The Biz

A Time to Laugh
The comedy pilots that might be ready for prime time this fall

Tina Fey

It's crunch time in the network scheduling rooms, as many questions are being asked about next season. Will Grey's Anatomy go to Monday nights? Will Lost start in November, to cut down on repeats during the season? Is Wayne Brady getting another show? The answers will come next week. We hear there wasn't a lot of laughing during the executive screenings of most of the season's comedy pilots, but here's what industry insiders say are the hottest of that tepid lot. (Click here to read about the drama-pilot buzz.)

NBC: The Peacock network is only expected to add two sitcoms. One is the still-untitled show from Saturday Night Live head writer Tina Fey — a workplace comedy set behind the scenes of a read more

The Next Big Things We've got a hunch about the new dramas we'll be watching this fall

Angie Harmon, Secrets of a Small Town

It's that time of year again: Network executives are spending these lovely spring days in dark screening rooms, searching for next fall's big hit. As we approach the mid-May unveiling of the new 2006-07 prime-time schedules, the Biz is here to provide you with an early glimpse of which drama pilots are heating up. We'll report on the sitcoms next week.

ABC: Secrets of a Small Town  — a drama starring Angie Harmon about a small town whose residents have plenty of skeletons in the closet — is believed to have the inside track for the Sunday-night slot after Desperate Housewives. (It's now a given that the network will move the superhot Grey's Anatomy to another night where it can help launch a new show.) Also hot are Six Degrees — another ensemble soap about six strangers whose lives intertwine in New York — and Traveler, about three graduate students involved in a national-security emergency. read more

A Better Creep Trap Is Dateline NBC's pedophile series journalism or law enforcement?

Chris Hansen, Dateline NBC

Dateline NBC's investigative series "To Catch a Predator" has given new meaning to the term guilty pleasure. Several times over the past two years, the newsmagazine has set up hidden cameras in private homes to watch as Internet watchdog group Perverted Justice targets men looking to have sex with underage boys and girls. Responding to decoys in online chat rooms, men show up at the houses of their would-be victims with refreshments in hand, thinking they're about to satisfy their creepy urges. Instead, they're confronted by black-turtleneck-clad Dateline correspondent Chris Hansen, a camera crew and the realization that they've likely just ruined the rest of their lives. What makes "To Catch a Predator" compelling is how normal some of the suspects look and what respectable jobs they hold — teacher, rabbi, Homeland Security employee. Millions have watched the first three installments, so some of the men even know what they're in for the moment they're confronted b read more

CIA Leak
Talking politics with American Dad's Mike Barker

American Dad

Later this month, Fox will release the first season of American Dad on DVD. The animated series about gung-ho CIA agent Stan Smith and his family pokes fun at politics — especially the tricky area of terrorism and homeland security — the way Family Guy lampoons pop culture. No surprise that it comes from FG creator Seth MacFarlane (the stentorian voice of Stan) and FG writers and producers Mike Barker and read more

Who Wants to Be a Today Host? Meredith Vieira faces a balancing act, but she wouldn't be the first

Meredith Vieira, The View

History is about to repeat itself at NBC's Today.

Any minute now, The View's Meredith Vieira will sign on as coanchor to replace Katie Couric after she leaves to join the CBS Evening News. But it looks like Vieira will keep her other gig as host of the syndicated read more

Better Early Than Never
CBS producer Steve Friedman on revamping the net's mornings

CBS' The Early Show

There probably isn't anyone on Earth who has produced more hours of morning television than Steve Friedman. In two stints and 10 years of producing NBC's Today, he worked with Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley, Bryant Gumbel, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. He devised the show's street-level studio in Rockefeller Plaza, which has become a major Manhattan attraction. He led CBS' effort to become a serious player in morning TV when he launched The Early Show with Gumbel and Jane Clayson in 1999. The show has never challenged Today or ABC's Good Morning America in the ratings, but it has become a significant profit center for CBS News. Friedman followed pal Gumbel out of CBS in 2002, but the network's current news president Sean McManus has brought him back — as vice president in charge of morning broadcasts — in the hopes that Friedman can take The Early Show to the next level. The Biz talked with him about how read more

Hannity Uncensored The Fox News anchor defends Stern, King and Bush

Sean Hannity

Most point-a-finger-in-your-face cable-news hosts wouldn't bother defending a competitor. But after CNN's Larry King took a beating in the press recently for seeming old and out of it, Fox News' Sean Hannity stood up for him on Hannity & Colmes. The conservative Hannity also seems to have a soft spot for Howard Stern (he got the first interview with the shock jock after CBS filed its lawsuit against him) and is no fan of the fine-happy FCC. So the Biz thought it might be an interesting time to check in with Hannity, who cohosts the No. 2-rated show in cable news, and see what's on his mind. So what made you feel compelled to support Larry King?
Sean Hannity:
It was sincere. He was under fire for just about everything — his health, he's frail, he's not doing well. You know what? For better or worse, he still has the consistently highest-rated show on that network. When I saw these attacks and I saw there was no respons read more

On the Bubble
The early word on what the networks will renew next season

Kevin James, The King of Queens

This week the networks began meeting with ad-agency execs to talk about what's in development for the 2006-07 season. That means it's time for producers of current shows with less-than-robust ratings to start worrying about getting picked up for next season. Here's what industry insiders are telling the Biz.

ABC: The network's comedies are having a tough year in the ratings, but you can't cancel all of them. Rodney, Hope & Faith, Crumbs and Less than Perfect aren't likely to make the cut. According to Jim, George Lopez and Freddie have a chance of returning. Since ABC has two more hours to program in the fall now that football has moved to NBC, shows that would otherwise be doomed have a chance. We're talking Invasion and Commander in Chief. Their survival depends on the strength of the network's new-program development.

CBS: Another season of The King of Queens depends on whether the n read more

Big Head of State Conan O'Brien visits his doppelgänger, the president of Finland

Conan O'Brien

Conan O'Brien's popularity in Finland is no joke. The host of NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien has milked his popularity in the Nordic country for laughs, but on his March 10 show, you'll see how it's more than a bizarre comedy routine. Throngs of fans and the local press followed O'Brien's every move during his visit to Finland last month. He even had a meeting with Finnish president Tarja Halonen, who gained cache with young voters because she resembles their favorite late-night star. O'Brien recently talked with the Biz about his long, strange trip. Judging from what we saw on TV news here, it looked like a pretty wild ride.
Conan O' Brien:
You know those fantasy camps where you can go and kind of be a New York Yankee for a weekend? This was a fantasy camp for someone who wanted to experience this kind of whirlwind. We've been kidding around a lot on the show, but we weren't really prepared. There was a press con read more

Having a Ball
Bad news for Bush means great news for Matthews' ratings

Chris Matthews, Hardball

Maybe it's just a coincidence: As President Bush's approval ratings are tanking, Chris Matthews' ratings are surging. Compared to a year ago, the February audiences for his MSNBC show, Hardball, doubled at 5 pm/ET, and the repeat at 7 was up significantly as well. If that's too early for you, Hardball is getting a special repeat airing at 11 pm the week of March 6. Soon the show will be hitting the road to cover the major 2006 races in the Senate and the House of Representatives. The president's misfortunes mean there's a strong chance the House could end up back in the control of the Democrats, making it a compelling year for political junkies. But when it comes to politics, every year is compelling to Matthews, who recently spoke with the Biz. It's been said that President Bush likes the sport of politics — that's what gets his blood pumping. Do you think he cares about low approval ratings or what people think about him now that read more

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