Wednesday, June 20
You want your New York Times TV! Well, listen here, smarty-pants: Unless corporate America ponies up the big bucks, you ain’t getting it anytime soon.
Late last year, the nation’s Maureen Dowdies and Paul Krugmanoholics were gleefully tapping their Rockports at the prospect of an 11 p.m. New York Times -run newscast on PBS. Called National Edition , the show was to be a partnership between The Times and MacNeil-Lehrer Productions. Its boosters pledged that it would be a brainy, fact-intensive antidote to the crap on the local news.
“This really is designed as a viable option to body bags at 11 p.m.,” MacNeil-Lehrer spokesperson Robert Flynn told The Observer in early December.
Well, the summer interns are here, and National Edition is no closer to lift-off. There had been rumblings the show was being delayed; in fact, things now sound worse than they did six months ago. The big problem? The Times and MacNeil-Lehrer can’t find a fat-walleted sponsor to pay for their sophisti-newz operation.
“We don’t have the funding for it,” Mr. Flynn said flatly in a recent interview. “We [MacNeil-Lehrer] and The Times are both still supportive of it, interested in it … but until we get funding, it is what it is.”
Hey, that sounds like a catch phrase! ” The New York Times’ National Edition : It is what it is!”
Mr. Flynn said that the economic downturn was largely to blame for the newscast’s delayed status, as major corporations are holding back on advertising and promotional budgets. “Companies are not rushing to make decisions right now,” he said. “Everybody’s taking a wait-and-see attitude.”
That means this gig’s on indefinite hold, and that’s unfortunate news for The Times, where television is seen as a key component in publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s vision for the company. While The Times has made other forays into the medium–including news partnerships with ABC News, PBS’ Frontline and the National Geographic Channel– National Edition is seen as a potential franchise program, one that would both utilize and promote The Times ‘ substantial news-gathering operation.
Phone calls and an e-mail message from an Observer reporter to Times assistant managing editor Michael Oreskes, who is overseeing the paper’s television efforts, were not returned. For his company’s part, Mr. Flynn said MacNeil-Lehrer Productions remained “positive and excited” about National Edition .
While we wouldn’t name names, Mr. Flynn said the type of companies being solicited for sponsorship were strictly of the Fortune 500 ilk. The plan, he said, is still for National Edition to be a top-tier, well-produced (read: expensive) outfit.
“If we’re going to be in it, we have to do it the right way,” Mr. Flynn said. “This really can’t look like Andy Hardy turning a barn into a theater and putting on a show. It’s got to pass the smell test. Both organizations have such high quality levels that to do anything less than blue-chip would be an abomination.”
Well, New Yorkers, that means you can scrap your low-rent visions of a Gray’s Papaya New York Times National Edition , with Bob Herbert and Frank Rich reading their columns out loud, or cheeky live shots of restaurant critic Bill Grimes chasing feral chickens in his Astoria backyard. In fact, you should put any visions of National Edition on hold for a long, long while.
“We’re still eager,” said Mr. Flynn, “but we’re realistic.”
Tonight, catch the eager and unrealistic game show You Don’t Know Jack , hosted by the suddenly re-aggravating Paul Reubens. [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]
Thursday, June 21
That’s My Sitcom in Limbo ! Remember all the fuss this spring about Comedy Central’s That’s My Bush! , the sitcom from South Park potty-mouths Trey Parker and Matt Stone? Comedy Central went totally loony promoting the thing. The show got one of the biggest marketing campaigns in the network’s history and scored a record rating (for a Com Central debut) when it premiered in early April.
And then … eh. For all its initial shock value (parodying an existing President, naughty jokes, hardee har har ), That’s My Bush! quickly plateaued in the ratings, averaging about a 1.5 (about 1.5 million households), and a 1.0 in Comedy Central’s much-vaunted 18-to-49 age demographic. Okey-dokey numbers by the C.C. standard, but not exactly a boffo hit, either.
So now it’s June, and That’s My Bush! sits on the TV fence. The show got bumped from its Wednesday, post- South Park slot to Thursdays in order to make way for Primetime Glick ‘s fat toosh. “We’re still waiting to make a decision about whether we’ll bring it back for a second season,” said a Comedy Central spokesperson.
One issue with That’s My Bush! is the show’s cost. It’s well known that the live-action gagfest is a fairly expensive program for Comedy Central, and its price tag could figure into the decision whether or not to bring it back. But the C.C. suits do think that Bush! is funny, apparently. “As far as the quality of the show, no one questions that,” said the Comedy Central spokesperson.
Of course, the colossal mistake on Messrs. Stone and Parker’s part was their uncharacteristically kind-hearted decision to exclude Jenna and Barbara Bush from the That’s My Bush! cast. Talk about cutting your good material, you boneheads …. [CMDY, 45, 10 p.m.]
Friday, June 22
Speaking of … daughters, New York-based actress and downtown scenester Drena De Niro recently made her directorial debut with the short documentary Girls and Dolls . The film makes its TV premiere tonight as part of Thirteen/WNET’s “Reel New York” series.
We know what you’re thinking: great, another indulgent piece of brain-dead doodie from a young twerp with a famous last name. But in this case, you’d be wrong. The life story of Robin Newland, a grown woman who copes with the pain and turmoil in her life by constructing an elaborate fantasy world occupied by hundreds of Barbie-type dolls, Girls and Dolls is a surprisingly tender, if weird, piece of filmmaking.
Speaking by phone from Los Angeles, where’s she’s filming the thriller Showtime with père Robert, Ms. De Niro met Ms. Newland years ago, when the two were fixtures in clubland. Ms. De Niro, a former model and D.J., once accompanied Ms. Newland, a fashion stylist, on a business trip, where she discovered her friend’s curious plastic passion.
“I came to visit her in her room, and she pulls out this bag of dolls,” Ms. De Niro recalled. “I was like, ‘What’s this about?’ and she started telling me all about them, when she started collecting them and everything. I just thought, ‘One day, I’m going to make a film about this.’”
Girls and Dolls , which runs 23 minutes, took Ms. De Niro about two years to complete. She wasn’t thrilled with an early version, and she redid various portions along the way, with a new crew and producers.
“There were times when I was like, ‘Oh my God, get this film away from me! When is the money going to stop pouring out? When can we just end this?’” Ms. De Niro said. “Ultimately, though, I’m happy I did it.”
And so is Giorgio Armani. The snow-haired creator of the unconstructed suit apparently laaaahhhved Girls and Dolls , and now wants Ms. De Niro, an old pal, to direct an upcoming commercial campaign. Dig out those dolls, Robin! [WNET, 13, 10 p.m.]
Saturday, June 23
D’oh! Or should we say, (ANNOYED GRUNT)?
Etymologists around the globe–as well as every lazy, slightly pear-shaped 21-to-36-year-old Ivy League male still watching back-to-back Simpsons every night because they’re too racked with jealousy to open the New Yorker ‘s “New Fiction” issue–got a big chuckle last week when none other than the Oxford English Dictionary announced it was adding Homer Simpson’s trademark “D’oh!” to its thin pages.
“It’s really an honor to be included in a book that contains so many other words,” Simpsons executive producer Mike Scully wrote in an e-mail to NYTV. While grateful for the recognition, he informed NYTV that the word “D’oh!” (now that it is a word) never actually appears in Simpsons scripts.
“It is always written as (ANNOYED GRUNT),” Mr. Scully wrote. “Actor Dan Castellaneta, who plays Homer and many other characters, came up with the sound, basing it on an exasperated noise often made by actor James Finlayson, who was a frequent foil of Laurel and Hardy in their movies. Dan shortened Finlayson’s stretched out ‘D’oohhhh’ to ‘D’oh.’
“Kids should know this if it’s going to be on their vocabulary tests,” Mr. Scully concluded.
Kids, you are hereby warned. You are also warned about tonight’s repeat of 12 Monkey s on ABC. No, Brad Pitt is not great in it–give us a break! He’s O.K. [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]
Sunday, June 24
While Kate Hudson and her scarecrow-esque hubby, Chris Robinson, stroll through Soho looking for frozen banana custard, you sweat in your humid apartment and make it through a shocking 112 minutes of Kurt ‘n’ Goldie in Overboard . [TNT, 3, 8 p.m.]
Monday, June 25
Hearts across the Atlantic were breaking last week at the news that Daljit Dhaliwal–the Kelly Ripa of the Economist crowd–had done gone and gotten herself engaged to Lee Patrick Sullivan, some lucky bastard television journalist who used to be on Mike Bloomberg’s payroll.
Now, you might think that the folks at Thirteen/WNET–which presents World News for Public Television along with U.K. partner ITN–might downplay the news of their lovely anchor’s impending marriage, for the same reason that, well, ‘N Sync’s managers aren’t so psyched about those omnipresent Justin-Timberlake-marrying-Britney-Spears rumors. (Don’t do it, girl!) After all, celebrity rule No. 1: Don’t alienate your lusty audience!
Well, no one told those nuts at Thirteen/WNET. The public-television outfit went bazonkers about Ms. Dhaliwal’s engagement, firing off both fax and hard-copy releases detailing the news. They also sent a spiffy new photograph of the World News star, a smiling, soft-lensed portrait that would work quite nicely on the cover of Seventeen .
“I think it came down to the fact that Thirteen and public television don’t have a lot of celebrities, beyond Jim Lehrer and Bill Moyers, if you will,” said Marc Fenton, a Thirteen rep, explaining the decision to promote Ms. Dhaliwal’s marriage. “We thought it would be good to get it out there.”
Mr. Fenton said he didn’t think the publicity blitz would deter World News ‘ audience, even those fans who, let’s just say, aren’t really interested in the upheaval in the Bundestag.
“It’s funny. My assistant and I joked about how [David] Letterman is certainly going to be disappointed,” Mr. Fenton said, referring to the talk-show host’s well-known affection for Ms. Dhaliwal. But, “given the hard news aspect of the program, I don’t think ratings are going to diminish too significantly.”
Yeah, well, they said the same thing when Joanie decided she loved Chachi, and look what happened to them.
Tonight, Ms. Dhaliwal makes her spurned viewers’ knees buckle with heart-stopping reports from romantic places like Sierra Leone. [WNET, 13, 6 p.m.]
Tuesday, June 26
Tonight on Spy TV , the latest belch from the increasingly schlock-o-rama NBC: A pizza-delivery guy wanders into a motel room only to find doctors … performing surgery! Hey, they can’t all be Frasier ! [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]