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Q&A: Dec. 27

Question: I think the HBO series The Wire is by far the best show on TV. But it seems as if I'm the only person on the planet that watches it. What are the ratings like, and will it come back for a fifth season? They really kind of left you hanging. And why no love from the critics or the Emmys?
Ricky Sanders

Answer: Ratings have never been good for The Wire, which HBO almost didn't renew for a fourth season. The creators already have sketched out a fifth and concluding season, but HBO again will have to give the OK. It's going to be a close call.

TV critics have given the series ample love over the years, but awards ceremonies have not. It's very reminiscent of the treatment NBC's Homicide: Life on the Streets received. Also filmed in Baltimore, it won three Peabody awards in three different years but was never even nominated as best drama series by the Emmy people. Here's what creator and executive producer David Simon recently told TV critics about The Wire:

"It is complex by standards of television. But there is something that says if you keep calling something 'complex and gritty,' it's almost self-defeating. I mean, the people who come to the show and commit to it for one or two episodes are there with us for the duration. And whenever I read those two words in every review of the show, when it says 'the gritty and complex crime drama,' I just think, 'Right. Were we gritless and simple, we'd be fine.' "

Question: It is obvious that most of the news sets now have the new, mirrored, glitzy, high-tech look. But Fox4 seems to have the loudest music in between every segment! Has anyone else found this as annoying and irritating as we do?
Sharon Lowery

Answer: Well, Fox4's Good Day in particular has slumped in the early morning ratings ever since introducing its new set. Might it be the music, too? Or perhaps all the show needs is a prime-time injection of its network's two biggest hits, 24 and American Idol.

That will happen in January, creating much more traffic in prime-time and higher visibility for local news promos. In the first few months of the season, there's been little reason to watch Fox other than House and the Sunday night cartoon lineup.

On the other hand, Fox4's local 9 p.m. newscast is doing pretty well in the face of overall lousy ratings for Fox's prime-time entertainment programming during the first several months of this season. So let's see what happens when the network kicks into a higher gear.

Q&A: Dec. 20

Question: I've been a fan of A&E's The First 48 since its inception. For my money it's one of the best shows on television. The detectives are oddly compelling, the editing is superb and it holds my attention from start to finish. I worry, however, that each show I see may be the last. Do you know anything about the show's ratings or its future?
Allan Koenig

Answer: The First 48, currently in its fourth season, already has been renewed for a fifth, says A&E. It begins on Jan. 11. And Season 6 already is in production, the network confirms. So there's nothing to worry about for at least another year.

Question: When will Close Encounters of the Third Kind with all the extras ever be released? Any word on if one of my favorite movies, The Seven Percent Solution, will ever be released on DVD? And is it me or is this one of the best seasons in a long time for ER? Wow, I am so hooked on this year's storyline and cast.
Bobby Sorrell

Answer: Remember now, Uncle Barky is but a mere TV critic, not a movie expert. However, here goes:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind currently has a two-disc edition out. So there should be some "Extras" beyond all the extras director Steven Spielberg hired for the 1977 film.

DVDs of Seven Percent Solution (1976) do exist, but they must not have made many of 'em. Prices for even a previously used copy start at $78.99 on amazon.com.

And ER indeed is having a resurgent year, both quality-wise and in the ratings, where it still wins with advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds despite being in its 13th season. NBC's previously announced plans to rest ER in January -- in favor of a new mob series The Black Donnellys -- have been rescinded. So the medical drama will stay put -- at 9 p.m. central time Thursdays -- for the rest of this season.

Q&A: Dec. 15

Question: Hate to ask an obvious, perennial question, but when is It's a Wonderful Life going to air this season?
Kristine Hughes

Answer: You asked just in time. NBC is presenting it twice this month, on Saturday, Dec. 16th and on Christmas Eve (7 to 10 p.m. central time each night). This is the film's 60th anniversary.

Q&A: Dec. 13

Question: Are you going to say anything about Barbara Walters' special Tuesday night? If nothing else, could you at least put the list of her "10 Most Fascinating People" up? I already can't remember all of them. However, I do think Emmitt Smith belonged on her list. Look how much acclaim he got on Dancing with the Stars
Lisa Bellah

Answer: Oh, all right. Ironically I was at Emmitt Smith's Dancing with the Stars-themed charity event in Dallas when Babs went through her annual list. Her "Most Fascinating" for 2006 is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The others, which were rolled out in no particular order, says ABC, are:
Tennis great Andre Agassi
Vogue editor Anna Wintour
Hip-hopper Jay-Z
Grey's Anatomy star Patrick Dempsey
Pastor Joel Osteen
Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin's widow, Terri Irwin
Jon Benet Ramsey's father, John Ramsey
Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen
"Brangelina" -- Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (They apparently count as one, because that makes 11.)

Q&A: Dec. 12

Question: Is (Fox4 Good Day anchor) Megan Henderson dating anyone? I along with many male D-FW viewers wish to know.
John Mark Rong

Answer: Uncle Barky is hesitant to pry into the personal lives of local TV stars. But Megan says this for publication: "I tend to be shy about my personal life. But I'm still single, and there's no ring on my finger."

Fox4 reporter Rebecca Aguilar says her colleague would make a great mate.

"I've been doing this for 25 years, and sometimes I run into on-air people who are one person on TV, and another off," Aguilar writes via email. "But Megan is a gem, the nicest woman in the world. I get asked about her dating all the time. I don't believe she's dating anyone, but I know that she doesn't like to be "fixed up." Whoever ends up in Megan's life is going to be one hell of a lucky man!"

Q&A: Dec. 11

Question: One of my friends got a call from their spouse saying 24 was in town filming in Uptown this morning (Mon., Dec. 11). Have you heard anything about that? Is Jack Bauer going to save Dallas this season?
Chip Kelley

Answer: Scott Grogin, Fox's senior vice president of corporate communications, checked this out and said there's nothing to report on 24.
"We're not filming in Dallas," he said via email. "Sorry."

Question: I am a big fan of Friday Night Lights. I enjoy the way (executive producer/director) Peter Berg handles things. Are the ratings up? Do you think it will return next season?
Bart Long

Answer: Friday Night Lights continues to struggle in the Nielsens, but NBC commendably has picked it up for a full run this season. And the series will be moving to Wednesdays (7 p.m. central) on Jan. 10.

Recently named one of this year's Top 10 TV series by the American Film Institute, Lights currently ranks 82nd in total viewers, averaging 6.1 million a week. It's doing a bit better with advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds, where it's 74th with an average of 3.2 million viewers in that age group.

Right now I'd say it's a long shot to come back next season. Then again, I didn't think it would even get this far. NBC, to its credit, is doing everything it can to save the show. Now it's up to viewers, and even minimal gains in audience will appreciably help its chances.

Q&A: Dec. 8

Question: How many episodes of the new shows do you get from the studios before the season starts when you are coming up with your grades? Which of the new series have you kept up with? If you were to go back and re-grade all the new series, which ones would change?
Matt Cromartie

Answer: It varies wildly. More often than not, I only get the pilot. But many times networks quickly will send out subsequent episodes. I try to watch as many as possible, but I've found over many years that pilot episodes usually are very good indicators of whether a series is going to stink or shine. The best reaction to a show is if a critic actually wants to watch more episodes, as I very definitely did with NBC's Heroes.

Of all the fall series, I'm proudest of that early judgment. While still at The Dallas Morning News, I predicted it would be the surprise sleeper hit of the season. And on unclebarky.com, I wrote in part, "In a season full of new serials, this is the one to invest in. The first three episodes are thoroughly captivating, with cliffhangers that might leave you with mouth agape. So let's get the word-of-mouth going. Talk this one up, and then by all means tell me if I'm wrong."

I certainly wouldn't take back the grade of A that I gave Heroes. And so far, for this season at least, I wouldn't change any of the initial grades. I am the guy, however, who pretty much panned the first episode of Grey's Anatomy. I'm still not wild about it, but obviously millions of viewers are seeing something I didn't.

In every case, I never read another critic's review before writing my own. It's best to trust your own instincts and then see where you fall in the grand scheme of things. My track record has been damned good so far this fall. Sometimes it works out that way.

Finally, the new series that I've kept up with are mostly on NBC. Namely Heroes, Friday Night Lights, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and 30 Rock. I also regularly watch ABC's Ugly Betty and should be keeping up better with that network's Brothers & Sisters. But it's on opposite NBC's Sunday Night Football, so that's usually where I'm parked.

Great question by the way. Thanks.

Q&A: Dec. 7

Question: I was watching, or at best trying to watch the Channel 21 newscast the other night, and it's terrible. Do they have any viewers? Do you think this experiment of "prime time" news will last?
Mike Peacock

Answer: The TXA 21 news from 7 to 9 p.m. averaged a 1.1 rating (26,180) homes in November, its first ratings "sweeps" period. That at least was good enough to beat the two competing MyNetworkTV soaps, Desire and Fashion House, watched in just 16,660 homes. I've been told they need to do just a 1.0 rating to turn a profit, so we'll see.

As for content, the newscast is pretty much at the level of a Double A minor league baseball team right now, sort of like the Frisco Roughriders vis a vis the Texas Rangers. I don't think it's terrible, but much improvement is needed. The music bridging segments is way overdone. It reminds me of the old Channel 11 newscasts under anchor Cameron Harper. So do the time teases, such as promising a story on "Desk Rage" at 7:41 or something.

TXA 21's young, very eager anchors aren't quite ready for prime-time, in the sense of moving up to the CBS11 major league team. On Thursday night, they were almost in awe of a visit by CBS11 sports anchor Babe Laufenberg. But give them time. They're getting the opportunity to train on a very big stage -- the No. 6 market in the country. Right now the newscast is still using training wheels, and it shows.

Q&A: Dec. 5

Question: Why do you use Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11, but not ABC8? Does this have something to do with your feeling about Belo?
Kristine Hughes

Answer: The first three stations all are owned from afar by those respective networks. And that's the way they identify themselves both on the air and on their web sites. Channel 8, on the other hand, is an ABC affiliate station, but is owned by Dallas-based Belo Corp. So it's Belo8, for uniformity's sake. I admit it may sound a little snippy, but those are the breaks. I'm sure that Belo considers itself a proud owner of both Channel 8 and The Dallas Morning News.

Question: Did you see Studio 60 Monday night? A group of New Orleans jazz musicians performed an amazing arrangement of "O Holy Night," and I'm trying to figure out if there's a recording of it out there . . . Do you have ways to find out whether this song is available?
Douglas Barricklow

Answer: I did see the episode and share your enthusiasm. NBC supposedly will be making the song available for a free itunes download. In the meantime, you can see and hear it again here. The featured musicians, all of whom have benefited from Tipitina's Foundation to save New Orleans music, are: Troy Andrews, trumpet; Kirk Joseph, sousaphone; Roderick Paulin, saxophone; Stephen Walker, trombone; Mervin "Kid Merv" Campbell, trumpet; and Bob French, drums.

Question: I love your new website and have recommended it to a couple of friend already. Congrats! Anyway, I am interested in knowing if you are still watching Studio 60. And if so what are your thoughts on the evolution of the show? I thought the first few episodes were very smart, but moved a little too slowly. The last few weeks, however, it has really picked up and I feel more invested in what's happening. Any word on the ratings? And do you still like it, or do I have absolutely no taste when it comes to television programming?
Meggan C. Burchfield

Answer: Hey, thanks for the very kind words. Episodes such as Monday's Christmas show demonstrate what Studio 60 can be at its best. Aaron Sorkin's rat-a-tat patter is still more than a bit too pat for me at times. Too much sausage-making, too. But he's aspiring to do something very different here. And when Studio 60 is very good, it's far more than that. It's great.
Sorkin lately is trying to open things up, no doubt at NBC's urging. Romances and other intrigues are fighting for center stage along with whatever material makes it on Studio 60's weekly show within a show. And the acting is uniformly terrific, with Matt Perry and Sarah Paulson in particular looking like locks for Emmy nominations.
Ratings remain problematic, but NBC so far is showing admirable patience. Right now Studio 60 is probably a long shot to return for a second season. But I'm still pulling for it and still watching.

Q&A: Dec. 4

Question: Dale Hansen made a big deal about his tie last night (Sunday, Dec. 3). I've heard that Belo8's news director had instructed every male on camera to wear one. Even Brett Shipp donned one. Did Dale finally have to give in to the pressure?
Robert Johnston
Answer: Dale Hansen has always been a standup guy. No matter what you think of his sportscasts, he has the courage to speak his mind and to answer your questions forthrightly. Here's what he tells unclebarky.com via email: "It was our station manager, Mike Devlin, who made it mandatory for everyone to wear a tie -- except me. And I love that about this station. I just decided to change the look. I think if you never grow up, you never grow old. But I need to grow up a little bit anyway."

Question: With the production of DVRs happening at such a rapid rate, what are Nielsen and the networks doing to account for the recorded shows that people watch? Wouldn't you agree that ratings for shows are greatly skewed by people watching them later?
Jeff Attkisson
Answer: Nielsen already is figuring same-day and same-week viewing into its calculations, and hopes to be measuring bar and dormitory viewing sometime in the near future. The networks themselves can count how many people are watching their shows on new venues such as abc.com and nbc.com. It's getting to be a greatly complicated universe out there, with Nielsen trying to adapt on the fly. You're right, though. Conventional, appointed-hour TV watching increasingly is giving way to a variety of new technologies.

Question: You may have covered this, but why did Steve Dennis leave the 9 a.m. to noon ESPN radio slot with Jennifer Floyd-Engel?
Tracey Panzer
Answer: It was your basic case of "going in a different direction," meaning that Dennis abruptly was told to go thataway. He's still working the sports beat at CBS11, though.

Question: Who has been laid off by NBC5 as part of the latest corporation-wide, cost-cutting measures?
Answer: Weekend anchor Loriana Hernandez recently fell victim to the mandated downsizing, and sports reporter Richard "Cash" Sirois is being dropped at the end of this year.