Wednesday, Aug. 14
Comedy Central is cashing out on Win Ben Stein’s Money . The network confirmed on Tuesday, August 13 that is ceasing production on the 5-year-old game show-one of Comedy Central’s longest-running original series -in which contestants went head-to-head with the bespectacled former Nixon speech writer turned actor.
” Win Ben Stein’s Money has been a great success for the network since its launch in 1997, both from a ratings and branding standpoint,” a Comedy Central spokesperson said. “However, it lost a little bit of steam in the ratings department over the course of the last year or so, and as a result, at the end of this year, we will not be making new episodes.”
The spokesperson added that the network has 65 unaired episodes of Ben Stein that it intends to show later this year and next.
But Comedy Central’s decision will bring an eventual end to one of the network’s signature programs. A smart game show with a hip edge-Mr. Stein had already achieved youth icon status thanks to his cameo as a teacher (” Bueller … Bueller … Bueller … “) in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Win Ben Stein’s Money was one of Comedy Central’s most critically acclaimed programs. It won seven daytime Emmy Awards, and was also a TV launch pad for comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who began as Mr. Stein’s co-host before moving on to Comedy Central hits like The Man Show and Crank Yankers. and is now planning an ABC late-night show.
Mr. Stein, who also worked as a Federal Trade Commission lawyer before going Hollywood, was gracious about his game show’s demise. In e-mails, he wrote that while he was “sad” about Comedy Central’s announcement, he was grateful to the numerous people who made the show possible. He called Ben Stein “a dream come true.”
“How many other trial lawyers for the Federal Trade Commission get to win Emmies?” Mr. Stein wrote.
Earlier that day in a telephone interview-before Comedy Central confirmed its plans to stop production-Mr. Stein had expressed hope that Win Ben Stein’s Money would soldier on.
“I will be heartbroken if in fact Comedy Central decides to do no more Win Ben Stein’s Money and nobody else does either,” Mr. Stein said.
Mr. Stein said that if Comedy Central passed on more episodes, the show’s producer, Buena Vista television, would look to move it to another network. The Game Show Network was one idea, Mr. Stein theorized. He also joked about putting it on the Fox News Channel.
“I’d love to bring it to Fox News!” Mr. Stein said. “Fox News is my absolute favorite.”
Even if no one picks Ben Stein up, there was a silver lining for the host. “I think to myself of the agony of losing when I was in that booth, and I think to myself, ‘Well at least I wont have to be in that booth losing and having somebody take my money and feeling stupid because I couldn’t recall the capital of Ohio,’” Mr. Stein said. Though he won most of the time, he estimated that contestants had won “about a million dollars” off him over the years.
Word of Ben Stein ‘s ouster from Comedy Central first surfaced in an Aug. 13 posting on the Web site Tvbarn.com. Comedy Central also may have foreshadowed its intentions earlier this year when it moved Ben Stein to 5 p.m. from its traditional slots at 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., the latter slot after the hit Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Mr. Kimmel, whose cousin, Sal Iacono, now occupies the role he himself once held on Ben Stein, called the show’s new time “lousy.”
“It’s not the Match Game- it’s not a game show for old ladies,” Mr. Kimmel wrote in an email. “At five in the afternoon, it never had a chance to work.”
Mr. Stein himself will not want for work. An accomplished author and public speaker, he has a flurry of upcoming books-including a self-help tome entitled How To Ruin Your Life -and speeches at schools including the University of Arkansas and Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He is also at work on a screenplay about the World War II, and is planning a talk show pilot with Warner Telepictures.
“I have very busy days,” Mr. Stein said. But on this night, he was headed to Las Vegas with Mr. Kimmel for Mr. Iacono’s bachelor party.
Par-ty! Betcha the Comedy Central accounting department gets a nice expense tab from that trip! Today, Comedy Central unloads a two-hour blast of Crank Yankers . [COM, 45, 8 p.m.]
Thursday, Aug. 15
It’s not all bad news for TV Steins this week. It looks like Time magazine columnist Joel Stein’s oft-delayed VH1 show is finally going to see daylight. Entitled Hey Joel , it’s an animated series about a guy named Joel who works as an intern at VH1 and gets himself a show where he interviews celebrities, puts his foot in his mouth, and high jinks ensue. Kind of like Mr. Stein’s day job, minus the appearances by Time managing editor Jim Kelly.
You may remember that Mr. Stein’s relationship with VH1 extends back a couple of years, and the correspondent wasn’t always sitting pretty in the music network’s penthouse. More than a year ago, he wrote a Time column about receiving an e-mail from a VH1 executive-with critical notes on a script draft not intended for Mr. Stein’s eyes. (It was an e-blunder.)
Well, whaddaya know: The beaten-up Joel is going to make it onto VH1 after all. The network has ordered 13 episodes of the show with the idea of airing them in January or February 2003, Mr. Stein wrote in an e-mail this week.
“We’re almost done making them,” Mr. Stein wrote, “though the nice people in Canada who do all the drawing stuff won’t be done until Jan or so.”
Tonight on VH1, a Diary of the increasingly aggravating Pink, who should be appearing in Cabaret by June 2003 or so. [VH1, 19, 11 p.m.]
Friday, Aug. 16
If you’re wondering where all the skinny, sensitive men with chunky glasses and Puma suedes who daydream about writing for Conan O’Brien are this weekend-they’re not at the Wilco-mentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart , they already saw that three times, bro , and it fricking rocked -they’re at the Culture Project at 45 Bleecker seeing their comic musexpot Sarah Silverman in her one-woman show, Jesus Is Magic.
“It’s stand-up with a couple of songs,” Ms. Silverman said the other day, putting on the heavy sales pitch. “That’s all it is.”
Ms. Silverman didn’t sound too glum about the cancellation of her Fox TV show, Greg the Bunny. Though the show had an absurd premise-talking bunny, bro -the risky Ms. Silverman had an uncharacteristically buttoned-up role.
“I loved the people and I had so much fun doing it, but I don’t know if I’m a sitcom type,” Ms. Silverman said. As for her acting future, she said she wasn’t going to “get excited about anything unless I write it myself-or it’s inspired.”
But then she added: “I’m happy to read anything!”
Ms. Silverman, of course, took a little bit of a licking last year for using the epithet “chink” during a joke on Late Night with Conan O’Brien . Though part of her wanted to put the incident and public upbraiding behind her-”Just forget about it”-she said the episode also had caused her to think more about language in comedy.
“It really has become what I am interested in, the whole question of race and taboo and lines and what is politically correct and incorrect and what that even means and who’s associated with it and why,” she said.
Still, Ms. Silverman said she didn’t consider herself to be much of a risk taker. Taking a risk means a threat of losing something, she said.
“The truth is I have nothing to lose,” she said. “The people who are taking risks are people like Frank Smiley, the segment producer at Conan O’Brien, who lets me do that kind of stuff.”
On another front, Ms. Silverman said that she was disappointed by The Anna Nicole Show, which she had high hopes for.
“At first I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is amazing, incredible, love it, love it, love it,’” she said. “But then it was like, ‘I don’t feel right standing by and watching this.’”
“It just felt really ugly, so sad,” Ms. Silverman continued. “At least with The Osbournes, they all stand on their own two feet and they are a family. This woman, it’s like watching a gang rape … it’s really the essence of exploitation.”
Ms. Silverman said she was more hopeful for the upcoming late-night show on ABC from Mr. Kimmel, whom Ms. Silverman has worked with on Crank Yankers .
“I think that show is going to be awesome,” she said. “Because he doesn’t give a shit.”
Tonight on ABC, America’s Funniest Home Videos , hosted by the mysteriously white-hot Tom Bergeron. [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]
Saturday, Aug. 17
Even as E! gets creamed by the critics-and Sarah Silverman!-for Anna Nicole, the curiosities reality bandwagon rumbles on. VH1 continues to prep for its highly hyped Liza and David series, which will chronicle the exciting and busy, busy, busy lives of singer Liza Minnelli and new husband/manager David Gest. A VH1 spokesperson said that the Minelli-Gest Upper East Side abode is set to be fitted with lights and TV equipment, which will surely fit in nicely next to handsome twin pianos they keep for late-night renditions of “But the World Goes ‘Round.” Filming of Liza and David is set to start in late September, with a premiere episode in late October or early November.
Tonight on VH1, another “repurposed” installment of Rerun Show . Lame on NBC, impressively duller on VH1! [VH1, 19, 7 P.M.]
Sunday, Aug. 18
Everyone’s harping on bad, bad baseball these days-strike, steroids, greedy owners, greedy players, the Mets in general-but as far as television goes, the game is in surprisingly improved health. Baseball’s windy protectorates love to ramble on that the sport’s popularity as television entertainment has passed, and while it’s true that ratings are way down from their peak, the numbers for this season have taken a notable upturn. Ratings for Fox’s national baseball telecasts are up 12 percent overall for 2002, and it’s not just The Summer Game -thumbing geezers tuning in. Fox baseball telecasts are up 31 percent in the 18-to-34 age demographic-that’s like, you know, the demo everyone wants-and 19 percent in the 18-to-49 demo.
Why the increase? The main reason appears to be the fact that those freaking fat-cat major-market teams are doing very well this year. The Yankees, Boston, Los Angeles, Arizona, St. Louis and San Francisco are all contenders this year. Even the Mets, as underachieving as they are, are still in it. This translates to larger-and younger-numbers for Fox.
Of course, this information does play into the hands of baseball’s doomsdayists, who argue that television earnings-the local TV moola, that is, generated by outfits like YES-have tipped the competitive balance grossly in favor of major-market teams. They’re right, of course. But if revenue sharing and balancing means we here in New York are gonna have to sit through a Royals-Rangers late season tilt ….
And sources said that even with all the hand-wringing about a strike, Fox has sold 85 percent of its commercial time for the 2002 baseball postseason, ahead of where it was at the same time last year. Should there be a strike and a canceled playoff series, some of these advertisers will be routed into Fox’s N.F.L. coverage.
Tonight on Fox, Malcolm in the Middle . That Malcolm, he’s always in the middle! [WNYW, 5, 9 p.m.]
Monday, Aug. 19
Meanwhile, CNN’s still-under-wraps Sixth Avenue set for the Paula Zahn a.m. show American Morning showed some signs of life recently. They busted out the ticker! For those of you harboring Big Conspiracy Theories about cable television-and come to think of it, Brit Hume’s looking more and more like one of those critters in Signs -here’s another salacious tidbit: The ticker is Blue! As in Al Gore voting, brie-scarfing, tree-hugging media elite Blue! And Fox’s ticker, just a couple of blocks down, is Red! As in Bush country Red! Wait-now we can’t remember-were the Al Gore voting brie-scarfing tree-hugger elites the blues or the reds? Note: The Today show’s ticker is red.
Tonight on Larry King Live, Larry’s suspenders are … yellow! [CNN, 10, 9 p.m.]
Tuesday, Aug. 20
America’s pursuit of its next Falco continues apace tonight on American Idol. [WNYW, 5, 9 p.m.]