NBC’s Very Own SoHo Comedy Club … Scrooge Versus W.W.F.

Wednesday, Dec. 1

NBC plans to open its own comedy club in SoHo.

We repeat: NBC plans to open its own comedy club in SoHo.

Located at Sixth Avenue and Spring Street, it will be called PS NBC. It’s scheduled to open in January.

“The talent pool in New York was really under-mined,” said NBC Entertainment president Garth Ancier. “We felt there were a lot of people here in New York we could find first and put in NBC shows and develop into stars.”

Translation: Sign ‘em up to restrictive contracts when they’re young and cheap and willing to do anything to be in show biz. (That’s just a joke, NBC! Sort of.)

The NBC theater will be set up inside the Here Arts Center on Sixth Avenue, and will seat 99 people. It will run Mondays through Thursdays starting at 7:30 P.M. The way it’s currently being structured, the network will allow amateur comedians, actors and writers to try out their material there, but they will have to sign a contract giving the network first dibs on their stuff. The audience gets in free.

The plan for PS NBC seems to mirror the idea behind the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, on West 22nd Street, which the Comedy Central troupe uses to promote and pass on its brand of comedy and mine talent for its show. That room has become a haunt for all the comedy stars in town. Saturday Night Live ‘s Horatio Sanz is a regular there, as are Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter-all NBC players. HBO runs a similar talent mill in Los Angeles. The NBC theater is the brainchild of top network talent scout, Marc Hirschfeld.

This year, NBC came up with no new comedy hits-in fact, it hasn’t, really, since the days of Seinfeld and Friends . Neither has any other network, but NBC has the deepest comedy tradition. Underscoring the network’s troubles, its once-invincible Thursday night comedy lineup took some hits during the November sweeps. ABC’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire beat Frasier on Nov. 18-marking the first time an ABC show had defeated an NBC competitor on a Thursday since 1983, when Too Close for Comfort beat Gimme a Break . And on Thanksgiving, the Shania Twain concert on CBS drew more younger viewers-ages 18 to 49-than NBC’s Just Shoot Me . That’s the key group of viewers NBC usually has a lock on.

So the network is turning to the people who do actual funny stuff. Earlier in the week, it announced that Marci Klein-daughter of fashion designer Calvin Klein and longtime SNL producer-will run a new entity called Saturday Night Live Studios Television, which will develop new comedies for prime time. That came months after NBC gave a prime-time development deal to Mr. O’Brien. Mr. Hirschfeld said, however, the theater will also be open to playwrights and dramatic actors. No comedy on NBC tonight, just Law & Order . [WNBC, 4, 10 P.M.]

Thursday, Dec. 2

What got into that Rupert Murdoch? There he was on his own Fox News Channel on Nov. 23, saying that Jack Welch, chief executive of the General Electric Company, had offered NBC to Time Warner Inc. for $25 billion. And then there were NBC and Time Warner officials both denying it, outright. The denials were believable because both organizations usually give a “no comment” when asked about deals in the making, whether they’re in the making or not.

Well, NYTV’s sources say, indeed, informal discussions were held between the two sides. But that was months ago, very preliminary and informal. So when both sides denied it, they weren’t lying, exactly-which would be a big no-no in the eyes of the Federal Communications Commission-since Mr. Murdoch set it up like this: “That’s something that’s going on at the moment.”

When Mr. Murdoch spoke of the deal, he said, “One or two well-known people on the board are very much in favor of buying it, and the rest are very much opposed to it.” That’s consistent with the inside dirt that’s been circulating on Wall Street for weeks, which has it that Mr. Murdoch’s archenemy, Ted Turner, is in favor of buying NBC, while Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin is against it. The reason: As Time Warner president Dick Parsons told the Financial Times recently, there would just be too much regulatory trouble, since Federal rules prohibit a company from owning a cable system and television station in the same television market.

Still, sources told NYTV, Mr. Welch would like NBC to go to somebody, sometime before he retires in 2001.

Anyway, shouldn’t Mr. Murdoch worry about other things, like the performance of his Fox Network, which is struggling this season? Actually, he is, and told his shareholders that he expects results soon, or else! Tonight, the network’s ailing sitcom, Action , returns from sweeps purgatory, with two episodes in a row. [WNYW, 5, 9 P.M.]

Friday, Dec. 3

& Peter Jennings is gearing up for his big millennium special. For 24 hours, starting in the very early morning hours of Dec. 31, Mr. Jennings will anchor ABC 2000 , which will take viewers to different New Year’s celebrations around the world. News executives at ABC said they believe Mr. Jennings will be setting a broadcast record (though they think some news anchors could have come close after John F. Kennedy was assassinated). The only chances Mr. Jennings-who will be broadcasting from ABC’s new Times Square glass studios-will have to grab a bite or use the facilities will be during commercials and remote segments. “As it is currently scheduled, there will be no time for me to sleep,” he told NYTV. “I may collapse, I don’t know. But if you have a chance, as journalists do on some occasions, to share the whole thing, you’ll somehow figure out how to go without sleep.”

Will he go batty?

“I’m not sure I have to be dignified. To be dignified for the entire 24 hours would be out of character,” he said. “I do think the energy of the occasion will carry many of us through it.”

Tonight, see him on World News Tonight on ABC, where more Americans get their news than … wait a minute, how’s that thing go again? [WABC, 7, 6:30 P.M.]

Saturday, Dec. 4

R Les Moonves, CBS’s president, and the producers and stars of the network’s upcoming mini-series, Jesus, had a sit-down with Pope John Paul II to discuss their upcoming project. Mr. Moonves and the producers met with His Eminence on Thanksgiving Day after presenting him with the general points of the screenplay. But that was all formality. Apparently, the Pope had no “notes,” as they say in the business. Before the Vatican meeting, the Pontiff’s representatives screened the film and gave it two holy thumbs up.

After the presentation, each of the 30 people in the delegation-including stars Jacqueline Bisset and Jeremy Sisto and producers Lorenzo Minoli and Judd Parkin (who said it was hard to get an audience with the Pope?)-cued up in a receiving line and bowed in front of the Pope before he told the seated group that they had his full backing.

“He said that he was very proud of the production done and he thought that it seemed like this was a dialogue between culture and faith, which is very interesting because I think he’s right,” said Mr. Minoli just after returning from Rome. “I think using the media to entertain people and having a chance to give something more than just entertainment is a good thing.”

Fanatical readers of this column may recall that CBS did its bit in bridging the gap between modern culture and the Christian faith last summer by issuing a press release on the film that reduced the entire story of Jesus to just 570 easy-to-digest words. Among the pearls: “Jesus ultimately chooses 12 apostles to be His special helpers” and “After an emotional, deeply symbolic Last Supper with His apostles, Jesus is arrested and passed from leader to leader in order to meet His fate.”

Mr. Moonves was not available to comment on what was termed as a “solemn” meeting by his representatives at CBS. For a little taste of that old-time religion tonight, catch the Pax network’s Shout to the Lord 2000 , late night. [WPXN, 31, 1 A.M.]

Sunday, Dec. 5

Robert Halmi is the Hungarian guy who came to the United States with nothing 50 years ago and now makes all those big budget network television movies under the Hallmark Entertainment banner. For instance, you have him to thank for The Odyssey , the Magical Legend of the Leprechauns , Merlin and Cleopatra . All are family-oriented movies based on classic tales. Tonight, you can watch his latest, A Christmas Carol , on TNT starring Star Trek ‘s Patrick Stewart, who made ‘em weep and laugh on Broadway in recent years with his almost desperate one-man-show version of the Dickens tale.

Mr. Halmi is 75 years old and has been around the block-his first job in New York was as a diaper salesman-so it’s no great thing for him. But he does have one goal for the film: He said he wants it to pull better ratings than wrestling, which disgusts him.

“The Turner wrestling numbers are huge,” he said. “I want to beat those numbers with culture and literature-the same way that I beat in Spain the bullfighting. What I’m trying to say is that I 100 percent believe that mythic programming can do as well as any exploitation type of program.”

But Mr. Halmi said he understands why wrestling is doing so well: “It’s armchair aggressionism. You’re not going to get hurt, but the other guy is going to get hurt and that’s good. It goes back to the gladiators, it goes back to all kinds of stupid things. This should not be a prime-time family event-kids just get bad vibes from it.”

You’re harshing our mellow, dude. [TNT, 3, 8 P.M.]

Monday, Dec. 6

Suddenly Susan is hanging by a thread, with NBC deciding to shift it to Mondays (back to dear, beloved Suddenly Su -Monday!) before it falls off the network schedule in January, probably until the summer.

A measure of just how in the tank this Brooke Shields show is: Check out what its creator, Clyde Phillips, said about it on Yahoo the other night: “I think the show sucks. When Brooke and I first started doing the show, we had a whole other vision. Sadly, it’s not what NBC wanted, and now they have what they have.”

One could argue that the show has been miserable from its very first outing. Mr. Phillips, however, has his own problems to deal with. His Get Real is flirting with cancellation. After he finished producing the first 13 episodes, Fox ordered only four more-five short of the standard 22 that fill an entire season. Word is that Fox still wants to evaluate the show, and might not have even ordered the four if it hadn’t been for heavy Internet lobbying by small segment of the show’s small following.

Tonight’s episode of Suddenly Susan , where she kisses Leif Garrett, is supposed to be better than usual, say the show’s producers. [WNBC, 4, 8 P.M.]

Tuesday, Dec. 7

We’ve judged the producers of Judging Amy , and we find them guilty-guilty of making great television! Tonight on Judging Amy , the house is full of people, and they’re all acting crazy! [WCBS, 2, 10 P.M.]