It's a miracle! A third broadcast network has now scheduled a Jesus movie. ABC has bought "The Miracle Maker," done entirely in 3-D clay animation. It's the story of Jesus as seen through the eyes of a sick little girl and it'll air on Easter Sunday in the "Wonderful World of Disney" time slot.
This is not necessarily good news for CBS, which was the first of the three to announce a Jesus project--a miniseries--but whose movie will be the last of the genre to air, during the May sweeps race. There's already been some grumbling that NBC rushed its own Jesus TV movie into the November sweeps in order to cost CBS's program some viewers.
A confident CBS Television CEO Leslie Moonves said a couple of weeks ago that his Jesus is better than NBC's Jesus. No word at press time whether he thought his Jesus was better than ABC's Jesus.
But ABC's scheduling guru, Jeff Bader, thinks he's got the best Jesus project, precisely because it's animated and therefore more kid- and family-friendly. "Part of what makes it so appropriate for kids and families is that it isn't live-action; it's a little more fanciful," Bader says. "What is more appealing for children--a colorful, magical depiction or something that looks like a TV movie?" he asked rhetorically.
This kind of talk prompted an exec--whom we shall not name--at one of the other networks to quip, "What does he think we're offering, the Sodom and Gomorrah 'Jesus'?" Which shows you just how prickly the guys in Hollywood are getting about their competing Jesus projects.
ABC's movie sure has the biggest names, though of course you'll never see their faces. Ralph Fiennes is doing the voice of Jesus; William Hurt, Miranda Richardson and Julie Christie are also lending their voices to the movie, which was produced in Russia and Wales.
Mel Gibson's Icon Entertainment International finished "The Miracle Maker" and ABC bought it from Artisan Entertainment, which has U.S. distribution rights to the movie. That's right, the same Artisan Entertainment that distributed "The Blair Witch Project." We're not going to touch that one.
Bader says that "in a perfect world," ABC would like to turn "The Miracle Maker" into an annual Easter broadcast. Perfect world in TV land is a 20 share.
So, if "The Miracle Maker" airs every Easter Sunday, what does that mean for Charlton Heston's classic "The Ten Commandments," which ABC has aired every year for ages, but which the network decided not to air last year in what can only have been a corporate-wide brain lapse. It will air again, Bader promised, but on Palm Sunday, April 16.
"We got more calls on that than on anything else last year," Bader confessed of the omission. "After 21 years, the numbers [of people watching] had eroded, so I thought by giving it a year rest it might actually help its performance." Bader says ABC has the right to broadcast "The Ten Commandments" for 10 more years.
Speaking of inspired scheduling, CBS is going to counter-program the Primetime Emmy Awards again this year with the mob movie "GoodFellas." But this year it'll have some counter-programming competition in NBC, which will air the guy flick "Braveheart" at the same time. The Emmy show, you may have gathered, is considered a chick magnet in TV circles.
In the good old days, the broadcast networks had a sort of gentleman's agreement not to counter-program the Emmys, so that more viewers would tune in to the trophy show. It was, after all, supposed to be a celebration of the best and brightest shows from all the broadcast networks. Then came a dark period, '87-'92, when the Emmy show was nearly driven from the American consciousness altogether by airing on the very new Fox. Fox got exclusive broadcast rights to the show by offering the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (which conducts the trophy race) pots of money. At that time, the academy wanted to build a shiny new headquarters and needed the dough.
When the Fox deal was done, the other networks decided to let bygones be bygones and began deciding amongst themselves, with the academy, how they would take turns airing the show and return it to its glory days. Then, ABC pulled a fast one and offered the academy more pots of money for exclusive broadcast rights for several years. ATAS said yes, the other networks declared war and the Emmy counter-program game began.
Though the ABC deal is over, and the Emmy show has been broadcast by the networks on a rotating basis for several years now, the counterprogramming continues, with varying results.
Last year, CBS broadcast "GoodFellas" opposite the Emmy-cast and scored an impressive 12.9 million viewers to Emmy's 19.4 million. Who knows what the trophy show would've done if guys had been forced to watch it.
Disney will not try to find a permanent replacement for movie critic Gene Siskel on its syndicated program "Siskel & Ebert." The long-running movie review show begins its 24th season this weekend, airing locally on WUSA. But it's been renamed "Roger Ebert & the Movies."
Siskel died in February; guest hosts have sat in his chair since and that's the plan for the foreseeable future, say execs at Disney's Buena Vista TV, which distributes the half-hour show.
Three "regular" guest co-hosts will sit in several times this season with Ebert, as their schedule permits: CNN's Jeff Greenfield, "Good Morning America's" movie critic Joel Siegel, and Joyce Kulhawik, entertainment reporter for CBS station WBZ-TV in Boston. Critics from newspapers, TV and the Internet will fill in other weeks of the year-round show. Siegel is featured with Ebert on the first broadcast of the season.
CAPTION: The greatest story ever sold? ABC's Easter movie is done in clay animation.