By ED BARK
Paced by a record crowd for the Oct. 23rd Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants game, ESPN's Monday Night Football proved to be a rookie sensation in the ratings.
Nielsen Media Research data says that MNF averaged 9.109 million homes and 12.325 viewers in its first year away from ABC. The 17-game package included an all-time cable high for the Cowboys-Giants, which had a 12.8 rating (11.807 million homes) and was seen by 16.028 million total viewers. That broke the old record of 11.2 million homes for a 1993 NAFTA debate on CNN's Larry King Live between Al Gore and Ross Perot.
MNF's household and viewer numbers put it high on the charts among all prime-time programming this season. In households, MNF is No. 26, between ABC's Ugly Betty and CBS' New Adventures of Old Christine. And in total viewers, MNF is 27th. Both rankings are far higher than any cable series, including The Sopranos, has gone before.
The final season of MNF on ABC averaged 11.835 million homes and 16.209 million viewers to respectively place 10th and 12th among all prime-time series.
By ED BARK
***Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions is developing two big-money "reality" series for ABC, the network announced Friday. But you won't be on the receiving end of any dancing girls, suitcases or questions such as "What color is an orange?"
Oprah Winfrey's the Big Give, scheduled to run for eight episodes, challenges 10 contestants to "take the money and resources they are given and multiply them to come up with the most powerful, sensational, emotional and dramatic ways to give to others." One of them eventually gets to have his or her wildest dream come true "for making the biggest impact," says ABC.
There's also Your Money or Your Life, in which families facing a "life crisis" will have to "make drastic and immediate changes before they are consumed by disaster." ABC says that each episode will deploy an "expert action team" to execute a "dramatic total money and life makeover." Hmm.
ABC entertainment president Stephen McPherson says that Oprah's plunge into prime-time series TV is "monumental." The two series, neither of which has been scheduled yet, "are a perfect fit for our alternative brand with their focus on wish fulfillment and making lives better."
***ABC also has started production in Canada on a three-hour remake of A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald, Sanaa Latham and the ubiquitous John Stamos. A 1961 film, adapted from the 1959 Broadway play, featured Sidney Poitier, Ruby Dee and Louis Gossett Jr.
***On a considerably lower plane, Larry the Cable Guy has an animated series in development for Comedy Central. He'll voice a "misguided but well-intentioned co-owner of a cable TV station." His business partner, a woman of "class and taste," doesn't share LtCC's preference for "half-baked show ideas."
By ED BARK
***Former ChiPs frontman Erik Estrada and four other "brave stars" will become made-for-TV Muncie, Indiana cops on the upcoming CBS "reality" series Armed & Famous.
It's due on Wednesday, Jan. 10 in the spot earlier occupied by Jericho, which is due back later in the season.
Estrada, 23 seasons removed from his signature role as Highway Patrolman Frank "Ponch" Poncherello, will be joined by Ozzy Osborne offspring Jack Osborne, ex-WWE wrestler Trish Stratus, skateboarder Jason "Wee-Man" Acuna and La Toya Jackson, who's billed as an "author."
They'll train with the "full cooperation" of the Muncie PD before hitting the streets of the city that's home to David Letterman's alma mater, Ball State University. Man, is he gonna have fun with this one.
***Count Ted Danson out on ABC. His quality comedy series Help Me Help You has been shelved in favor of back-to-back episodes of Big Day. Beginning on Dec. 19th, they'll run on Tuesdays through Jan. 16th from 7 to 8 p.m. central time.
***NBC won't be laying back on Christmas night. It's planning all-new holiday-themed episodes of its two big-money game shows, Deal or No Deal and 1 vs 100.
The two-hour D or No D "bonanza" looks extra-special. Host Howie Mandel will descend in a sleigh onto a decked-out stage, with the show's 26 suitcase carriers wearing red velvet Christmas dresses and caroling in hopes of luring "The Banker" from his Scrooge-like perch.
On Bob Saget's 1 vs 100, "The Mob" will be made up of Santa Claus, elves and the "12 Days of Christmas." Here's the breakdown, according to NBC: 12 members of the Southern Cal marching band, 11 plumbers, 10 male ballet dancers, nine exotic female dancers, eight farmer's wives, seven members of a swim team, six pregnant women, five boxers, four men named Bird, three French chefs, two dove hunters and Danny Bonaduce as a partridge in a pear tree.
The only thing stranger would be Big Bird making a surprise visit on D or No D. Consider it done, says NBC.
By ED BARK
***The broadcast networks have their point people ready for New Year's Eve, with Fox the last to RSVP. It announced Tuesday that Cat Deeley, also the purr-fect host of So You Think You Can Dance, will be in Times Square on the big night. She'll also introduce musical performances by the likes of Toni Braxton and former American Idol contestant Chris Daughtry.
"I'd rather ring in the New Year with the beautiful Cat Deeley than any of the guys on the other networks," says executive producer Phil Gurin.
He's got a point, but don't count out ABC's duo of Ryan Seacrest and legendary Dick Clark, who also will be having a ball in Times Square. They'll be assisted by Fergie in Hollywood, who will co-host, perform and welcome performances by Meat Loaf, Natasha Bedingfield and RBD.
Over on NBC, Carson Daly fights back from what his network calls "the best position in Times Square." Scheduled to perform is Panic! At the Disco.
CBS as usual will stay at home with a warm cup of milk.
***CBS has tabbed Prince to do the halftime show at Super Bowl XLI on Feb. 4th. It's the network's first Super Bowl since the infamous Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake "wardrobe malfunction."
Prince joins other Super Bowl halftime biggies such as the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, U2, Aerosmith, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Up With People. So let's see, who's still at large? Bob Dylan for one. R.E.M. for another.
***It's been three months now since Katie Couric took took command of the CBS Evening News. Ratings-wise, she's not earning her $15 million a year yet. The latest national Nielsen numbers (for the week of Dec. 4-8) say Evening News is a distant third choice with viewers while ABC's World News and NBC's Nightly News are locked in a tight battle for first place.
Nightly News, with anchor Brian Williams beginning his third year in "The Chair," averaged 9.116 million total viewers to edge Charles Gibson's World News (9.005 million). The Evening News lagged with 7.455 million viewers. Among 25-to-54-year-olds, the principal advertiser target audience for news programming, World News had a paper-thin edge over Nightly News (2.92 million to 2.9 million), with Evening News at 2.26 million.
Last year at this time, the Evening News with Bob Schieffer drew 8.27 million viewers for the week. In fairness to Couric, though, her two rivals also have seen year-to-year ratings dropoffs. Nightly News had 10.513 million viewers a year ago and World News, 9.418 million.
But Schieffer was in the process of steadily closing the gap on World News. Couric lately is falling back.
By ED BARK
***Cost-efficient Comedy Central is going to the bush leagues for its latest presentation. Fittingly it's called Lil' Bush: Resident of the United States, the first made-for-cell-phone production to make the leap from the palm of your hand to a TV screen.
Created by Amp'd Mobile, the cartoon series stars Lil' George and his Lil' "White House posse," including Lil' Condi, Lil' Rummy (um, it's a bit late for him) and "the unintelligible, foulmouthed wisecracker, Lil' Cheney."
Comedy says they're all like "Lil' Rascals with access to the A-Bomb." It's scheduled to premiere sometime next year on a network that previously lampooned the second Bush White House in That's My Bush! from South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Recently released on DVD, the sendup of a '70s sitcom was canceled after eight episodes because Comedy Central deemed it too expensive. Lil' Bush doesn't look as though it will have that problem.
***Add durable Rick Schroder to the cast of Fox's 24, which returns for its sixth season with a two-night, four-hour event (Jan. 14-15). Schroder's character is CTU operative Mike Doyle, who will team with Kiefer Sutherland's agent Jack Bauer in some "crucial field operations," Fox says. 24's fifth season DVD collection hits stores on Tuesday, Dec. 5th. Other new additions to this season's cast include Chad Lowe, Powers Boothe, Peter MacNicol, Regina King and James Cromwell.
***CBS has gifted its second-year series Criminal Minds with a post-Super Bowl XLI slot in hopes of further growing its audience against Lost when the ABC series returns to Wednesdays in mid-February.
Minds outdrew Lost in total viewers in their last two head-to-head matchups, but still trails among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds.
"This is an outstanding opportunity to expose a series that is young in its life cycle and on the rise to an enormous universe of potential new viewers," says NBC entertainment president Nina Tassler.
*** David Letterman will remain as host of CBS' Late Show until at least fall, 2010, the network announced Monday. Letterman has been with CBS for 13 years and is "one of the defining icons of our network," CBS Corporation president and CEO Leslie Moonves says. Barring unforeseen circumstances, this means that Letterman will outlast rival Jay Leno, who's set to bequeath NBC's Tonight Show to Conan O'Brien in 2009.
***Showing commendable patience with another highly praised but low-rated series, NBC has given Tina Fey's 30 Rock a full-season order. The comedy recently relocated to NBC's Thursday night lineup, where it follows Scrubs at 8:30 central (9:30 eastern). The Peacock's new Friday Night Lights and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip also have received full-season pickups despite continued ratings woes.