Conan Writer Wonders … Pop-Up Guy Drops Acid … MTV Snubs Boy-Band Show of Corporate Sibling ABC

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Late Night With Conan O’Brien ‘s head writer, Jonathan Groff, is thinking over his options. He said he and his wife, Martha Chowning, are expecting a baby in June. He can’t help wondering if he’ll be able to keep up the pace of doing comedy on a deadline, four times a week. “We do a lot of character stuff, a lot of sketchy stuff that is difficult to generate,” Mr. Groff said. “It’s labor-intensive.” So his plans are vague.

NYTV asked him what was up after a little bird tweeted to us that he might leave the show before September, which would mark his fifth year as head writer.

“I actually don’t know exactly what my deal is,” he said.

Mr. Groff ended up writing for Conan O’Brien after doing brief stints writing for The Jon Stewart Show (its MTV incarnation), followed by a gig writing for Comedy Central’s Short Attention Span Theater . Before moving to New York in 1993, Mr. Groff did standup in Boston.

Mr. Groff was brought onto Late Night after submitting a packet of material that included a bit about a black a cappella quartet singing insulting things about Conan O’Brien in lush four-part harmony, which aired almost immediately after he was hired. Nine months later, he was promoted to head writer.

Mr. Groff said that in the event he does leave Late Night he won’t be straying far; he has a deal with NBC (separate from Mr. O’Brien’s own production deal with NBC) that includes developing sitcoms.

Tonight on Late Night : the guy who makes NYTV embarrassed to be liberal, Tim Robbins. [WNBC, 4, 12:35 A.M.]

Thursday, Mar. 9

Has a synergy deal ever looked sweeter? MTV Productions’ Making the Band , a Real World -meets-Backstreet Boys reality show debuting March 24 on ABC, seems like a recipe for making money. First, you gather 25 racially diverse 19-year-old guys, all of them hot, all of them with an affinity for hair gel, and you put them through the rigors of a tryout for Lou Pearlman, the guy who concocted boy bands N’Sync and Backstreet Boys. Select the eight most talented fellas, toss them into a lake house in Orlando, Fla., and film them every moment. Next, simply shitcan the three kids who aren’t fitting in and sign the remaining five boys to a big fat contract. Call them O-Town (after Orlando, duh ). Give ABC parent company Disney the option of releasing their records on their house label, Hollywood Records. Watch their reactions as they read in the papers about Mr. Pearlman’s vicious legal battle with his old boy band, N’Sync.

Then, air 22 half-hour episodes detailing, as their press materials puts it, “their transformation from ordinary young men to rising pop stars,” on ABC in prime time. Then just sit back and wait for the moment when every 11-year-old girl in America decides that O-Town so rocks . If it works, everybody wins. Network advertising revenue pays MTV to produce a show that advertises a Disney product. Heck, the guys could even check out Disney World in a very special episode. The capper would be that MTV would air O-Town’s videos, a necessary part of breaking a band.

Not so fast!

“The synergy is not as high as you’d think,” said Ken Mok, president of MTV Productions and the executive producer of Making the Band . He came up with the concept last August while in New York for meetings at MTV’s Times Square headquarters. On that trip he found himself unable to maneuver past the screaming girls waiting to get a glimpse of N’Sync, who were appearing on MTV’s Total Request Live .

After selling a full season of the show to ABC, Mr. Mok rang up the guys behind Total Request Live and asked about booking O-Town on the show for a little publicity head start. But guess what?

“I’ve gotten surprising resistance,” said Mr. Mok.

According to Mr. Mok, MTV programmers told him that O-Town songs would receive no special consideration, and that when and if O-Town ever made it onto Total Request Live , it would be after hitting it big elsewhere.

Today, on Total Request Live , Smashing Pumpkins, desperately seeking audience. [MTV, 20, 3:30 P.M.]

Friday, Mar. 10

Tonight, there’s 16th Annual Soap Opera Awards . Winners are chosen by rabid fans who vote for their favorite shows. Michael Logan, who has covered the daytime scene for TV Guide the last 10 years, gave us his predictions:

“The shows that do well are the shows that get their fans out of their couches. Historically, the Procter & Gamble shows do very poorly because the audiences for CBS shows are older and more conservative, and they don’t tend to get out and vote.”

According to Mr. Logan, the two front-runners are General Hospital on ABC and Days of Our Lives on NBC.

” General Hospital has had a bad year,” Mr. Logan said. “It’s been very, very piss-poor dramatically, and they’ve lost a lot of talent. It’s in pathetic shape, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the hard-core fan. On the other hand, there have been examples where you can see that the audience has turned on the show. That happened about three years ago when Days of Our Lives was overtaken by General Hospital . Will that happen this year with General Hospital ? It’s hard to say, but it could.”

Thanks, Mr. Logan. You’re not looking for another gig by any chance, are you? There’s a certain column here that’s up for grabs. [WNBC, 4, 9 P.M.]

Saturday, Mar. 11

The antidote to sportscaster idiocy, ladies and gentlemen, is Deb Kaufman, the anchor of MSG’s nuts-and-bolts sports news program, Sports Desk . Ms. Kaufman’s unaffected, shtickless, girl-next-door approach to reporting the sports news is a refreshing break from the frat-house humor of ESPN.

“It took me a couple of years to figure out how to be the same way on the air as I am sitting in the newsroom,” Ms. Kaufman said. “We’ll sit in the newsroom and have great discussions about what we think about sports, but it took me a couple of years to figure out how to do it on the air.”

Who’s her sportscasting hero? Marv Albert, of course.

“Marv is the best. Especially on the radio. From a critical point of view, he has the perfect voice and tone. He brings the right level of angst and excitement. If you listen to one of his calls, he always has the perfect explanation of time on the clock, what the situation is, and he creates the right level of tension for the listener. His calls stand the test of time. To listen to one of his calls, it’s amazing.”

Know this. If you watch Ms. Kaufman in action, you’ll never go back to Sports Center . [MSG, 27, 10:30 P.M.]

Sunday, Mar. 12

Pop-Up Video co-creator Tad Low crashed the stage of the TV Guide Awards on March 5. But that was apparently just the capper to an extraordinarily debauched week in Los Angeles.

For those billions and billions of people who did not catch Fox’s TV Guide Awards , Mr. Low stormed the stage when MTV’s Total Request Live –and not Pop-Up Videos –was announced as favorite musical show.

“Hi, everybody,” he said into the microphone during this live broadcast. “I’m Tad–I’m the producer of Pop-Up Video , and this is a travesty! L.A. does lead the nation in robberies, and you can add one more to tonight’s festivities! What is this Total Request Live ? It just asks softball questions to celebrities, talks to them when they’re in the shower. Come on! Seriously! Let me have the award.”

Behind him on the stage was Total Request Live host Carson Daly, a handsome fellow who looked hip, albeit in a corny way. He was surrounded by a posse of other MTV guys who also looked hip in the corniest way possible. They were wearing black suits and neckties that shone, like Regis Philbin after his Who Wants to Be a Millionaire makeover. They all looked around 28 years old and had gunk in their hair.

Mr. Low looked comical, with crazy short hair, open collar and manic stage presence. Turning to the MTV host, he said, “Carson? Where are you? Come on! Don’t you think I should take the award? Come on, people!”

They took Mr. Low away. Had he made TV history? Well, at least it was a decent attempt.

Mr. Low called NYTV the afternoon after his stunt to report that his arms were feeling “fucking sore” from being whisked away by security men and that he was “still a little bit drunk” from a trip to a strip club called Crazy Girls.

On March 4, Mr. Low said, he and a friend who is “a bit of a pothead but also a licensed pilot” did parabolic dives over southern California to approximate NASA’s famous zero-G “vomit comet.” He said it was scary. But in the week before the TV Guide awards, Mr. Low was taking meetings, doing biz .

See, last September, Mr. Low decided to take a few days off and go on a little trip to the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert. He ended up taking leave from his production company, Spin the Bottle, for three months.

“I took some killer acid called 2CB,” he said. “It was good.”

Before he knew it, he was in Georgia–no, not that one, but the one in the former Soviet Union. Then he turned up in Laos. He didn’t get back to New York until New Year’s Day. And what ever happened to that two-year development deal he’d signed with ABC? While he was traveling, the two years ran out! Without ABC producing any of his shows!

So now Mr. Low’s got all these ideas without homes. Recently he pitched them to Fox and UPN. Here’s a sampling:

Scars : Real people go on show, tell story of worst scar. Cut to America’s Most Wanted -like dramatic re-creation of scar-causing event (breaking glass, biting dog). Then studio audience chants, “Show … us … your … scar!” Guest shows scar.

The Wad : This show would be The Sopranos meets Who Wants to Be a Millionaire . “Pimpish asshole with way too much money” drives into various small American towns in white Cadillac with huge wad of hundreds in pocket. Makes locals do “stupid shit because he can.”

First Impression : Physiognomy game show. Guests come out and remain silent while contestants try to guess personality just from looking at their faces and bodies.

Take a lesson from the real wad-bearers on The Sopranos tonight. [HBO, 32, 9 P.M.]

Monday, Mar. 13

Tonight, on Ally McBeal , it’s a rerun, with Haley Joel Osment guest-starring as an 8-year-old dying of leukemia. There will surely be lots of tears, but not as many as Mr. Osment shed at this year’s Golden Globe Awards when he learned he hadn’t won. [WNYW, 5, 9 P.M.]

Tuesday, Mar. 14

From Larry King’s March 6 USA Today column, which partly chronicles his trip to South Africa: “I saw the South African version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire . In South Africa, the million is in terms of the rand (about six to a dollar). Jeremy Maggs is Johannesburg’s answer to Regis Philbin. He’s an excellent host. The set is the same, the rules are the same, and the show is just as popular there as here. Maggs wears lighter clothing, however. Maybe that dark metallic look doesn’t work in South Africa.” [WABC, 7, 8 P.M.]

Conan Writer Wonders … Pop-Up Guy Drops Acid … MTV Snubs Boy-Band Show of Corporate Sibling ABC