The news landed like a Phil Simms long bomb in the lobby of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, the grand old Hollywood hideaway across the street from the CBS studios at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Starting Sundays this Labor Day Weekend, CBS will import some of the rowdy atmospherics of the Giants Stadium parking lot to the Sherry-Netherland’s backyard–the outdoor plaza adjacent to the General Motors building–for live broadcasts of The NFL Today .
The idea is a pumped-up, public tailgate party next to Central Park South, with running scores, roasted wieners, perhaps, and gridiron fans baiting and high-fiving NFL Today personalities Mike Ditka, Jim Nantz, Randy Cross, Craig James and Jerry Glanville.
“I think this is going to bring a spark to our overall production, to be able to have that instant feedback, that live-type feeling, with a crowd and with fans, and especially New York fans,” said CBS Sports executive producer Terry Ewert.
But CBS’s announcement unnerved residents at the aging but still elegant Sherry-Netherland, a hotel and co-op that has been a New York home to the likes of Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, George Burns, Danny Kaye, Jack Warner and William Holden. Once the hotel of choice for discriminating stars and starlets, the Sherry-Netherland may now have to share its tony block with hordes of beer-bellied yahoos wearing Vinny Testaverde jerseys.
“The Sherry is very disturbed, obviously, by this announcement,” said the hotel’s attorney, Eva Talel. “It’s a great big outdoor tailgate party at 59th and Fifth Avenue.”
It’s also another chapter in a growing feud between the circa 1927 hotel and CBS. For months, Sherry-Netherland residents and other neighbors have warred with the network over outdoor concerts and other events hosted by The Early Show with Bryant Gumbel. Proving that a morning show that no one watched really did make a sound, some neighbors sued CBS last September over its outdoor Early Show telecasts, charging that the events exceed legal noise limits, and the network has no legal authority to hold such outdoor activities.
Ms. Talel said her clients were not being overly sensitive to noise issues. She contends that CBS never received proper permits to do large-scale public events like the NFL Today telecasts or outdoor concerts for The Early Show . “Is somebody going to go crazy if the weatherman goes outside for two minutes and interviews somebody? Probably not,” she said. “But here we are talking about a regular, weekly, intensive, big use of an outdoor space where outdoor uses are prohibited.”
A CBS spokesperson responded that the network has been respectful of neighborhood concerns during past outdoor broadcasts, and said that the NFL Today shows will occur during a part of the day when the area traditionally teems with pedestrians and other traffic.
“Like The Early Show , The NFL Today will act as a good neighbor in what has long been a heavily trafficked, frequently visited, very congested neighborhood,” said CBS spokesman Dana McClintock. “We are somewhat puzzled by any new objections. The NFL Today will take place in the middle of the day, when any incremental volume of people will be negligible.”
Said a source close to the network: “Throughout this whole unfortunate dispute, it has become clear that nothing short of a cemetery will meet the Sherry’s definition of a good neighbor.”
Hut, hut, hike!
Ms. Talel, who filed the Sherry-Netherland’s Early Show lawsuit last fall, expects to add the NFL Today broadcasts to her case against CBS. She admits she doesn’t exactly know what to expect come Labor Day weekend. But her clients fear the worst.
“It’s really arrogant, you know?” Ms. Talel said. “It’s ‘I’ll do whatever out there until somebody shows me I can’t.'”
Tonight on Spin City , Carter and Stuart check an apartment building’s tolerance level. [WABC, 7, 9:30 p.m.]
Thursday, July 20
With two recent deals to their credit, Oscar winners Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have suddenly become very hot television producers. But it appears that Hollywood’s golden boys are having a much tougher time bringing one of their prized pet projects to the small screen.
First, the good news: In June, ABC bought Mr. Damon and Mr. Affleck’s pitch for a voyeur-TV series, The Runner , in which a real live distance runner tries to traverse the country without being spotted by viewers (think Forrest Gump meets The Fugitive ). Then, early this month, HBO snapped up Messrs. Damon and Affleck’s Greenlight –a series in which aspiring screenwriters submit script ideas, and the winner gets his or her words turned into a movie (think Queen for a Day).
But those recent successes make one wonder: What ever happened to Mr. Damon and Mr. Affleck’s first big, dreamy TV project–an adaption of radical historian Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States ?
Not much, it seems. After a couple of years kicking around Hollywood, A People’s History isn’t much closer to television than it was when Mr. Damon famously plugged the anti-establishment book in the movie Good Will Hunting . “If you want to read a real history book, read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States ,” Mr. Damon’s character, Will Hunting, told Sean Maguire, the washout therapist played by Robin Williams. “That book will knock you on your ass.”
It sure knocked the Fox network on its ass–at first. A People’s History , which describes American history from the perspective of the traditionally voiceless (the poor, the enslaved, minorities, et al.) was first developed by Fox, which owned the rights to Mr. Zinn’s book, and envisioned as a sprawling 12-hour mini-series. It was a strange embrace, to say the least. “The incongruity of Rupert Murdoch’s network bringing Zinn’s left-leaning, populist history … to a TV screen near you prompted amusement, if not wonder,” David Corn wrote in a May 22 piece in The Nation . And it was too good to be true: After repeated disagreements between producers, writers and network executives over the show’s direction, Fox unceremoniously dumped the project.
Mr. Zinn told NYTV that he has never received a “coherent answer” as to why Fox abandoned A People’s History . “Things in Hollywood happen,” he said, sounding somewhat bemused. “Things are sort of assassinated silently, and the murderer is nowhere to be found.”
Tossed back onto the market, A People’s History drew the interest of ABC, HBO and TNT. Mr. Zinn said HBO was chosen because “people told us that HBO would probably give us more freedom, both artistically and politically, than the networks.”
But that’s no guarantee that the project–by any measure, controversial stuff for television–will see the light of day. According to Mr. Zinn, the cable network has agreed to finance the writing of three scripts for the series–but there is no assurance that anything will ever be aired. Though A People’s History is “in development,” as they say, HBO is mum on the subject; asked about the status of the series, an HBO spokesman would not comment at all on the project.
Still, work on the series continues to move forward–albeit very slowly, Mr. Zinn said. A conference call with Mr. Damon and others to help select writers was scheduled for earlier this week. But pressed for a prediction, Mr. Zinn rated the chances of A People’s History making it to TV as “50-50 or worse.” Then he added, “I don’t really know what the odds are that it will be done. While I’m not expecting too much, I am cautiously optimistic.”
Tonight on the never-ending, proof-positive-that-people-are-dull Big Brother , Curtis walks around the house in boxers, and Josh gets caught drinking O.J. out of the carton. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
Friday, July 21
Ugh–high school. Bad enough you had to go though it once, but now Fox wants you to relive all its terror in American High , a 13-episode, documentary-style series that begins Aug. 2.
Actually, American High isn’t so bad. Created by acclaimed documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler ( The War Room, A Perfect Candidate ), American High documents the life stories of 14 real-life students at a real-life high school in a Chicago suburb.
“I was really interested in exploring that time when you are a kid and a grown-up all at once,” said the hyper-earnest Mr. Cutler, a Long Island native and a disciple of legendary documentarian D.A. Pennebaker.
Not about to trust our own judgment, NYTV previewed American High for an actual American high schooler, Kate Wallis, a sophomore at Briarcliff High School in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. Kate found American High to be “kind of unrealistic” and overly edited at points, but overall, she said, she was intrigued by the show’s rendering of life at another school. “I think it might be popular, because all of those other real-life shows are so popular,” she said. “People always seem to be looking for more of these types of shows. And this one has a different perspective.”
Okay, thanks, Kate–now get back to your summer reading! Tonight on Big Brother, William doesn’t feel like doing laundry, and Brittany attempts to write a postcard. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
Saturday, July 22
Big Brother . Tonight, Joe stubs his big toe on a dresser, and Jamie may have a tummyache. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
Sunday, July 23
Ellen DeGeneres rolled into town last week for a pair of stand-up shows at the Beacon Theater that were taped for tonight’s Ellen DeGeneres: The Beginning special on HBO. After her routine was finished, she cheerily took questions from the crowd. There was just one question that Ms. DeGeneres avoided: How she felt about Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the controversial radio personality whose marble-mouthed comments on homosexuality have earned her infamy within the gay community and beyond. Ms. DeGeneres replied that she was “not going to touch” the issue of Dr. Laura. [HBO, 32, 10 p.m.]
Monday, July 24
The Survivor spoiler–exposed! Early this week, the media saturated the airwaves and newsstands with accounts of how a mysterious computer geek allegedly hacked into the cbs.com Web site and figured out who was going to win the $1 million deserted island showdown.
We don’t want to ruin your Survivor fun, so we won’t tell you who allegedly wins, but we will bring you an exclusive NYTV online interview with this mysterious geek: a 22-year-old computer-science and physics major at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario!
First of all, to set the record straight: Our Canadian college guy (who goes by the Web handle Caplock) didn’t actually hack into the cbs.com Web site (that, of course, would be illegal). In an e-mail to NYTV, Caplock wrote that he merely looked at the site’s programming code and, when analyzing a section of code where losing cast members got a red “X” stuck on their photographs, he discovered that a single cast member–for our purposes, let’s just call him or her “Pat”–didn’t have a red X attached to his or her photo.
Is “Pat” the winner? Caplock seems to think so, and he’s been getting a kick out of all the fuss he’s dusted up. “I am surprised and shocked by the attention my finding and theory has received,” he wrote to NYTV. “I think some people just don’t want to believe that [‘Pat’] is the winner.” Caplock added: “I don’t want [‘Pat’] to win, either.”
CBS, of course, is playing cute with this latest prediction, refusing to confirm or deny it, hoping it only fuels the endless, irritating Survivor hype. “I think it’s a testament to the popularity of the show,” said CBS spokesperson Dana McClintock.
If Caplock is wrong, of course, the joke’s on us. But if he’s right, Caplock will have a place right up there in the pantheon of computer geekdom.
“Anyone with average computer [and] Web design skills could have figured it out … ” Caplock wrote. “I was just the first one who found it.” But, he added : “If I am right, CBS should fire its Web designers for sure.”
Tonight on Big Brother , Curtis can’t find the dishwashing liquid, and Cassandra has ear wax. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
Tuesday, July 25
Big Brother . On tonight’s episode, Josh finishes a crossword puzzle, and Jordan leaves the toilet seat up. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]
–with Ian Blecher and Ted Diskant