Scratch, scratch, squeak, squeak! That scurrying noise you hear is the sound of the rats at UPN running for cover after announcing they will debut the controversial "Amish in the City" reality series in just three weeks.
"We're proud to present this series," UPN entertainment president Dawn Ostroff said in Thursday's announcement. This comes as something of a surprise because she's been hiding this series like a detainee at Guantanamo since January. That was when she and her boss, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, announced UPN was developing a series in which it would tempt a bunch of Amish kids to leave the fold by having them move in with a group of "mainstream young adults" of UPN's choosing -- you can just imagine -- while the cameras record their activities. Sort of "Witness" meets "The Real World."
At the time Moonves said UPN was developing the project because "we couldn't do 'The Beverly Hillbillies' " and besides, "the Amish don't have as good a lobbying group." The "Beverly Hillbillies" reference is to a reality series that CBS -- which, like UPN, is owned by Viacom -- planned to foist on the public, in which some real live Appalachian rubes would be jetted to Beverly Hills for a year with CBS trotting them out for the amusement of the local gentry and, of course, millions of TV viewers.
Initial reactions to "Amish in the City" were similar to reactions to "Beverly Hillbillies" -- not enthusiastic -- causing UPN to send its Amish project into witness protection, only to resurface Thursday as a fait accompli, in the can. As recently as May 20, Ostroff looked like a deer caught in headlights -- make that a rat caught in headlights -- when, during a media Q&A session after UPN presented its new schedule to advertisers at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked if she was still developing the Amish reality series. Moonves -- who was recently promoted to Viacom co-COO and who is trying out for studio CEO Sumner Redstone's job -- took the question, though only to say -- scratch, scratch, squeak, squeak -- they would not take the question.
In Thursday's announcement, UPN said that its Amish and non-Amish gang had shacked up in an ultra-modern Hollywood Hills home and that its mainstream young adults of choice included a "handsome swim teacher," a "fashion-forward party girl," a "colorful club promoter," a "busboy/musician," an "inner-city student" and a "strict vegan. " During their encounter, the youths made a trip to the ocean, rode a helicopter to a resort island and walked the red carpet at a Hollywood movie premiere. UPN also included some mentally disabled folks in the fun and games; the network says that among the housemates' scheduled activities was "working with the mentally disabled."
UPN upstaged PBS's day at the opening of Summer TV Press Tour 2004 here with its little programming bomb, for which PBS chief Pat Mitchell should be grateful. Mitchell dropped a bomb of her own when she told critics Thursday that the public broadcasting network gave CNN show host and political analyst Tucker Carlson a PBS program because otherwise the poor dear would only have the one opportunity in his career, which is just unfair.
You know, you just can't make up stuff this good.
"Tucker Carlson already has a show. He already has a platform, so rather than differentiating yourself from the other outlets, you start to look more like them," commented one critic to the woman who heads the If We Don't Do It Who Will network, dedicated, Mitchell has said, to giving voice to those who can't get theirs heard on those other networks.
"Well, the show that Tucker does for us is not at all like the show he does for CNN," Mitchell responded. "And I think, why are we limiting him to being able to do only one thing in his life?"
A couple of minutes later, she added: "I don't know why you'd want to box Tucker in to having only one opportunity in his career." Mitchell apparently is unaware that Carlson's career also includes the opportunity of contributing to Esquire magazine and that in the past he has been afforded the opportunity to cover politics for such publications as the Weekly Standard, Wall Street Journal and New York Times.
She denied that the show was the result of efforts by Corporation for Public Broadcasting chief Michael Pack, a former documentary filmmaker with ties to the Bush administration, to get a conservative talk show on the network. A few weeks before, the New Yorker published an article in which Pack, who 11/2 years ago pitched to Mitchell a show called "Lynne Cheney's History Book," is said to be credited with saying he pushed for Carlson to get the gig. On Thursday, Mitchell insisted that of four pilot shows produced to fill the 10 p.m. Friday slot, Carlson's was the best.
Carlson didn't do much better with the question during his Q&A session, saying he had no idea how things get done at PBS and how he got picked to do the show, which receives funding from CPB. When one critic noted that his father, Richard Carlson, used to head CPB, Carlson said he was never interested in learning from his father about the relationship between PBS and CPB and his personal connection to CPB was a coincidence.
A columnist who ran into Carlson shortly before his Q&A session -- okay, that would be me -- told him that critics had not been satisfied with Mitchell's explanation of why he got the gig, that they wondered why a network whose mandate is to give a voice to those not heard on other networks would give the show to him instead of --
"A disabled liberal . . . lesbian," Tucker interrupted. He had a couple other words in the description but, honestly, we couldn't keep all of them in our head until we could write them down.
PBS led the network pack in the news and documentary Emmy nominations announced Thursday by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The public television network's 24 nods included four apiece for the investigative series "Frontline" and for "Becoming American," Bill Moyers's special on Chinese immigrants. Documentary series "P.O.V." and the Ric Burns film "The Center of the World: New York" each grabbed three.
ABC squeaked past CBS with 20 nominations, led by "Primetime Thursday" with six and "World News Tonight" with five. CBS's 19 nominations included six nods for "Sunday Morning."
NBC garnered 11 nominations, five of them for "Dateline."
Cinemax's "Reel Life" series was the most-nominated show; its 12 nods accounted for all of the cable network's nominations.
Among the cable news networks, MSNBC had nine nominations, all but one for its "National Geographic Explorer" series. The series, which has racked up 52 Emmys in its nearly 20 years on television, will move to Washington-based National Geographic Channel early this winter, the network announced late Thursday.
CNN had three nominations and CNBC had two.
Top-rated Fox News Channel did not submit an entry for the second year in what a network spokesman said is now "standard practice." The network stopped sending entries after being shut out for six years.
Silver Spring-based Discovery Networks nabbed six nominations: four for Discovery Channel and two for TLC.
The awards will be presented Sept. 13 in New York.