Wednesday, Aug. 25
A new ruling by the Federal Communications Commission that allows networks to own more than one television station in a big city could mean pay dirt for Barry Diller, who has for years talked about launching a new local broadcast channel.
He once called the idea City Vision, and it was to hit New York with programming covering night life, news and sports. It would be like a hipper version of New York 1, but available on one of Mr. Diller’s two UHF home shopping channels, 68 or 69. When his plans were complete, Mr. Diller would have had the local superchannels in all the cities where he owns stations. And since they’re broadcast channels, cable companies would have to carry them.
But Mr. Diller’s vision became blurry when his first one, Miami’s WAMI, did just O.K., not stellar. The idea began to lose steam.
Now, with the F.C.C. changing its tune, Mr. Diller is free to find big network partners who can funnel money into his 11 broadcast stations–not to be confused with his USA cable network. Industry sources said preliminary discussions have taken place between Mr. Diller and ABC executives. A possible deal that could arise out of the talks would give WABC, Channel 7, a second broadcast outlet further down the dial. Theoretically, the station would be double-branded with WABC and Mr. Diller’s USA Network.
“Let’s say at 7 A.M., the USA station were to run a locally produced newscast, called 7 on USA or USA Eyewitness News , produced by Channel 7,” said a source familiar with the discussions. “So now, Channel 7 has a national broadcast on one station [Good Morning America] and local news on another station–so they would be able to compete on both levels.” Or, they could run ABC made-for-TV movies and mini-series, which traditionally don’t do much for stations after their initial airings. Or rebroadcast soaps at night.
Such a deal could also, down the line, of course, induce Channel 7 to make a play for the Yankees or another sports team–deals that aren’t done now because the station would not be able to pre-empt its prime-time schedule for games.
Mr. Diller and ABC executives are said to be hashing out the numbers, figuring out how much of Mr. Diller’s empire the Walt Disney Company would be willing to buy into, how much it would be worth, and how much Mr. Diller would be willing to part with.
Sources said nothing is near being called a deal. This is just one set of talks amid several that kicked off in early August, when the F.C.C. loosened restrictions that forbid anyone from owning more than one broadcast station in a market.
For instance, NBC is now in talks with Bud Paxson for his Pax TV network (Channel 31 is the New York affiliate for this obscure network), reportedly to turn his stations into a shopping network like Mr. Diller’s. But scenarios have also been floated that would have Mr. Diller buying Mr. Paxson’s network. Or even CBS or NBC buying into Mr. Diller’s empire. Or CBS buying into Spanish-language WXTV, Channel 41, to give it a presence in a growing market. The list goes on and all of the players are talking, at least cursorily.
ABC executives, Mr. Diller and Mr. Paxson declined to comment on any F.C.C.-related discussions. But no deals will be official until late October at the earliest, when the new F.C.C. regulations are expected to formally take hold.
Tonight, on Eyewitness News , catch the pro, Bill Beutel. [WABC, 7, 11 P.M.]
Thursday, Aug. 26
The transformation is complete. With David Bohrman pushed out as chief of CNN-FN, and Teya Ryan in his place, CNN president Rick Kaplan now enjoys a firm hold over the empire his departed archnemesis, Lou Dobbs, built and controlled over 18 years.
Mr. Bohrman must have seen the writing on the wall long before he was escorted out of his office by a CNN human resources staff member on Aug. 16 and told to pick up his stuff after hours. After all, he wasn’t really consulted when it was decided that his staff would produce new financial programs for Mr. Kaplan’s CNN.
Actually, sources said, Mr. Bohrman was told about the new shows a day before they were announced, in a late July telephone call from Atlanta. On the other end of the wire, sources said, was Mr. Kaplan. Seated nearby was Peter Gralnick, another former lieutenant of Mr. Dobbs who has done a much better job cozying up to the Kaplan regime than Mr. Bohrman did.
Mr. Bohrman often served as Mr. Dobbs’ emissary to Atlanta. During the feuding among Mr. Dobbs, Mr. Kaplan and other CNN executives, Mr. Bohrman was tagged as “Lou’s guy.” Kaplan loyalists at CNN said Mr. Bohrman had every chance to jump right in and work with the Atlanta executives. But he couldn’t. He leaves Ted Turner’s cable news empire with an estimated $700,000 in severance.
All this office politicking has left CNN-FN staff members demoralized. “We should be setting standards of quality! We should be doing better than we are!” said one. Today, watch CNN-FN’s Biz Buzz . [CNN-FN, 27, 6 P.M.]
Friday, Aug. 27
The people who run the New York chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences gave their members a scolding for telling NYTV about an internal debate over whether to hand out Internet Emmys. A confidential memo warned them that failure to keep their mouths shut in the future “may result in a governor’s expulsion from the board.” Oooooh.
Relax, fellas, and remember what we all have in common–a love for fine television. Speaking of which, tonight, Linda Hamilton stars in Secret Weapons , about sexy female K.G.B. agents. [TNT, 3, 8 P.M.]
Saturday, Aug. 28
Mike O’Malley moved out of his Upper West Side apartment about a year ago and went to Los Angeles to work on his own NBC sitcom, The Mike O’Malley Show , set to debut this fall. It’s about a guy who hits 30 and realizes he can no longer live as a slacker. NBC is hoping that Mr. O’Malley, formerly a host of Nickelodeon’s Get the Picture and “The Rick” on those ESPN commercials, can become the poster child for the generation formerly known as Generation X.
But since he’s been out West, Mr. O’Malley has run into trouble. First, he had a tiff with his show-runner, Les Firestein, a veteran of In Living Color and The Drew Carey Show . Mr. Firestein was taking a “co-created by” line in the credits, and Mr. O’Malley wasn’t happy about that. But the Writers Guild of America ruled in Mr. Firestein’s favor.
Then there was the memo. Mr. O’Malley wrote a 19-page memo–more of a manifesto, really–and the thing was promptly faxed around as something to read out loud and laugh at. Among Mr. O’Malley’s pearls: “I’m a martyr for manhood. I want to flourish as a human being.” Another one: “Fate.… What is fate? Fate is a four-letter word designed to comfort irresponsible people who have no sense of duty.” He leaves his writers with this: “As a writer … the rule for me is … Don’t make it funny … until you make it important.” It just wasn’t the kind of thing his seasoned and cynical writers, veterans of shows like Ellen and Cheers , wanted to read.
Mr. O’Malley has also had arguments with Garth Ancier, the new NBC entertainment president, who inherited the show from Don Ohlmeyer and Warren Littlefield. Mr. Ancier told Mr. O’Malley to reshoot his pilot after the first one was panned by critics. Mr. Ancier is said to also be unhappy that Mr. O’Malley has filled his cast with his sister, Kerry, and a good friend, Will Arnett. During a recent meeting, Mr. Ancier directed Mr. O’Malley to dump his friend from the cast. Sources said Mr. O’Malley told Mr. Ancier he had never been treated so poorly in his life and stormed out of the office. The friend stayed.
Reached at CBS Studios, where the show is taping, Mr. O’Malley said Hollywood has dished out far more than he had bargained for. “It bums me out that I’m now this guy who’s being mocked and made fun of in writing rooms across Hollywood,” he said during a shooting break. “At first … it’s like, ‘Look at this! I’m getting my own show!’ And then all of a sudden it gets on and then the heat turns on and you realize … now it’s coming under fire, now stories will be told about you and things will be exaggerated.”
He said he’s most upset by the fact that someone on his staff went and leaked his memo–which he considers a serious betrayal.
Mr. Firestein said everything is fine between himself and Mr. O’Malley and all the mean chatter about his partner is born of jealousy and closed-mindedness.
“There seems to be just an interest to take this guy down,” said Mr. Firestein.
Tonight on Cheers , Diane owes Sam $500. [WPIX, 11, midnight.]
Sunday, Aug. 29
Behind the Music marathon. Bay City Rollers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Tosh. [VH1, 19, all day long.]
Monday, Aug. 30
Gwen Ifill is leaving NBC to go work for Washington’s WETA and contribute to PBS’s Newshour With Jim Lehrer . Tonight on the Newshour : news. [WNET, 13, 7 p.m.]
Tuesday, Aug. 31
Speaking of Juju Chang, her gang over at World News Now –ABC’s late-, late-, late-night, early-, early-, early-morning news show–is soliciting videotapes from viewers who want to be Bryant Gumbel’s co-host on CBS’s Early Show . Those sillies! [WABC, 7, 3:30 a.m.]
Wednesday, Sept. 1
Alan Ball is executive-producing a new ABC show called Oh, Grow Up , about a married couple–in which the husband’s gay–and a bachelor sharing a Park Slope, Brooklyn, house. He said it’s an ensemble cast because he’s had it with TV divas. It debuts this fall. “I spent a year on Grace Under Fire , went back into therapy. Then I spent three years on Cybill , took a year off. That was a very unhappy time for me,” he said. This morning’s Grace Under Fire is called “Things Left Undone.” [WNYW, 5, 11:30 a.m.]
Thursday, Sept. 2
Conan O’Brien is not sure whether he’s going to get another co-host for Late Night With Conan O’Brien now that Andy Richter’s shoving off. He was asked whether he was worried that if he didn’t, he would become a vanity comic by virtue of hosting the show alone. “I’m self-hating,” he said. “So, no, I don’t worry about that.” Tonight on Conan , Scott Wolf, Alison Eastwood. [WNBC, 4, 12:35 A.M.]
Friday, Sept. 3
People say Iron Chef is one of the greatest television shows ever, with Japanese chefs going up against each other in heated competition. The best part is the English dubbing. [Food Network, 50, 10 p.m.]
Saturday, Sept. 4
Catch Mickey Mouse on today’s installment of The Mickey Mouse Club and throw things at the screen. [Disney Channel, 66, 12:30 A.M.]
Sunday, Sept. 5
Spice Girls in Concert: Wild! The dream is still alive. [Fox Family, 14, noon.]
Monday, Sept. 6
Christopher Walken has been shopping around the idea of a television cooking show, starring himself, for a couple of months now. It seems like a cinch. Like, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to air Mr. Walken in an apron, behind a stove, talking in his halted cadence about this or that ingredient. Can’t you hear it now? “These … alfalfa sprouts … are the best … alfalfa … sprouts.” But despite pitches to Comedy Central and the TV Food Network and Bravo, things have been going slowly for Mr. Walken. The producers of the Independent Film Channel’s Split Screen –a quirky magazine show–heard about his idea and called Mr. Walken’s agent to say they’d love to have him do a 10-minute kitchen segment for their show. Mr. Walken signed right on. The end result is something that should be preserved in a museum. Mr. Walken requested two hand-held cameras–for a Walkenian cinéma vérité style–and brought along his pal, Julian Schnabel. Mr. Schnabel prepared a cucumber, cream cheese, horse radish and dried beef sandwich as a warm-up. Then Mr. Walken took over to prepare one of his favorite dishes, something called Exploding Shrimp. He cuts up about a dozen shrimp and then sprinkles some unnamed ingredients on them. Toward the end of cooking his dish, the shrimp catch on fire and Mr. Walken has to hop-to to put the flames down. “It’s sort of a deconstructionist cooking show,” said Doug Stone, the segment producer. “He does everything the opposite of what a normal cooking show does. He doesn’t say what he’s making, he doesn’t say how he’s making it, he never says what the ingredients are.” Just the same, a representative for Mr. Walken warned not to count him out. A couple of outlets are again showing interest in his cooking program, she said. [Independent Film Channel, 81, 8 P.M.]
Tuesday, Sept. 7
60 Minutes II : “The Lost Children.” British orphans are shipped to Australia for adoption, only to wind up doing hard labor and coming under sexual and physical abuse. [WCBS, 2, 10 P.M.]
Peter Bogdanovich’s Movie of the Week
Between the ages of 18 and 31, I saw 34 films directed by David Wark Griffith, generally acknowledged as the first great American filmmaker, if not the first truly epochal director in the world. As a child, I had seen perhaps one or two of his movies when my father took me by the hand to the Museum of Modern Art. But in those years, during which I went from enthusiast to student to apprentice to professional, I realized that, as is often said, it was in fact true that between 1908 (13 years after the first brief projected films) and 1925, D.W. Griffith had pretty much done it all: established the entire popular vocabulary of cinema, and elaborated on it brilliantly and with global impact. Then along came Ernst Lubitsch from Europe–as in: First there was Bach, and then there was Mozart. Within six years, Griffith’s career was over. But 12 years before that, for his 14th feature–after literally hundreds of two- or three-reel masterpieces–he directed, produced, co-wrote and scored one of his most haunting and singular works, among the few cinematic poems ever made, his 1919 tragic romance, Broken Blossoms [Sunday, Aug. 29, Turner Classic Movies, 82, midnight; also on videocassette].
I first saw the film here in Manhattan when I was 19 and the movie was already 39; on an index card at the time–after noting the picture’s subtitle ( The Yellow Man and the Girl )–I wrote: “A classic, this poetic, naïve, technically superb and moving outcry against brutality–a fervent plea for feminine innocence–remains as poignant and effective as it must have been 40 years ago. Griffith tells the story of a wretched, tortured little London slum-girl–her father’s cruel beatings, the brief respite she finds with a quiet Chinaman [not yet politically incorrect nomenclature]–with economy, restraint and artistry; and with beautiful performances by Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess.”
Ten years later, at 29, I saw the movie again, this time in Westwood, Calif., and this time on the card I rated it “Excellent” and added: “More consciously artistic than any other Griffith film, and strangely, not as effective for that reason; it lacks the vigor of Hearts of the World or Way Down East which surround it, and also their cinematic wizardry. Still, it is a lovely work, and something he no doubt wanted to get out of his system–like Ford’s more pretentious works; he was not to return to this style, and it is clearly not as personal to him as things like True Heart Susie or The Birth of a Nation .”
Nearly two decades later, I saw the movie again, a beautiful tinted print–the big-screen original had numerous amazing sequences tinted blue and gold–in Vancouver, B.C., by now having lived a little, having experienced success, failure, love and death of loved ones. At that point, I was only three years older than Griffith’s 44 when he made the picture with such exquisite sensitivity, and I was overwhelmingly moved by Broken Blossoms . There was such extraordinary feeling behind every shot and gesture, every frame, every nuance of every performance, like visual music. But especially the transformingly beautiful and brave Lillian Gish, the living personification of characters about whom they say, “The good die young”; and the amazingly feminine, yet eloquently masculine Richard Barthelmess as the Chinese boy, the role that made him a world superstar. Donald Crisp, as Gish’s father, creates among the most loathsome, and convincing, pathologically violent heavies ever put on film.
Gish, of course, is so incandescent and breathtakingly honest that when you see her use thumb and forefinger to faithfully press upward the corners of her mouth into a valiant smile of grit-filled endurance against the bestial inhumanity of the world, it becomes such a profoundly touching image that it will never leave you. As Orson Welles used to exclaim: “A stone would cry!” Griffith’s Broken Blossoms reminds one of the lyrical, resonant human magic of which the movies once were capable.
Follow Peter Bogdanovich via RSS.