There's a Great Divide between NBC and The Reporters Who Cover Television, but it's not because most of them are too old for the hip General Electric sensibility, as NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker suggested last summer. It's because they just can't get over the whole Family Hour Is Dead thing.
While other networks are rushing to get back into the family comedy business after a handful of such shows gave signs of ratings life, NBC suits announced today at the winter TV press tour here that they won't be joining them. Apparently, the failure of "Daddio" had a profound effect on the NBC psyche.
"We tried and either we couldn't do it or the NBC audience wouldn't accept it," said Scott Sassa, who said when he was beamed by GE to head the West Coast operation a couple of years ago that adding family programming to the network's lineup was top priority.
Instead NBC will continue to develop programs that "fit the NBC mold," Zucker said.
That is, smart, upscale, young and urban.
Like the Very Special "Playboy Bunnies Do 'Fear Factor' " Super Bowl Halftime Special that the network has planned for Feb. 3.
Zucker promises it will feature at least one water competition. He did not know whether the water would be cold.
Asked how that special fits on the Quality Shows Network, Zucker said:
"We are having fun."
"It's been a difficult year."
"The beauty of America is if you don't want to watch it, there will be a great marching band or U2 at halftime."
A totally smart, urban, upscale comeback.
So while ABC looks to clone "My Wife and Kids" and "According to Jim," and Fox seeks the next "Malcolm in the Middle" or "Bernie Mac," NBC is about to unveil Julia Louis-Dreyfus-as-single-gal sitcom "Watching Ellie"; "Leap of Faith," a sitcom about a group of thirty-somethings that's getting the coveted post-"Friends" time slot on Thursdays; and a prime-time sketch show headlined by Least Interesting SNL Alum Colin Quinn.
Zucker, who in his brief year as entertainment division chief has gotten extremely adept at filibustering at press tour Q&A sessions, also spilled the beans that he's given early second-season pickups to the following freshman series:
"Crossing Jordan" -- highest-rated new drama.
"Scrubs" -- the highest-rated new sitcom now that NBC has canceled "Inside Schwartz."
And "Law & Order: Criminal Intent."
Duh, duh, duh.
And not a kid in sight.
But, Zucker noted brightly, a baby will be born on "Friends" in May -- though this may very well be that show's last season. Zucker said getting the stars to come back for a ninth season is NBC's first priority. (If so, expect to see as much of Rachel's kid as you do of Ross's other child by his lesbian ex-wife.) And, Zucker added, there's already a baby on "Three Sisters" -- a sitcom he just yanked to make room for the debut of a sitcom about a lounge singer who's having an affair with a married man.
In May, NBC will look back fondly at a time when it did have children on its prime-time lineup -- with a reunion special on "The Cosby Show," which bowed out in 1992. "Bill always felt [the series] had a lot of important themes in it that related to family and how parents should communicate with children," executive producer Tom Werner said earlier this week during a Q&A with TV studio suits.
Fortunately, no one from NBC programming was attending.
Speaking of babies, toward the end of NBC's day at Winter TV Press Tour 2002, during a Q&A session on "Leap of Faith" -- a series on which the critics had not yet seen a single frame -- cast member Jill Clayburgh inadvertently revealed that she will become a TV grandmother.
But not on NBC.
Clayburgh also plays Calista Flockhart's mother on the Fox drama "Ally McBeal," which has reached new ratings lows this season. When asked, Clayburgh said she would continue working on that series as well, adding that she will become a grandmother this season.
Apparently, producer David E. Kelley is hoping that a baby-birthing will bring back viewers.
Reached for comment about Clayburgh's revelation, a Fox publicist replied, "[Expletive]! [Expletive]! [Expletive]! [Expletive]!"
We took that to be a confirmation.
"Good Morning America" anchor Antonio Mora is leaving at the end of the month to co-anchor the 5 and 10 p.m. news at ratings-starved WBBM-TV, the CBS-owned station in Chicago.
Mora will begin his gig at the country's No. 3 ranked TV market -- behind only New York and Los Angeles -- in March. WBBM is coming out of a dismal November sweeps in which its 10 o'clock newscast placed fifth behind its two late-news competitors as well as syndicated reruns of "Friends" and "The Simpsons."
According to an insider, Mora's contract at ABC News was about to expire. "This is a great opportunity for Antonio, and we wish him all the best," ABC News said in a statement.
Mora has served at "GMA" since 1998 as news reader and substitute anchor. He joined ABC in 1994 and has reported for "Nightline" and "20/20."
Viacom is mulling whether to launch a gay network under the auspices of its MTV and Showtime cable networks, TV Guide Online reports.
The two networks are in serious discussions about the venture, according to the published report and a well-placed TV Column source.
They're leaning toward making it an advertiser-supported basic cable network, our source said. "They have plenty of gay- and lesbian-themed films, theatricals and original Showtime productions they can use," the source said.
Executives at MTV and Showtime, as usual, declined to comment.
Both networks have addressed gay issues in series like MTV's "Real World" and "Undressed," and Showtime's 1980s sitcom "Brothers" and drama "Queer as Folk," which began a second season this week.
CNBC unveiled an overhauled schedule to reporters at the press tour today, with a really slick video that included a whole lot of close-up shots of Maria Bartiromo looking pouty and totally hot -- though no sound of unzipping zippers.
There were no long pouty shots of Ron Insana.
There's also a whole lot of Bartiromo on the new schedule, but you'll have to wait until the lineup debuts on Feb. 4 to see if she's pouty and hot there, too.
Four programs have been added to the NBC cable news network's slate including the Bartiromo-hosted "Closing Bell" from 3 to 4 p.m., and "Closing Bell With Maria Bartiromo and Tyler Mathisen" after that.
Weekdays, "Squawk Box," with Bartiromo, moves one hour closer to the opening bell, telecast from 8 to 11 a.m. "Market Week With Maria Bartiromo" moves to Monday at 7 p.m. and expands to one hour.