By ED BARK
***Fox's 2007 program development roster, announced this week, includes a big-ticket sitcom starring Kelsey Grammer (Frasier, Cheers) and Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond).
They're playing a reunited anchor team in the tentatively titled Action News, an almost surefire addition to Fox's next fall lineup.
Grammer plays "egomaniacal womanizer" Chuck Darling, who used to be a ratings hit in Pittsburgh with Kelly Carr (Heaton). He went to a larger market but hit the skids after a newsroom tirade hit the Internet (code name for YouTube). So Chuck crawls back to Pittsburgh to rejoin Kelly in hopes of taking their old newscast back to No. 1.
Old reliable Fred Willard (Anchorman), is also in the cast as "endlessly inappropriate" sports anchor Marsh McGinley.
***Another prospective Fox comedy, The Hot Years, centers on a quartet of twentysomething hotties who "have more interest in great clothes and great parties than in meaningful relationships and fulfilling careers."
The network also puts it like this: "Britney. Paris. Lindsay. When these are your role models, how does any girl ever learn how to grow up? Or cover up, for that matter?"
Unmentioned is that Fox made a star of Hilton in The Simple Life.
***Graybeard Lee Majors will try to return to prime-time as himself in a sitcom called Me & Lee?. Premise: Majors has been obsessed with bionics since The Six Million Dollar Man left the air. Now he's ready to experiment on a young human guinea pig who's tricked into having far-flung experimental surgery in Majors' Beverly Hills Mansion laboratory. Surely this won't get on the air. Or will it?
***Fox's The Minister of Divine stars Kirstie Alley as a "chocolate-loving, joke-cracking lady pastor with a shady past." And Parker Posey plays an unfulfilled children's book editor in another proposed comedy, The Return of Jezebel James.
***On Fox's drama front, former ER star Julianna Margulies will try to get back in the prime-time game as a rising attorney in Canterbury's Law. Also, the creators of 24 are developing Company Man, in which "an everyman is pushed without warning into a brutal, Jack Bauer-esque world" of espionage.
***Sci Fi Channel has upped its Season 4 order of Battlestar Galactica from 13 to 22 episodes. The current season ends on Sunday (March 25), with the series scheduled to return in early 2008.
***The May 15 Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS will have a familiar host. Reba McEntire has been hired to preside for the ninth time, this time from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Green Acres-esque Las Vegas.
By ED BARK
***ABC is giving second seasons to three new series, with Men In Trees the surprise returnee.
Also officially picked up: Brothers & Sisters and, to no one's surprise, Ugly Betty.
Trees, starring Anne Heche as a bestselling book author transplanted to Alaska, currently ranks 64th in the season-to-date Nielsens with an average of 9 million viewers an episode. Brothers & Sisters, with Calista Flockhart and Sally Field heading the cast, is in 40th place with 11.4 million viewers.
Both series have been following ABC powerhouses. Desperate Housewives (No. 8 with 18.5 million viewers) precedes B&S and Men In Trees tagged after Grey's Anatomy (No. 5 with 19.8 million viewers) for a few months before giving way last week to the new October Road.
A big batch of veteran ABC series also is being counted in for the 2007-'08 season. They are: America's Funniest Home Videos, The Bachelor, Boston Legal, Dancing with the Stars, Desperate Housewives, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Grey's Anatomy, Jimmy Kimmel Live, Lost, Supernanny and Wife Swap.
Notably missing from the list are any conventional half-hour comedies.
***ABC has added boxing great and grill master George Foreman to its panel of judges for the second summer season of American Inventor, which returns on June 6.
By ED BARK
***Engaged in a fierce battle for ratings supremacy, the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams will be the first network evening newscast to go high-def.
The switch happens on March 26, NBC announced Tuesday. On the same day, the latest Nielsen ratings showed ABC's World News with Charles Gibson nipping Nightly News in total viewers for the fourth time in six weeks. But Williams narrowly won among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.
Katie Couric's CBS Evening News remains well behind both NBC and ABC. Maybe they'd like to try 3-D?
***Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign will motor to ABC's Good Morning America on the same day Williams is set to look sharper. The show's co-host, Robin Roberts, will moderate a March 26 "GMA Town Hall" in Des Moines, Iowa, with Mrs. Clinton fielding questions on mostly health issues. At least that's the plan.
The show also has extended invitations to other major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, including Barack Obama, John Edwards, Rudolph Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
***Nielsen Media Research says the average U.S. home now received a record 104.2 TV channels, up from 96.4 a year ago and a measly 18.8 in 1985.
Still, a typical home only tunes to 15.1 percent of those 104.2 channels for at least 10 minutes per week.
***Go to the head of the class if you know the only new series to rank in prime-time's season-to-date Top 10 this season. It's Fox's Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, currently in the No. 7 spot with an average of 19 million viewers an episode.
Those numbers will settle down now that 5th Grader is fending for itself on Thursday nights without a bounteous American Idol lead-in. Still, the first Thursday night stand-alone ranked 12th in last week's ratings, one rung ahead of ABC's Lost.
By ED BARK
***Maybe Entertainment Tonight will have finally stopped its Anna Nicole Smith coverage by then. No, wait, they can devote a full half-hour to Law & Order: Criminal Intent's May 8th "Ripped From the Headlines" episode.
Subtitled "Bombshell," it stars Kristy Swanson (the big-screen's Buffy the Vamper Slayer) as former-stripper-turned-model Lorelei Mailer. She's also the widow of a 90-year-old billionaire. And her son "mysteriously" winds up dead, only to see Lorelei meet her expiration date just days later.
Smith surely would approve. Being dead has amped up her fame far beyond any wildest dreams she had. Swanson says in a straight-faced NBC release that she's "delighted to have the opportunity to work with such a wonderful cast."
Said cast also includes Peter Bogdanovich -- et tu, Peter? -- as George Merritt, publisher of Privilege magazine, which discovered Lorelei. And Arrested Development alum David Cross plays Ronnie Chase, Lorelei's manager, "committed partner" and alleged father of her newborn baby.
***Criminal Intent also will mine the NASA astronaut scandal, although not as specifically, in a May 1 episode titled "Rocket Man." Serviceable Tate Donovan (Disney's Hercules) stars as married astronaut Luke Nelson, whose affair with a colleague "turns sour" when she's found murdered in their sugar shack-up room.
By ED BARK
***Cripes, could they get much creakier than this?
American Idol has tabbed pop fizzes Peter Noone and Lulu to "coach" the 11 remaining finalists on the Tuesday (March 20) performance show.
They'll also perform on that week's results show, with Noone singing his cobwebbed Herman's Hermits hit, "There's a Kind of Hush," while Lulu again makes do with her only really big single, "To Sir With Love."
Meanwhile, the show's aim-to-please contestants will have to feign excitement as never before. Imagine drawing the short straw and getting stuck with the Hermits' "I'm Henry the VIII, I Am." Could even Melinda Doolittle do anything with that? And if Sanjaya Malakar massacred it, who'd even know?
***In other Idol-related news, judge Simon Cowell will be interviewed by Anderson Cooper Sunday (March 18) on CBS' 60 Minutes. In a network-released excerpt, Cowell says that just about anything is fit to televise, including executions.
"With commercials?" he's asked.
"Sponsorship," Cowell replies while Cooper laughs it up. "Yeah, sponsorship."
In fairness to Cowell, the subject of executions came up only after Cooper said that some critics have compared the harsh treatment of Idol contestants to a "medieval stoning."
***Speaking of harsh treatment, Idol's mega-maligned Malakar is being championed by both Howard Stern and a Web site dedicated to making him the winner to embarrass the show in its sixth season as a mega-hit. NBC's Today had a story on it Thursday, with co-host Matt Lauer then sniping, "I think the show is ripe for a little messin' with."
***Fox has ordered an additional 13 episodes of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, which has been a ratings smash so far in its three post-Idol airings. 5th Grader, hosted by Jeff Foxworthy, now must fend for itself on Thursdays at 7 p.m. central, where this week's competition will be ABC's Ugly Betty, a one-hour repeat of NBC's The Office and NCAA basketball tournament coverage on CBS.
***NBC has started production on The Baby Borrowers, yet another spinoff of a hit British reality series. The premise: five teenage couples, ages 16 to 19, become "fast-track" surrogate parents to a baby, a toddler, a pre-teen and grandparents over the course of one month. Six episodes have been ordered, with no air date yet.
By ED BARK
***The world is but a Big Top, under which we all live.
Further proof is Wrestlemania 23, during which a pay-per-view audience supposedly will get to see either Donald Trump or Vince McMahon made bald.
Their live "Hair vs. Hair" match is scheduled for April Fool's Day (starting at 6 p.m. central), so buyers beware. Still, it'd be shear pleasure seeing Trump shorn of his infamous mane if his designated wrestler, Bobby Lashley, loses to McMahon's main man, "The Samoan Bulldozer" Umaga (whose real name is probably Chris Smith or something).
World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. solemnly promises that one of the bellowing billionaires will be Mr. Cleaned in front of 75,000 fans at Ford Field in Detroit. Go here for information on how to order this "most anticipated pay-per-view event of the year." That includes you, Rosie O'Donnell.
***One of the oldest games in town is getting its own show during the May "sweeps." A-B11-C will premiere National Bingo Night on May 18, with viewers urged to play along on cards that eventually can be downloaded at ABC.com. In-home players "will race against the studio audience," says ABC, with a "chance to win cash and send the contestant home empty-handed."
Your over-the-top host is Ed Sanders from ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
***The Daytime Emmy Award nominations are in, and the Dr. Phil show somehow is in the running for "Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling."
On leveler playing fields, retiring Bob Barker will try to win a final Emmy as best game show host in competition with Pat Sajak, Alex Trebek, Meredith Vieira and Ben Bailey of The Discovery Channel's Cash Cab.
The "Outstanding Talk Show Host" faceoff is among Dr. Phil, Ellen DeGeneres, Rachael Ray, Lisa Rinna, Tyra Banks and the crew from The View minus O'Donnell, who apparently hasn't been with the show long enough to be eligible.
By ED BARK
***Rick Kaplan is an old hand at this point, but hardly an old softie. Both volatile and well-traveled, his latest challenge is to take Katie Couric's CBS Evening News out of its current ratings valley.
Kaplan, who left the top spot at MSNBC last June after a two-and-a-half-year tour, has replaced calmer Rome Hartman as executive producer of the Evening News. He's also been president of CNN (1997-2000) and earlier had an appreciably longer stay at ABC News, where he helmed the network's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.
Kaplan, a substantial 6 foot 7, is no mild-mannered Clark Kent. Nor has he shown much staying power of late. He's pretty much a hired gun at this point, but won't shrink from changing up the Evening News and clashing with Couric if necessary. Flies on the wall rarely have it this good.
The Evening News ranked a distant third in the February "sweeps," more than two million viewers behind the frontrunning ABC World News with Peter Jennings. Slipping to second was the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, which also recently hired a new executive producer.
Until recently, Nightly News had remained No. 1 since Williams succeeded Tom Brokaw in December 2004. Couric has anchored the Evening News since Sept. 5.
***Maybe no one cares, but CNN's most prominent anchor/correspondent, Anderson Cooper, still can't seem to plant himself firmly in the journalism sector. In 2001 he joined CNN with baggage in hand after hosting The Mole reality series while at ABC.
CNN has spent untold publicity dollars positioning Cooper as its star newsie. But he still sometimes veers off to sub for Regis Philbin on the syndicated Live with Regis & Kelly. Now he'll be hosting HBO's Jerry Seinfeld: The Comedian Award from Caesar's Palace on April 1. Oddly, it was taped way back in November 2005, with Chris Rock, Garry Shandling and Robert Klein also joining Cooper onstage.
In a January interview with unclebarky.com, CNN International president Jim Walton said the network has no problem with Anderson's forays into the entertainment world. "It's a subjective thing," he said, adding that it's "OK for people to know he's a human being."
***One of Seinfeld's old running mates, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, will be hosting Saturday Night Live on Saturday, March 17, with musical guest Snow Patrol. A week later, Super Bowl MVP Peyton Manning steps in, following in the cleats of other star Super Bowl QBs such as Joe Montana and Tom Brady. Manning's musical guest is Carrie Underwood.
***TBS, the "Very Funny" network, has signed Bob Newhart and Jamie Foxx to produce new comedy series.
Foxx and TNT basketball analyst Kenny Smith are behind Big Shot, a sitcom about a teenage NBA rookie sensation who still lives at home with his parents. Newhart is developing Newhart: In Search of Comedy, a late night "comedy anthology" venture.
***ABC finally has found a spot for Notes From the Underbelly, a comedy series about a young couple expecting their first child. Originally announced for the network's fall lineup, Underbelly will arrive seven months overdue on April 11, replacing In Case of Emergency on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. central.
The network also has announced its warm weather Wednesday lineup. The Next Best Thing: Who is the Greatest Celebrity Impersonator? will kick off with a two-hour episode on May 30th (7 to 9 p.m. central). A new drama series, Traveler, follows at 9 p.m. On the following Wednesday, a second season of American Inventor will be sandwiched between Next Best Thing and Traveler.
***NBC's shuffling decks, too. The big-money game show Identity, hosted by illusionist Penn Jillette, will return on Friday (March 16) at 8 p.m. central after the season finale of Bob Saget's 1 vs 100. And The Peacock's acclaimed but low-rated 30 Rock won't be gone for long after giving way to Andy Barker, P.I. on Thursday (March 15).
Rock will return on Thursday, April 5 as part of a "super-sized" night of comedy before settling into a new 8 p.m. central slot on the following Thursday. Barker, starring Andy Richter, is scheduled to end its abbreviated run on April 12. It then will be supplanted by Scrubs at 8:30 p.m. central on April 19.
And oh yeah, 30 Rock's season finale will be on April 26. Let's hope it won't be the show's one-and-only season.
By ED BARK
***Jerry Springer is replacing Regis Philbin as host of NBC's America's Got Talent, the Simon Cowell-produced competition series scheduled to return this summer.
Springer, fresh off a crowd-pleasing run on ABC's Dancing with the Stars, is the "perfect ringmaster" for the show, says NBC alternative programming head Craig Plestis. "To say the least, he is known for presiding over an unpredictable show where the unexpected is the typical order of each day."
***It's just one month, but a narrow February "sweeps" victory by ABC's World News with Charles Gibson may signal the impending end of a long first-place reign by the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.
World News averaged 9.677 million viewers compared to Nightly News' 9.566 million in February. That represented an 8 percent year-to-year increase for World News and a 3 percent decline for Nightly News. The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric averaged 7.586 million viewers, down 5 percent from last February, when Bob Schieffer anchored the broadcast.
Gibson also placed first with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. Coincidentally or not, and you can draw your own conclusions, NBC's Williams left for Iraq over the weekend and began reporting from the war zone on Sunday.
***On the entertainment front, it was a tale of two networks in the February sweeps. Paced by the Super Bowl, CBS easily won with total viewers over runnerup Fox. Led by American Idol, Fox in turn edged CBS among 18-to-49-year-olds, the advertiser-preferred audience for entertainment programming.
***ABC has dumped The Knights of Prosperity, a midseason sitcom, and will replace it with an According to Jim repeat on Wednesday (March 7) at 7:30 p.m. central time. George Lopez reruns then will fill in for the next two Wednesdays.
By ED BARK
***His character walked the walks as postman Cliff Clavin on Cheers. John Ratzenberger will really have to step it up, though, as Vincent Pastore's belated replacement on ABC's Dancing with the Stars.
Pastore, 60, quit earlier this week after deciding he couldn't hack it. Ratzenberger, who will turn 60 on April 6, is getting just two weeks -- instead of his competitors' four -- to train himself into hoofing shape. His partner will be statuesque Edyta Sliwinska, the only pro dancer to be on all four editions of the show. It returns on March 19.
***Toothy Donny Osmond -- now why isn't he on Dancing? -- has been named to host ABC's The Great American Dream Vote. The wish fulfillment series will sneak-preview on March 27 before moving to its regular Wednesday slot (7 p.m. central time) on the following night.
Viewers will vote weekly on which of several contestants "most deserves to have his or her dream realized," the network says.
***The CW network's Crowned: the Mother of All Pageants is combing four cities -- including Dallas -- for mother-daughter teams.
Dallas auditions will be held on Saturday, March 10, beginning at 9:30 a.m., at the Hotel Palomar, 5300 E. Mockingbird Lane. The eventual winning team (daughters have to be at least 18 years old) gets a "valuable prize package" that includes $100,00 in cash. An air date hasn't been announced yet. For more details, go here.
***Fox has ordered four more one-hour episodes of Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, which has drawn big ratings following American Idol. The show's Tuesday (Feb. 27) premiere drew an eye-opening 26.6 million viewers nationally and had more teenage viewers than even Idol.
***It's getting to be the way of the world. Arizona Sen. John McCain announced his bid for the Republican presidential nomination on Wednesday's Late Show with David Letterman.
McCain said he'd make a "formal announcement" sometime in April. But "you don't just have one rendition," he told the host. "You've got to go over and over . . . This is the announcement preceding the formal announcement."
And if elected, he'll be sworn in on The Daily Show.