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September 5, 2007 |

By Seth Freilich | Industry | September 5, 2007 |

Having taken last week off for Classic Week, there’s lots of TV news to catch up on, and we’ll start with a story that shocked my shit unlike any TV story in recent times: For a midseason primetime dynamo, NBC is planning to bring back motherfucking “American Gladiators!” You may recall that the original show, running in syndication in the mid-’90s, featured Gladiators with ridunkulous names (like Nitro and Laser) putting it to two different competitors each week in a series of mini-battles that culminated in this big obstacle course showdown (which was called something like the Eliminator or the Gauntlet … yeah, I think it was the Gauntlet). [Dude, it was totally the Eliminator — Ed.] This will be an updated version of the original, of course — it will still have all the battles, although it will also have some “heart,” focusing more on the personal lives of the contestants and gladiators (everyone say it together: “Awwwwwwww”). Of course, the show will also incorporate all of the marvels of modern technology which weren’t around during the show’s original run — in fact, quoting another NBC retread hitting the airwaves this fall, one NBC exec said: “We’re not going to completely reinvent the wheel here. But we’re making it better, faster, stronger.” As long as they don’t bring Joe Theismann back as a commentator (yes, he was seriously one of the original show’s talking heads), I’m so down with this.

In other good news, Comedy Central has given the “South Park” gang a three-year extension, with a wonderful new 14 episodes slated per season. I don’t talk about this show nearly as much as I should — it not only remains one of the funniest comedies on TV, but thanks to Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s ability to flip an episode in about a week, it consistently remains one of the most relevant. Stone and Parker’s new contract also includes the creation of a digital animation studio, which will act as the hub for various digital projects relating to the show. As Stone put it: “Three more years of ‘South Park’ will give us the opportunity to offend that many more people. And since Trey and I are in charge of the digital side of ‘South Park,’ we can offend people on their cell phones, game consoles, and computers too. It’s all very exciting for us.” One suspects the contract’s estimated value of $75 million is also pretty exciting for them.

Completing the triptych of good TV news, a few weeks ago I told you that it was looking like Rosie was going to be appearing on my beloved “Friday Night Lights” as the tough and short-tempered soccer coach. Happily, this has not come to pass! If the little online version of me could drop to its knees and praise Jeebus, Allah and Adonai, he’d be doing so right now. He’d also make a further prayer while he was down there, because rumor has it that both sides still want to get Rosie on the show in some way. Please no, I would pray. There’s just no call for Rosie staining the best show on network TV (and I hope you’re all happy — I went out of my way to avoid making any cupcake references until I blew it with this parenthetical). I don’t want it!

And you know what else I don’t want? I don’t want your fashion magazine! Or perhaps more appropriately:

I don’t want … your fashion magazine!

These are words we may soon get to hear, as the man, the legend, the forehead, the one and only James Van Der Beek has signed on for a guest appearance on “Ugly Betty.” He’ll apparently play the head of a fashion house which has some goings-on with Mode Magazine, although things go south when his character learns that Rebecca Romijn’s character is a tranny. So maybe the line will be “I don’t want … your surgically manufactured va-jay-jay.”

Now the biggest TV story this week is probably a story that has nothing do with what’s actually on the tube. Rather, it has to do with the widely reported (online, at least) skirmish between NBC and iTunes. With a contract set to expire in December, the two have been at odds over terms for a new contract. Apple says that one of the big sticking points was price — NBC allegedly wanted twice as much from Apple, which would’ve meant episodes going from $1.99 to $4.99 an episode (which would be a simply ludicrous price-point). NBC denies this and says the big sticking point was bundled content (Apple says that this was an issue, too, just not as big as the pricing one), because NBC wanted the flexibility to bundle programs together — for example, packaging an episode of “The Office” with The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Digital rights management was also at issue, although NBC’s statement from last weekend confuses the issue — NBC complains about the fact that the typical iPod contains illegally download material. Very well may be, NBC, but I guarantee that the source of those illegal files is not stuff from iTunes (I wouldn’t know this, but I’ve heard that most of the illegal files show up online before the legit copies are on iTunes in the first place). After NBC backed out of talks, Apple said it would stop stocking new NBC episodes when the new season starts in a couple of weeks, but that it would leave current offerings online through December. Late last night, NBC announced its response — it has partnered up with Amazon, and the new fall shows will be available for purchase on Amazon’s Unbox digital download service. I think this is a step backwards for NBC, in terms of the number of folks who will now pay for its shows, and it’s also a step backwards for viewers, thanks to the fact that these should will now have considerably more restrictive DRM.

Anyway, let’s make a quick diversion. You’re a fan of Edward Gorey, right? I mean, if you’re not — shame on you! Get in the corner! Now all you cool kids should go check out this imagined Gorey adaptation of the famous “Star Trek” episode “The Trouble with Tribbles.” Doesn’t matter if you’re a “Star Trek” fan or not — this is still a clever little thing, even if it doesn’t quite nail Gorey dead to rights (it certainly does a much better job than I could ever do).

Meanwhile, if any of you care a lick about “Dancing with the Stars,” go hang out in the corner with the non-Gorey fans. And while you’re there, you can think about the misery you’re in for with the newly announced cast (I won’t deign to list them here — you’ll have to check out TV Squad if you simply must know). All I will add is this — the day before the official announcement, there was a leaked list which turned out to be half wrong, and that list included Lou Ferrigno. You know, I might’ve actually tuned in to the show to see the Incredible Hulk lumbering around on the stage. That would have been pure comedy gold.

And even though the 2007-2008 TV season hasn’t started, Pilot Watch ‘08 is in full swing. FX has ordered a pilot from Ryan Murphy, the man behind “Nip/Tuck.” Produced by Murphy and Brad Pitt, “4 Oz.” will be a drama about a male gynecologist who realizes that it’s time to live his life as a woman. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, since the show is written by Murphy and another “Nip/Tuck” writer, and “Nip” has had quite a strong focus on and fascination with gender themes and transgender issues. And yes, the show’s title refers to a certain four ounces men need to lose to become women.

ABC, meanwhile, has picked up a new pilot called “The Fixer,” which is partially inspired by the character Jodie Foster played in Spike Lee’s Inside Man (a hard-edged women capable of fixing problems for the NYC elite). The pilot’s being written by Russell Gewirtz, who also wrote the film. However, while the show’s main character will be similar to Foster’s character, it will be a different character unconnected to the film. Having previously been involved with ABC’s ludicrous “Blind Justice,” I’m certainly dubious of Gewirtz. On the other hand, I did enjoy Inside Man (even though, as Foster has admitted, you could’ve removed her character from the flick with very little impact), and I think the idea has some potential. So we’ll see if Gewirtz can deliver and get ABC to give him an actual go to film the pilot (for now, he’s only got a script commitment from them).

ABC has also picked up the latest from David Hemingson, the former lawyer who was responsible for last year’s disappointing “Kitchen Confidential” for FOX (I applaud him for at least recognizing the wonderfullness of the source book). His new show is an hour-long one that digs into the reserves of his previous life, focusing on young associates at a law firm. Having been a young associate at a law firm, I can tell you a realistic show would consist of the following: (1) people flipping through boxes of documents; (2) people scanning through even more e-documents on their computer; (3) people writing motions and agreements; (4) people grinning and baring it when the partners rain shit down upon them; (5) people obsessively categorizing their lives in 6-minute increments (the wonders of the billable hour!); (6) people drinking obsessively; and (7) people screwing anything they can, both figuratively and literally. How much you wanna’ bet we won’t see so much of 1 through 5, but that there will be a whole lot of 6 and 7?

Meanwhile, Donal Logue is getting another chance at a single-camera comedy, after the total failure of last season’s “The Knights of Prosperity.” Logue will next be showing up in a pilot for “Hackett,” which has been picked up by Fox. The show is apparently about a “bad-boy” writer who had been a teacher at an Ivy League school. But a scandal forces him to leave and he winds up teaching at an Ohio public school. Certainly not a ground-breaking idea, but enough for a potentially decent pilot to be made, I guess. So whatever.

And finally, the master of short-lived shows, Tim Minear, is getting another shot at the whole TV series thing. You know him and love him from “Firefly” or “Wonderfalls,” and you may know him and like him well enough from “Drive.” His latest project, “Miracle Man,” has landed at ABC after a long bidding war with Fox. Created with “Wonderfalls” co-creator Todd Holland, the show is about a former televangelist who has no real faith but suddenly realizes he can perform honest-to-goodness miracles. Can’t say I love the idea, but if his pilot is good enough for ABC to give it a commitment, I’ll surely check it out.

I’ve got lots of video clips for you to kill time with this week. First, if you missed the second-to-most-recent episode of “Robot Chicken,” here’s a quick little “Battlestar” clip, complete with most of the actual voices from the show (sorry for Adult Swim’s garish colors):

Next up, here’s what the folks from “The Office” did this summer:

Third, here’s an unedited excerpt (i.e., NSFW) from a longer preview of Kelsey Grammer’s new Fox show, “Back to You:”

And lastly, a real timesuck — a 27-minute video about PBS’ upcoming “The War” documentary. This is Ken Burn’s seven-part piece about WWII, and the buzz for it has been phenomenal. Unfortunately, PBS has decided to cram it into a quick run, against many of the fall premieres, so it’ll get missed by many. This video is one-part preview and two-parts “behind the scenes” and, I must say, “The War” looks great. But I’ll probably skip the TV run as well, and do a power-viewing once the series drops on DVD:

Seth Freilich is Pajiba’s television editor. If he were gonna’ be an American Gladiator, his name would be Couch.

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The Daily Trade Round-Up / The TV Whore
Sept. 5, 2007

Industry | September 5, 2007 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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