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Facebook campaign for Betty White pays off: 'SNL' posts election-season numbers

By Lisa de Moraes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2010; C06

Betty White: as big as the 2008 election!

The 88-year-old actress's guest-host gig on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" appears to have delivered the show its biggest audience since its election-year heights, based on early stats in the country's largest TV markets.

Those estimates put the number somewhere around 12 million viewers -- indicating that nearly as many households were tuned in for White as watched the much-ballyhooed Nov. 1, 2008, episode featuring GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain. That episode had garnered 13 million viewers. One month earlier, the appearance of McCain running mate Sarah Palin attracted 15 million.

Final numbers for White's first-ever "SNL" hosting gig won't be out until Thursday.

But White's Facebook-fueled, late-night appearance evidently attracted more viewers than any TV show on any network Saturday in prime time, when there are far more Homes Using Television than in late night. She also appears to have drawn 66 percent more households than "SNL" enjoyed the same night a year ago.

White was very popular in Washington -- about as popular as McCain in 2008 on "SNL." Our city was one of White's strongest, according to early ratings results.

The bawdy octogenarian appears to have attracted as many members of the show's target audience -- the 18-to-49-year-olds -- as that Nov. 1, 2008, episode, which was hosted by Ben Affleck, with musical guest David Cook.

If you take out election-cycle episodes of the show, which are always among the show's strongest, you have to go back more than 12 years -- to Dec. 20, 1997 -- to find an episode that did as well in preliminary ratings. That episode was a Christmas clip job.

White's appearance was the culmination of a Facebook campaign started by a guy who said he doesn't really watch the show but thought she would be a "FANTASTIC choice to host" because she is "adored as an actress," is "a tireless animal rights advocate" and "a fantastic comedian!"

"I didn't know what Facebook was," White said during her opening monologue Saturday night. "Now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it seems like a huge waste of time."

Showing some 'Skins'

MTV finally has ordered 10 episodes of "Skins," based on the barely scripted Brit hit of same name.

Since last summer MTV has been developing a domestic version of the series that, in the U.K., follows a bevy of unknown teen actors swearing, sexing, drugging and clothes-dispensing their way through episodes -- which are allegedly penned by equally young, inexperienced writers -- and a good time is had by all.

The MTV version will be cast and written similarly, and will be set in Baltimore, which just can't seem to get a break when it comes to being depicted on TV.

MTV, which beat out CW for the U.S. rights to this one, declined to comment on the order.

NBC's comeback plan

NBC, tied-for-third-place-only-thanks-to-Olympics, continues to whip up excitement for next season's prime-time plans by doling out new-show pickups to eager reporters.

On Monday, NBC announced it had picked up a new Jerry Bruckheimer procedural crime drama called "The Chase," about a team of U.S. marshals who hunt down America's most dangerous fugitives. The network had previously announced a new J.J. Abrams show called "Undercovers," about a couple of former CIA spies running a small catering company in Los Angeles who are sucked back into spying because otherwise it would be a show about a catering company in Los Angeles.

Also picked up by NBC: "The Event," the latest heavily serialized drama courting the "Lost" crowd; it stars Jason Ritter as a guy who discovers a big coverup while investigating the disappearance of his fiancee. And then there's "Outsourced," a comedy about a novelty company that sells whoopee cushions, and wallets made of bacon, whose call center is outsourced to India. Not to mention "Love Bites," a romantic comedy anthology series starring Becki Newton ("Ugly Betty") and Jordana Spiro ("My Boys").

Good 'Dance' move

"So You Think You Can Dance?" just got 30 percent more watchable with news that Mary Murphy is really most sincerely out as a regular judge on the Fox competition show -- replaced by sometime guest judge and contributing choreographer Mia Michaels, who is joining Adam Shankman and Nigel Lythgoe.

The screeching Murphy -- she of the annoying "Hot Tamale Train" school of performance praising -- is going to appear as a judge during the auditions phase of the new edition and will be a "guest judge" after that.

The show has been phasing out Murphy for weeks.

Dreamy 'Cupcake'?

Silver Spring-based TLC's new series about the perpetually packed Georgetown Cupcake shop will premiere July 16 at 10 p.m.

The six-episode series follows sisters Sophie LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis as they run Georgetown Cupcake.

The name of the show has inexplicably been changed from "Cupcake Sisters" to "Cupcake Dreams," though TLC promises that's just a working title. We know they can do better than that -- all suggestions welcome.

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