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    Q&A with Lisa de Moraes

    "Levey Live," appears each Tuesday from 12 to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It is a live, moderated discussion offering users the chance to ask questions directly of the people who make the news and the people who report it. Your host is Washington Post columnist Bob Levey.

    Bob Levey
    Bob Levey
    Craig Cola/

    Bob's guest LIVE ONLINE today was Lisa de Moraes, The Washington Post's television columnist. Before joining The Post in August 1998, de Moraes was the TV Editor for "The Hollywood Reporter," a position she held for nine years at the Los Angeles trade publication.

    Here is a transcript of today's session:


    Bob Levey: In today's column, you report that "Wheel of Fortune" (game show trash) beats out CBS and NBC network news at 7 p.m. weekdays, here in the news capital of the earth. Amazing! What does this say about the humanoids who inhabit Washington, D.C.?

    Lisa de Moraes: Folks in D.C. are real news junkies so they often don't wait for the broadcast nets' evening newscasts to get their daily fix.

    Washington DC: I think that the ABC show Sports Night has the wittiest dialouge going on TV right now. I regard that show as one of the best in all prime time. Is this show getting good reviews? Can we expect it stay around, and if so, can we expect it to maintain its quality. How is the public taking to it? Thanks!

    Lisa de Moraes: Critics adore this show but the public has been slower to find it. Fortunately, ABC execs love it too, so it will probably be around next season. However, expect the network to pre-empt it sometimes during sweeps months in order to boost ratings in its timeslot with some stunt programs.

    Bethesda, Md: How do you explain the popularity of the new show Providence, when it was trashed by every critic - specifically Tom Shales? What made this show different from Trinity, which failed dismally in the ratings and was cancelled after just a few episodes?

    Lisa de Moraes: Critics frequently love shows that viewers don't. Actually it happens a lot. Critics hate Fox's "snuff tv" specials, such as "World's Most Shocking Moments: Caught on Tape." But viewers flock to them -- go figure. If I could figure out why "Trinity" failed and "Providence" succeeded, I'd be a very well-paid drama development executive at NBC in Los Angeles!

    Alexandria, VA: When are they going to make
    a Simpsons movie?

    Lisa de Moraes: I've heard off and on that there has been discussion of a "Simpsons" movie at 20th Century Fox, which produces and broadcasts the show on its Fox network. Frankly, I'm baffled as to why it hasn't yet happened. It is, after all, the longest running sitcom on network television. And it has a very loyal core audience. If only about half of the people who watch it consistently bought tickets for a movie, it would be a huge success!

    Bob Levey: Serious question: Are the fights on Jerry Springer real?

    Lisa de Moraes: Let's put it this way -- they're at least as real as the fights on cable wrestling matches. This is an entertainment show, not a serious talk show, Springer has said repeatedly. That's his story and he's sticking with it.

    Rockville, MD: Any chance Fox will end our misery and finally cancel 90210? It is WAY past its prime.

    Lisa de Moraes: Sorry, Fox has renewed "Beverly Hills, 90210" for another season. But it did cancel "Melrose Place" -- does that help? The network was planning to start up a new "90210" show with a younger cast -- you know, one in which the actors actually look like they're in their teens or early 20's. But when network brass decided to re-up the current edition, they tabled the sequel plans.

    Bob Levey: About the Tinky Winky controversy--was this character MEANT to be gay?

    Lisa de Moraes: Who knows -- who cares? This is, after all, a show intended for children aged 1-4 years. Jerry Falwell's grandson doesn't think Tinky Winky is gay -- or so Falwell said recently on ABC's "Politically Incorrect." Falwell seems to be back peddling on this issue lately. I'd like to hear what you think about this controversy.

    Arlington, Va: Lisa:

    Speaking of news, are there enough junkies around to have it make sense that 4 and 9 have three-hour news shows from 4 to 7 while 7 has two hours. And then there's News Channel Eight, CNN, MSNBC, etc. Is the pie big enough for all of them?

    Lisa de Moraes: If they don't make money, they will go away. But you're right, the market is getting very saturated. Disney, which owns ABC, ESPN and Disney Channel, seriously contemplated getting into the cable news channel business, but bailed out after deciding that the pie was not in fact big enough for another news channel. Keep in mind that CNN is an international operation, so it not entirely dependent on the U.S. market. Also, MSNBC is part of a larger company, GE, which has several "news" channels, also including CNBC (business news)and the NBC network news operation. So costs are spread over several operations.

    College Station, TX: Do the producers of Felicity *actually* think her life is representative of the average American college student?

    Lisa de Moraes: No, they think it's representative of the average American college student's fantasy about how their life should be. Were "Mod Squad" or "Charlie's Angels" a realistic look at police work? Was "Dynasty" a realistic look at life in Denver during the oil boom? "Reality" is not a pre-requisit for success in prime time entertainment programming. In fact, you hardly ever hear the word used in Hollywood!

    Silver Spring, MD: What are the renewal prospects for 'Homicide'? Also, how are the earlier (and much better) episodes faring on Court TV?

    Lisa de Moraes: "Homicide" is on the fence as far as renewal is concerned. Remember, though, that NBC owns this show so it can make a profit off it with a smaller audience than on a show it doesn't own. It makes money selling ads during its NBC broadcast and it gets paid by Court TV for the right to air those reruns. Court TV has boosted its audience size by adding entertainment programming to its schedule, including "Homicide" as well as its weekend courtroom-related theatricals.

    Bob Levey: Half an hour remaining with our guest, Washington Post TV critic Lisa de Moraes

    boston, mass: what is the reason for the proliferation of 20/20, Primetime and other news/entertainment format shows in primetime? Is is primarily economics (are they cheaper to prodcue), do they have better ratings than comedies or dramas, some combination of both? It seems the more they proliferate, the ever more trivial the content. What is the future for this style of show?

    Lisa de Moraes: The broadcast networks are trying desperately to find ways to bring down cost of programming their prime time schedules. Newsmagazines don't cost more than drama series -- whose timeslots they generally take up -- at the outset, but the producers of "20/20" are never going to hold up ABC for $13 million dollars an episode, the way Warner Bros. did to NBC when time came to renew "ER." And drama series have a very high rate of failure for various reasons -- and they don't repeat well. So the drama genre is getting squeezed out by newsmagazines. The problem is that there are so many of them, they're tripping all over each other to get stories. Talk show host Maury Povich recently complained to me that the network newsmagazines are stealing his show ideas! Also, the reason you're seeing a network call all of its prime time newsmags by the same name is because it creates strong brand identity. NBC did it first with "Dateline" and it was a big success, so the other networks are following suit.

    Rockville, MD: What is the status on X-Files -- how many seasons does it have left? It has gone way downhill, particularly this season. It seems the writers are running out of ideas, and relying on "cutsie" gimicks and humor to fill the show.

    Lisa de Moraes: Chris Carter, the creator and executive producer of "The X-Files" says that next season will be the last on television for the show. That's because he wants to turn it into a feature-film series -- sort of like the "Star Trek" movies. So we might see an annual "X-Files" movie after that. Of course, Carter also said that those two highly touted "X-Files" episodes during the February sweep would answer a lot of questions about the show's "mythology."

    Bob Levey: V-chips will be aboard all new TV sets sold in the U.S. in less than 10 months. But will they be used by parents? And will all networks agree to the same rating system by then?

    Lisa de Moraes: V-chips will be included in all new TV sets soon, but it's unlikely people are going to rush out to replace all their sets with V-chipped ones. Also, I hear that sales are not brisk on a V-chip device which can currently be installed on your sets at home. So it remains to be seen whether there is a market for this technology or it was all just politics. And, don't expect NBC to tack on the second level of content ratings to its programming -- the V, S, D and L. They agreed to the initial content ratings -- TV-PG, etc. -- but balked when politicians went after the networks again, which resulted in the letter ratings. A few of the cable networks also are refusing to comply and since these ratings are supposed to be voluntary, it's their right to do so.

    Washington, D.C.: Hi Lisa,
    I'd love to hear what happened to Millinneum (sp?). The show went seriously downhill this year, and now you believe it will be canceled. Any hope for originality in TV anymore?

    Lisa de Moraes: Don't expect this show to be back next season. It's interesting that you think it went seriously downhill this year since Chris Carter, who also created this show, spent more time on it this season, I hear. This show never really caught on, even though it launched with a huge audience -- many "X-Files" fans, no doubt. But it took a dive shortly thereafter. That's a sure sign that the audience sampled it -- and rejected it.

    DCg this: Any chance of CBS bringing back To Have and To Hold? I guess I was probably the only one watching this show, but I thought it was wonderful.

    Lisa de Moraes: Sorry. This show is gone, though there may be some episodes left that will get burned off this summer -- I lost count of how many aired.

    Washington, DC: I thought by far the best new show of the season was ABC's "Cupid". Why was it cancelled? It didn't seem like ABC gave it much of a chance (or a good time slot). It's not even like they had some great new show to replace it. Is there any chance it will come back next season on another network?

    Lisa de Moraes: I don't think this show will turn up on another network next season. I understand that its star, Jeremy Piven, is being courted for other projects for next season. You're right, it never had a chance. ABC first scheduled it at 10 p.m. Saturday -- ABC has been dead on Saturday night for years -- and then moved it to Thursday night -- another night on which it might as well run test pattern -- and then cancelled it because it couldn't find an audience! Give me a break!

    Potomac, MD: Is NBC planning to cancel Jesse? It is at least a watchable show -- more than I can say for most of the others they have put at 8:30. With a little bit of fine tuning, it could be very good. I heard they are ending Jesse's season early.

    Lisa de Moraes: Jesse has nearly ended its episode order for this season. I think it airs its final episode for the season next month. The fact that NBC didn't order additional episodes for this season is not a good sign, but keep in mind that its producers are the same people behind "Friends" and NBC wants very much to be in bed with these guys. So its chance of survival is better than some other shows. It will depend, in part, on how well "Will & Grace" does in its Thursday 8:30 p.m. half-hour.

    Bob Levey: One hesitates to use this expression, but.... The worst moment in the history of TV might have been the song that Gennifer Flowers sang on the Roseanne show. As she sang it, she was standing in front of a red, king-size bed. The song: "When a Man Loves a Woman." Don't the TV moguls realize how hard we guffaw over nonsense like this?

    Lisa de Moraes: They know and they don't care. Roseanne's show has improved its ratings somewhat with highly promotable shows like Gennifer Flowers' appearance. Ratings are ratings, no matter how you get 'em.

    Bob Levey: When more than 200 channels are available (coming soon, kiddies), what in the world will be on them? Please, no more county council meetings. Promise me.

    Lisa de Moraes: It'll be like the magazine world -- lots of specialized, niche programming. You'll have that all-dogs-all-the-time channel -- oops, I think we already have that one -- the all swimming channel, the all mathematics channel -- okay, maybe not an all math channel -- and so on.

    Bob Levey: That's our show for today. Many thanks to Lisa de Moraes. Be sure to join us next Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time, when our guest will be E. R. Shipp, the new ombudsman of The Washington Post. Don't forget "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," our weekly anything-goes show. It airs Fridays from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time.

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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