Once again, David E. Kelley has been thwarted by reality TV.
Fox has decided not to air the original episode of Kelley's "Boston Public" that was scheduled for next Monday at its regular 8 p.m. time. It has been replaced by -- you guessed it -- a special episode of "American Idol."
"Special" here means no voting and no competing -- just singing and recapping. Maybe the hour will be devoted to contestant Ruben Studdard, whom, it's clear, the judges already have picked to win. Imagine, Ruben in a Ford Mustang, Ruben drinking Coca-Cola, Ruben trying on Old Navy low-rider boot-cut jeans, Ruben on his Nokia calling home (205) via AT&T.
The "American Idol" special was scheduled for April 21 to give the best possible lead-in to the launch of Fox's new Monday reality show, "Mr. Personality." In "Mr. Personality," one lucky gal will get to "date" 20 guys; the gimmick is, they will be wearing some kind of mask so she will have to judge them on the basis of personality alone. These are apparently very special, magical masks that also make her unable to see the guys' abs, pecs and glutes.
(And don't you feel just terrible for the guy in Fox promos who whips off his mask to reveal his face? Of all the men who auditioned for the gig, Fox decided his was the most repulsive mug available. That's so cold.)
It appears from the decision to run the "American Idol" special right before the debut that Fox does not believe the addition of Monica Lewinsky as host of "Mr. Personality" is a sure ratings thing.
Fox is taking no chances after learning the hard way that Americans won't watch just any junk in their relationship reality hour, aka Mondays at 9; they'll only watch the good junk. "Joe Millionaire" really captured America's heart, averaging nearly 23 million viewers in that time period -- more people than watched any night of the war on Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC combined. But "Married by America," which debuted in the same time slot after the final episode of "Joe," has averaged only about 7 million viewers.
Fox also will expand the half-hour Wednesday edition of "Idol" for the May sweeps, with one-hour broadcasts on April 30 and May 14. The show's finale, on May 21, the final night of the May sweeps and of the TV season, will be two hours long.
Like that Marine who draped the American flag over the face of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad, NBC has draped its multicolored peacock over the Jessica Lynch story in Hollywood. The network will need to tread carefully or the the negative reactions may be similar.
Word got out last week that NBC was rushing ahead with a TV movie about Lynch, regardless of whether it could secure rights to her story from the Lynch family. While NBC says it's attempting to obtain official rights, it is willing to proceed without them if necessary, basing its script on news reports and other public information.
Lynch, a 19-year-old private first class from Palestine, W.Va., joined the Army just out of high school, to earn enough money to attend college. She was captured March 23 after her 507th Maintenance Company convoy was ambushed near the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. U.S. commandos rescued her from a hospital there the night of April 1; they'd been tipped off as to her whereabouts by an Iraqi lawyer who risked his own life and that of his family to help her.
It's not uncommon for a network to plant its flag on a ripped-from-the-headlines story as a means of warding off competitors. CBS, for instance, is considering pitches for a Lynch TV movie but has yet to decide whether to proceed.
But if other networks are dissuaded by NBC's damn-the-torpedoes approach from pursuing the story as a TV movie, the value of Lynch's TV rights might be diminished.
"That shouldn't be a great issue," producer Dan Paulson said of the rights. Paulson -- whose credits include TV movies "Dead in a Heartbeat," "Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story," "A Gift of Love: The Daniel Huffman Story" and "Bonanno: A Godfather's Story" -- has been tapped to helm the NBC project.
"We have every intention of locking [the rights] up, and as far as I know NBC is the only network that is actively pursuing this story. We felt in the interest of time we had to move quickly so we could get it on the air quickly; it's a very current story.
"Cable can't act as quickly as broadcast networks and you've got to move fast on this. ABC is not interested and CBS wanted to hear what the story was. The feeling at NBC was there is a great story and we're going to go out and do it."