Wednesday, Dec. 13
Oliver Platt. Gabriel Byrne. Jennifer Connelly. Lili Taylor. Giancarlo Esposito. Tom Conti. Hope Davis. Bebe Neuwirth. Tom Everett Scott. Jennie Garth. Adam Goldberg.
You could assemble a pretty good feature-film cast with all of the unemployed or soon-to-be-unemployed television actors wandering around New York. That’s because the fall television season has been unusually cruel to this city, as three of the four shows that debuted this autumn have already bitten the dust.
The first New York show to die was Deadline, the Oliver Platt-helmed newspaper show produced for NBC by Dick Wolf. The next casualty was The $treet , Fox’s Wall Street romp from Sex and the City producer Darren Star. The latest is ABC’s Madigan Men , Mr. Byrne’s uncomfortable foray into sitcom acting, which was sacked late last week–oh, sorry, ABC says that Madigan Men was placed on “hiatus,” as if anyone actually expects it to see the New Year.
The sole survivor is Welcome to New York , CBS’ TV news sitcom starring Christine Baranski and Jim Gaffigan. A product of David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants outfit, Welcome to New York has been spared thanks to some good critical reviews and a fortuitous pairing with Bette Midler’s heavily hyped sitcom, Bette .
“We’re very happy to be standing,” said Welcome to New York executive producer Barbara Wallace.
They’re the lucky ones. Suddenly, what looked like a promising new wave of television opportunities in the city looks a lot bleaker. You have Welcome to New York filming in Queens; Mr. Wolf is still renegading around, doing Law & Order and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit ; and then there’s some upcoming Denis Leary comedy cop show for ABC that was filmed in the city. There are various cable shows scattered about, as well as some game show that Regis Philbin is taping somewhere. But losing three prime-time network shows–especially two hour-long dramas–is a major hit to the New York acting community. “It’s too bad,” said Mr. Gaffigan, who is not so far removed from the days of groveling for guest spots himself. “Above anything, I’m an actor in New York, and the more shows, the better.”
Of course, a New York location wasn’t the main reason that these shows flopped. Deadline got a horrible time slot, matched up against Monday Night Football , Ally McBeal and Everybody Loves Raymond . The show’s cast–featuring Mr. Platt, Mr. Conti, Ms. Davis and others–didn’t have time to gel, and its early episodes were weak. The $treet , which Fox seemed to have high hopes for, was led to its inevitable gruesome execution when it was scheduled against The West Wing , a proven hit. And Madigan Men was just a weird idea. (Mr. Byrne may be a fine actor, but the public never thought of him as a barrel of laughs, especially in an Irish-inflected show that would have been more at home on the RTÉ in Dublin.)
Now it’s time to pack it in. Even after its cancellation, Deadline was still shooting episodes until recently, its cast rattling around the old New York Post building on South Street like a bunch of Marley’s ghosts. Elsewhere, the creators of The $treet now have to figure out what to do with the pricey trading-floor set they built over in Chelsea. Some of the equipment, donated by companies like NEC, will now be returned, a spokesperson for the show said. And the people behind Madigan Men will likely find out at the end of this week whether they will be axed for good, or go on “hiatus” until the spring. A spokesperson for the show said the network was “striving to keep the show on,” for whatever that’s worth.
Even though filming in New York is typically more expensive than filming in Los Angeles, Ms. Wallace, the Welcome to New York producer, said she didn’t expect this rash of early cancellations to cause networks to back away from doing shows on the East Coast. There’s too much to be gained from New York as a location, she said. Ms. Wallace’s producing partner, Tom Wolfe, also sounded optimistic. “There are plenty of shows in L.A. that have also had difficulty,” he said.
That’s right, like The Michael Richards Show , which NBC sacked last week. Mr. Richards, America has decided: No more sitcom for you!
Tonight on CBS, watch Mr. Gaffigan and his fellow survivors on Welcome to New York . [WCBS, 2, 8:30 p.m.]
Thursday, Dec. 14
Now it can be revealed: Bill Beutel has a thing for red ties.
“It’s neurotic, I know,” the distinguished WABC anchor said the other day of his superstitious preference. “But it’s only so neurotic.”
Mr. Beutel, 69, said he started wearing red ties on the air long before red was sanctioned as a “power color.” And you’d be inclined to believe him. After all, Mr. Beutel–who recently announced that he’ll be stepping down from the WABC anchor desk in January, after 29 consecutive years on the air and 38 in TV news altogether–ought to know a thing or two about proper neckwear.
He won’t throw out the ties just yet, however. Mr. Beutel will continue to serve as a reporter for WABC, assembling his own crew and filing regular stories on a wide variety of topics–”kind of like a roving reporter,” he said.
That move represents something of a return to Mr. Beutel’s roots. He started as a reporter at WABC, the only one on the fledgling operation’s staff. (He also anchored the thing, too–imagine that, you pampered TV news brats!) “The first newscast I ever anchored here at WABC was Oct. 2, 1962, which was the date of the Cuban Missile Crisis,” Mr. Beutel said. “President Kennedy went on the air at 7 p.m. We’d been on the air at 6 p.m. … we always bragged that we got a big rating for the President.”
Back in those days, Mr. Beutel said, the New York beat consisted of City Hall, the Police Department and “classic places like that.” But Mr. Beutel was also the first local television reporter to go to Vietnam, commencing a new era of expansion in the local news field. “I had to lobby like the devil to get that trip, because it was expensive,” Mr. Beutel confessed. And in the early 1970′s, he and Roger Grimsby helped pioneer the Eyewitness News format of breaking live coverage and on-air chatter.
Mr. Beutel, who has an uncanny memory for specific dates, said that some of his main memories as an anchor came during times of crisis. He recalled the blackout on Nov. 9, 1965, he said, when WABC was unable to go on the air for more than 12 hours. “We were operating by big flashlights,” Mr. Beutel said. John Lindsay, who had just been elected Mayor, came by the newsroom, he recalled. There were run-ins with sources big and small, too. Mr. Beutel said that one of his favorite interviewees was the master builder Robert Moses, who could be difficult, to say the least.
“If he wanted to be tough, [Mr. Moses] could cut your throat,” Mr. Beutel said. “He was one of those guys who could make you look awfully stupid if it was a live interview, and you weren’t prepared and you asked a question he decided [was] stupid … he would call it ‘stupid.’”
Of course, the television news business has changed dramatically since his early years on the beat. According to Mr. Beutel, technology is the biggest difference: “We can get a line out of Bejing today just like that ,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Whereas when I started, you had to arrange things for six weeks ahead of time to get a line and then get budgetary approval from the people who controlled the money.”
But even with improved gadgetry, things don’t always go as planned. Mr. Beutel said that he and Mr. Grimsby used to joke that television news was about the “predictability of malfunction”: “All of us who have done [TV] for any period of time know that you have to be prepared for the thing to fall apart.”
Mr. Beutel said he didn’t take the public’s trust lightly over the course of his lengthy career. “I don’t want to say it’s a heavy responsibility, because it’s not,” he said. “The police, they are there to keep order, but when you walk down the street and people say hello to you and treat you with some kind of emotion, you do feel for that moment as if you are part of the fabric of that community.”
Now if he could only find fabric for new red ties. You’d think he’d have a closetful of them by now, but Mr. Beutel revealed that he is down to about six. “I don’t buy ties that often, and you know why?” he asked. “There isn’t a good store for ties anywhere around the office here. If they had even a Brooks Brothers around here, I would buy more ties.”
Mr. Beutel was asked a final question: Could he beat his good friend and fellow veteran anchor, Chuck Scarborough of WNBC, in an arm-wrestling match?
“He’s younger!” Mr. Beutel said, laughing. “I imagine he would. [win].”
Tonight, watch Mr. Beutel do the news like it was meant to be done. The Eyewitness News at 6 p.m. on WABC. [WABC, 7, 6 p.m.]
Friday, Dec. 15
So Barbara Walters finally gets her wish. Sort of. Ms. Walters had begged the brass at ABC to give her an episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire to lead into her Friday-night edition of 20/20 during the fall. She finally gets her fix, as this episode of the slowly declining show lumbers over from Tuesday nights. Replacing Millionaire on Tuesday nights is The Mole , a reality-based series that marks the end of the journalism career of former ABC News reporter Anderson Cooper, who’s hosting it.
In a related note, it was hard to stifle a laugh when Regis Philbin complained to The Times that he resents the way he and Millionaire are getting “kicked around in the press.” Say what ? We like him, but it’s hard to find a human being on the face of the planet who leads a less examined life than Regis Philbin. Die, Millionaire, die!
Tonight on ABC, the strangely persevering Norm . Norm is like that guy who’s still drinking beer alone in your kitchen when you’re cleaning up after the party. As in, ” He’s still here? Why ?” [WABC, 7, 9 p.m.]
Saturday, Dec. 16
Say this for Joel Cheatwood: If it’s broke, he’ll try to fix it. The new WCBS news director has been behaving like a mad scientist in recent months, doing everything but make his anchors break into song in an effort to bolster ratings for the moribund network flagship. The “new” WCBS news features new splashy graphics, new music, new tricks (like anchors breaking away from the desk for strange, fireside-style chats with their sources) and new talent. Veteran anchor Ernie Anastos comes over from Channel 9 next month to try and make sense of it all.
WCBS has also been clogging the airwaves lately touting its “CBS 2 Information Network” (doesn’t that just roll off the tongue?), a collection of news-sharing partnerships with outfits like Court TV, CNN, Office.com and Hollywood.com. The main commercial, now in heavy rotation, features an authoritative, gray-haired, bearded narrator who solemnly intones at the end of the spot, “The sources. The expertise. Only on the CBS 2 Information Network.”
So this bearded guy, he’s like a WCBS anchor, right? Or he’s a reporter? A producer? Nope. He’s an actor! Some guy named William Morris, who was hired to be the WCBS face of public trust. (And what a face it is: Mr. Morris looks like the runner-up at a Sean Connery look-alike contest.) “He’s very credible, very authoritative,” said a WCBS spokesperson.
In related news, the tag line of the “CBS 2 Information Network” is “Nobody has our sources.” Word is that the joke around the WCBS newsroom is, “And nobody wants them.”
Oh, well. At least they’re trying–and they’re fun to watch. Catch the peppy WCBS experiment today on the CBS 2 News at 11 . [WCBS, 2, 11 p.m.]
Sunday, Dec. 17
This week on the X-Files , two F.B.I. agents and 20 cult members are murdered. Obviously, it’s the Christmas episode. [FOX, 5, 9 p.m.]
Monday, Dec. 18
In tonight’s episode of Ally McBeal , a department-store Santa is fired for being too fat. Certainly no one has been fired from the cast of Ally McBeal for being too fat, now have they? Tell Santa he looks fine! Hurry, before he holes himself up inside the Merv Griffin Resort! [FOX, 5, 9 p.m.]
Tuesday, Dec. 19
Tonight, TNT has something called A Very Special Christmas from Washington D.C. with performances by Jon Bon Jovi, Macy Gray and Wyclef Jean. This sounds like a moderately depressing Christmas, actually. [TNT, 3, 8 p.m.]