winters. His pictures tend to hold up better than the work of many more flamboyantly filmic directors, and Dinner at Eight was among the first in a long line of favorites that include David Copperfield , Holiday , The Women , The Philadelphia Story , A Double Life , Adam’s Rib , Born Yesterday , Pat and Mike and My Fair Lady , for which he finally won his Academy Award. Notoriously, he was fired off Gone With the Wind for not being macho enough to please Clark Gable, but continued to closely coach Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland.