TV Column: Fred Willard hired by Christopher Guest after very bad summer

September 26, 2012

As we forecast back in August, actor Fred Willard — fired by PBS and pulled by ABC — has landed on his feet, at HBO.

Chris Guest, who last month sold a mockumentary comedy series “Family Tree” to HBO, has hired Willard in a recurring role.

The comedy is about a 30-something named Tom who investigates his family tree after inheriting a box from a great aunt he never met. Willard will play Mike, a neighbor of Tom’s Uncle Andy (played by Ed Begley Jr.), the Hollywood Reporter says.

Begley and Willard are members of the Chris Guest Repertory Theatre, having appeared in his flicks “For Your Consideration,” “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind,” as well as the Guest-starring “This Is Spinal Tap” (directed by Rob Reiner).

HBO has ordered eight episodes of “Family Tree,” which is being produced by NBC Universal International TV — the same outfit that brings you “Downton Abbey” on PBS.

Speaking of PBS, the network sacked Willard as narrator of its new flea-market competition series “Market Warriors” less than 24 hours after his July arrest at a porn theater in Hollywood because, the programming service’s chief explained, PBS was afraid that his “unfortunate circumstances” would become a “distraction” for the series, which had just debuted.

PBS developed ”Market Warriors” as a companion to “Antiques Roadshow,” which we now know — from a study put out by marketing research company Experian Simmons — is one of the country’s highest-skewing shows among ultra-conservatives.

And if you’re trying to launch a companion to the highest-skewing show in America with ultra-cons, you probably don’t want it narrated by a guy recently arrested in a Hollywood porn theater.

At that time, Willard was also hosting an ABC sketch-comedy series, “Trust Us With Your Life,” that got pulled not long thereafter. In ABC’s defense, the comedy was scoring pretty lousy ratings, and it only had a couple of episodes left to air.

The Tuesday numbers

About 4.3 million people watched President Obama and Michelle Obama visit “The View” Tuesday morning. According to Nielsen, 4.2 million of them were of voting age.

By comparison, about 2.2 million people watched “The Daily Show” late Tuesday night when Jon Stewart nicked Obama for using precious time — during his New York trip to address the U.N. General Assembly — to visit the ladies of “The View.”

But the numbers suggest that “The View” might have been a worthwhile time investment — Obama’s daytime audience rivaled that of Fox’s premiering Fempire comedies in prime time, when the number of Homes Using Television is much higher.

For instance, about 4.2 million people of all ages, voting and non-voting, watched the unveiling of Fox’s new Dana Fox-created comedy, “Ben and Kate,” Tuesday night at 8:30.

And 4.8 million watched the premiere of Fox’s much-ballyhooed new Mindy Kaling comedy, “The Mindy Project,” at 9:30 p.m.

But neither Obama nor Kaling could compete with the 21 million who caught the 10th-season return of “NCIS” on CBS — that show’s second biggest debut-night audience to date.

Same goes for “NCIS: Los Angeles,” which logged 16.8 million viewers.

And despite its hefty load of older viewers, “NCIS” still managed to wind up as the night’s second highest rated show among 18- to 49-year-olds, who are the currency of broadcast TV ad sales.

“NCIS” finished just one-tenth of a rating point behind “The Voice” in that age bracket. “The Voice” was the night’s leader in the demographic. Overall, “The View” averaged nearly 12 million viewers Tuesday night.

That NBC singing-competition series continues to be the story of Premiere Week, holding up surprisingly well in its third week, as the other networks hit it with a slew of premiering new series and returning older ones.

At 10 p.m., CBS’s new Dennis Quaid-as-’60s-cowboy drama, “Vegas,” scored nearly 15 million viewers — CBS’s biggest start in the time slot since 2002.

But the show skewed really old — and dropped the network by double digits among younger viewers in the hour — compared with last year’s “Unforgettable” launch, which makes you wonder why CBS bothered to make the change.

CW re-ups summer shows

CW has ordered another season’s worth of episodes on two of its summer reality series: “Oh Sit!” and “Breaking Pointe.”

“Oh Sit!” is a millennial musical-chairs competition, and “Breaking Pointe” took viewers backstage at Ballet West in Salt Lake City. Although neither was a barnburner, ratings-wise, “Oh Sit!” was CW’s best performing new summer reality series, and “Breaking Pointe” performed well for CW online.

CW chief Mark Pedowitz has made it his priority to order more original programming year-round.

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