TV Column: Conan, Obama at power dinner sweep NBC away

Conan O’Brien’s comedy routine at the 2013 White House correspondents’ dinner took jabs at different television networks, the gay marriage debate in the Supreme Court, and the threat of N. Korea. (The Washington Post)
April 30, 2013

Congratulations, Conan O’Brien! Your performance at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner averaged almost 3.3 million viewers across the three cable-news networks.

That means, Conan, that you beat every show in NBC’s Thursday lineup last week — on the first night of the important ratings race known as the May “sweep.”

Granted, you shared top billing with President Obama, who also addressed the annual Washington power dinner/
Hollywood Petting Zoo that’s chockablock with Washington luminaries and journalism royalty, as well as the stars of “Duck Dynasty,” Her Royal Barbra Streisand-ness, Michael Douglas, Kevin Spacey, Katy Perry, Amy Poehler and Gerard Butler, among others.

The NBC Thursday lineup that Conan topped included an original episode of “Community” (2.33 million), an “Office” repeat (1.84 million), an “Office” original (3.25 million), an original “Parks and Recreation” (2.59 million) and an original “Hannibal” (2.4 million).

Plus, Conan, that doesn’t even include those who watched your gala on C-SPAN, which has telecast the clambake for years. Nielsen does not rate C-SPAN, so we don’t know how big its dinner audience was.

President Obama’s speech at the White House correspondents’ dinner poked fun at Congress, Fox News, and the recent dedication of the George W. Bush Library. (The Washington Post)

For those keeping score: CNN clocked 1.493 million viewers from 10 to 11 p.m. Saturday, when Obama and O’Brien entertained the crowd. Fox News Channel averaged 1.114 million and MSNBC averaged 640,000 viewers. Among 25- to 54-year-olds — who are the currency of TV news ad sales — CNN (401,000 viewers) averaged more than FNC (183,000) and MSNBC (176,000) combined.

Conan, who followed the president’s address, wound up his portion of the night’s fun about 11:04.

Shriver returns to NBC

NBC News continues to be irresistibly drawn to women who have White House bloodlines.

On Tuesday, the news division announced that it had rehired Maria Shriver as a “special anchor,” to report and produce specials and features about the “profound impact that women’s rising influence and leadership [have had] on all aspects of American culture and society.”

Shriver, niece of former president John F. Kennedy, joins former first daughters Jenna Bush Hager and Chelsea Clinton on the NBC News payroll.

Shriver, who served as an anchor and correspondent for NBC News from 1986 to 2004 (she exited after husband Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California), will appear in special projects, prime-time reports and appearances across multiple NBCUniversal venues — including NBC, CNBC, MSNBC and NBC Sports.

The former first lady of California is also being given the title “editor at large” for women’s issues across the NBC News Digital properties. (She and Schwarzenegger split after he left office and, reportedly, after she found out he’d fathered a child with their housekeeper; she filed for divorce in 2011.)

That role, NBC News explained, will enable her to expand on editorial content and news programming that “touches on women’s multi-faceted lives.” The partnership with Shriver represents one of the largest commitments that NBC News has made to coverage of women’s issues, the division boasted.

“Maria Shriver has become a leading voice for empowering women and inspiring all of us to be architects of change in our lives,” Pat Fili-Krushel, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, said in the announcement.

But wait — there’s something for the guys, too! Shriver’s going to explore such issues “in a way that brings the voices of men into these critically important conversations,” the news division promised.

As part of the deal, NBC News will also have exclusive broadcast access to Shriver’s “Shriver Reports” — multiplatform investigations into the status of American women and their central role in the key issues facing our nation.

The next “Shriver Report,” to be released early next year, will address the “alarming financial insecurity among American women and families” — and hopefully reconcile that finding with the aforementioned profound impact of women’s rising influence and leadership.

Shriver — who, NBC News noted, is a mother of four — will remain based in Los Angeles, and will continue to produce outside television, film, book and live-event projects under the auspices of her own production company.

In other TV-news news, CNN has unveiled the name of its new morning show with Chris Cuomo — father of three — in advance of its June 10 premiere: “New Day.”

‘Hannibal’ off Utah station

One of NBC’s TV stations has beaten the network to the punch and pulled “Hannibal” off its Thursday schedule.

Can you guess which NBC station yanked “Hannibal”?

If you guessed NBC’s Salt Lake City station, KSL TV — you’re right!

(KSL did so after last Thursday’s episode, on the first night of the May sweep ratings derby, which local stations use to set ad rates for the coming months.)

Serious students of TV know that KSL, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has a tradition of letting America know, usually before a TV season begins in September, which of NBC’s new prime-time series it will not air.

Last August, it was “The New Normal.” That’s Ryan Murphy’s comedy about a gay couple having a baby via a single-mom surrogate, who comes with a “small-minded” (said NBC) granny, played by Ellen Barkin — who provides the show with such laugh lines as: “I happen to love the gays; I could never get my hair to look this good without them.”

KSL deemed the show’s dialogue “excessively rude and crude,” its scenes “too explicit” and the stereotypes “offensive on all sides.”

“The New Normal” marks a rare instance of an NBC series pulled by KSL that has survived on the network.

The previous summer’s lottery winner, “The Playboy Club” — about a brand “associated with pornography,” KSL explained — lasted just three episodes before NBC removed it from rotation.

KSL also declined to air NBC’s prime-time remake of the Brit-com “Coupling,” which NBC wound up pulling after just four episodes — because, then-NBC Big Cheese Jeff Zucker explained, it stunk.

And in 2000, KSL gave a thumbs-down to NBC’s controversial animated comedy “God, the Devil and Bob,” which NBC canceled after a handful of low-rated episodes.

But this week’s pulling of “Hannibal” is different, in that KSL actually aired some of the episodes before yanking the show. Last Thursday was episode No. 4. And with just 2.4 million tuned in, NBC soon should be following suit.

“After viewing the past few episodes, as well as receiving numerous complaints from viewers, KSL TV will cancel the airing of the NBC show ‘Hannibal’ on Thursday evenings. This decision was made due to the extensive graphic nature of this show,” the station explained Monday evening on its Facebook page.

“We don’t make programming decisions lightly, and we want to listen to our viewers, who have called and e-mailed our station — and also responded with low viewership. This show has been called one of the most violent, bloody [shows] on TV by the The Salt Lake Tribune. Thank you for your feedback — we’re reading them all,” the station added, in response to many viewer comments.

Remaining episodes will air on that market’s CW station.

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