CNN hires documentarian Spurlock to supersize ratings


Morgan Spurlock poses at the 84th Academy Awards in Los Angeles. Spurlock is coming to CNN for a new weekend series that will take a close look at areas of American life that don't normally get much attention. (Chris Pizzello/AP)
August 23, 2012

Looking to plug its sinking ratings, CNN has hired documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock to host and produce a new weekend series. “Inside Man” will give viewers an “insider’s view” into American subcultures: marijuana growers, end-of-life caregivers, migrant farmworkers, etc.

CNN did not say what troubled time slot would get the Spurlock show, but the network’s got lots to chose from. In May, CNN hit a 20-year monthly ratings low and hasn’t gotten a lot better since. The network had a slight ratings uptick in July, for instance, but sank again to 20-year lows in prime time during the Summer Olympics.

CNN Worldwide President Jim Walton said last month that he was leaving the network.

The Time Warner-owned network did say that “Inside Man” would debut in April 2013. CNN also said Spurlock’s show would be coupled with its already announced new docu-series, hosted by chef Anthony Bourdain, which will look at food and dining cultures around the world.

Spurlock is maybe best known as the guy who made and starred in an innovative documentary take on obesity and fast food. His 2004 docu, “Super Size Me,” followed him for a month as he ate only at McDonald’s and recorded the results, which included a 24-pound weight gain. “Super Size Me” was nominated for an Academy Award in one of the documentary derbies.

The new Spurlock show seems to fulfill reports, which emerged after CNN’s ratings problems, that the network was looking for talk show and “reality” series to prop up its numbers.

Sheen waits on FX

Charlie Sheen is playing the waiting game after FX on Thursday aired the last of its initial 10-episode order of his comedy series, “Anger Management.”

Should the ratings on the 10 episodes hit an agreed-upon threshold — agreed upon by the network and producing studio Lionsgate — FX is on the hook for 90 episodes. The new episodes would be produced at a much faster clip than the usual broadcast model of about 22 episodes a season, or the even slower cable model of 13 episodes, or six episodes — or however many episodes the show’s creator is in the mood to make that season. We call it the Larry David model.

Anyway, that means Lionsgate will hit 100 episodes total in about two years — half the time it takes to snag that many episodes of a broadcast series. And that’s important because 100 episodes is the magic number needed for a truly robust aftermarket.

Last month, FX programming chief John Landgraf said the show’s third, fourth, fifth and sixth episodes exceeded the ratings threshold that’s required for the “back 90” renewal. The first two episodes, which ran consecutively on June 28, were excluded from the formula governing that pickup agreement, he told TV critics at Summer TV Press Tour 2012.

That’s a pity, because those first two episodes clocked an average of 5.5 million and 5.7 million viewers, making the premiere the most watched for a scripted prime-time comedy series in cable history at that time — excluding children’s programming. It was also the most watched series premiere in FX history. The ratings provided much the same story among the 18- to 49-year-olds who are the currency of FX ad sales.

Since Landgraf made that statement, the ratings for the seventh, eighth and ninth episodes have come in lower than those of the earlier batch, although those more recent stats have not been updated to include DVR viewing up to seven days after each episode’s premiere — which is industry standard these days.

Over the course of its run, “Anger Management” has averaged more than 4 million viewers, more than 2 million of whom are 18 to 49 years old.

At his press tour Q&A session, Landgraf said he would not make a decision on the 90-episode pickup until all 10 episodes aired. But he added that “in the very likely event that those 90 episodes . . . are produced,” Martin Sheen would join the cast, playing the father of Charlie Sheen’s character. Martin Sheen would have a recurring role on the show, which means he would appear in several, but not all, of the 90 episodes.

“As with any comedy, I think it’s got more growth in it creatively, I think it’s still developing, but generally speaking, I’m real happy,” Landgraf told reporters diplomatically last month at the Beverly Hills Hilton.

Just last week, Charlie Sheen, in Toronto to throw out the first pitch before MLB action between the Chicago White Sox and Blue Jays, told the Ottawa Citizen about FX’s waiting to announce the show’s future: “I guess they have to play the game out, though, and that’s fine. That’s the deal we made, and that’s the one they’ll honor and we’ll honor. But I think ultimately the fans want it.”

Lorne out for Oscars

Not only is Jimmy Fallon out as host of next year’s Academy Awards show, but Lorne Michaels is also out as producer.

Instead, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — a.k.a. Friends of ABC — will produce the trophy show, which will air on that network, as usual, Feb. 24.

Although Zadan and Meron have many films to their credit — including 2002’s “Chicago,” 2007’s “Hairspray,” and both the original and the remake of “Footloose” — they’re especially big in TV circles as the go-to guys for programs with big musical production numbers. (That is useful for someone producing the Oscars.) This dates to their days producing the Bette Midler remake of “Gypsy” for CBS, and — here’s where ABC comes in — the Brandy/Whitney Houston remake of “Cinderella,” the Matthew Broderick remake of “Music Man” and the Kathy Bates/Victor Garber remake of “Annie.”

More recently, they’re the guys exec-producing NBC’s let’s-put-on-a-Marilyn-Monroe-musical drama series, “Smash.” The show is about to go into its second season, in which someone will suddenly realize that Katharine McPhee is not, as had been thought all of the first season, the living embodiment of all things Marilyn.

Getting back to Meron and Zadan: They’re also respected theater producers, having done the restaging of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Promises, Promises” on Broadway.

“When we filmed ‘The Bucket List,’ we made our own personal bucket list, and producing the Oscars was No. 1,” Zadan and Meron — who produced that 2007 hit flick starring Jack Nicholson — said Thursday.

Thus ends all the hoopla of a few weeks ago, when a report got out that Fallon would host the next Oscars, which would be produced by his mentor Michaels (a.k.a. Friend of NBC).

That report seemed odd to anyone who stopped for a moment to remember that the Academy Awards ceremony has been broadcast on ABC for, like, forever. Which, apparently, the outgoing motion-picture academy president, Tom Sherak, did not stop to do when — in his boyish enthusiasm on his way out the door — he approached Michaels, the NBC prime-time and late-night impresario, about producing the Oscarscast, with Michaels’ protege Fallon hosting. That lapse of memory was surprising because Sherak was the guy who brokered the new Oscar deal between the academy and ABC, as well as a global distribution deal with ABC parent Disney that runs through 2020.

Anyway, as we heard it, Sherak’s parting move surprised not only incoming motion-picture academy President Hawk Koch — who made Thursday’s announcement about his choice of producers — but also various execs up and down the ABC and Disney food chain.

To read previous columns by Lisa de Moraes, go to washingtonpost.com/
tvblog.

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