Category: TV News Tracker 2008

Kristin Chenoweth named as 'Idol's' next guest judge

Chenoweth People magazine reports that Kristin Chenoweth will be the next star to fill the empty seat at the judges' table on "American Idol." The former "Pushing Daises" star and Tony winner will sit in on the Orlando auditions later this week.

Chenoweth follows in a long line of celebrities who have stepped up to fill Paula Abdul's vacated spot, including Victoria Beckham, Mary J. Blige, Shania Twain, Joe Jonas and, most recently, Neil Patrick Harris.

Singers Katy Perry and "Idol" Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson previously have been reported as guest judges, but neither has been confirmed for specific dates or cities.

For a closer look at "Idol's" guest judges, click here.

-- Kate Stanhope

Photo credit: Stephen Sugerman / Getty Images

Chuck Todd named NBC's chief White House correspondent

NBC political director Chuck Todd, who was considered a contender to succeed Tim Russert as moderator of “Meet the Press,” has been given another plum assignment: chief White House correspondent.

Todd, who will continue to serve as NBC’s political director, will be the network’s lead correspondent covering the Obama administration, the network announced today. He will be joined on the beat by correspondent Savannah Guthrie.

“Chuck truly made his mark in the 2008 presidential election season where he offered unmatched political analysis,” NBC News President Steve Capus said in a statement. “His objective, smart, real reporting has been honed through the years in Washington and makes him uniquely qualified to lead our White House coverage team.”

Todd replaces David Gregory, who was named earlier this month as the newest moderator of “Meet the Press.” Todd will also make frequent appearances on the Sunday show as contributing editor, NBC announced today.

Gregory drew strong viewership during his first week leading the program, attracting an average of 4.75 million viewers last Sunday. CBS' "Face the Nation" placed second with 3.47 million, while ABC's "This Week" drew 3.2 million and "Fox News Sunday" delivered 1.46 million.

— Matea Gold

'Dexter' finale makes off with killer ratings

Dexter_2 "Dexter" made its biggest kill yet -- in the ratings.

Hardly any blood was shed during Sunday's third-season finale, but Dexter still came out ahead, not to mention married. The show attracted 1.5 million viewers at 9 p.m., a 48% jump from last season's finale and Showtime's highest rated telecast in 4 years.

An 11 p.m. encore drew another 491,000 viewers for a total haul of 2 million. That's the network's biggest nightly grab for a series episode since 2004.

Also wrapping its season Sunday was "Californication," which attracted 615,000 viewers at 10. Number reps a season high for the half-hour comedy. Both the series and star David Duchovny received Golden Globe nominations in the comedy and acting categories, respectively, Thursday. "Californication" was recently renewed for a third season.

-- Denise Martin

Related:
Complete coverage of "Dexter."
Complete coverage of "Californication."

Photo: Michael C. Hall is Dexter. Credit: Associated Press

Sean Hannity to be sole host of new Fox News show

Fox News host Sean Hannity, who is losing his liberal counterpart Alan Colmes at the end of the year, will not be getting a new on-air partner. Instead, the conservative commentator will headline his own show, called simply “Hannity,” beginning Jan. 12, the network announced today.

The program –- running in the same 6 p.m. Pacific time slot -- will include several segments in which three guests from across the political spectrum, dubbed the "Great American Panel," will weigh in on the topics of the day. The show will also include regular commentary and interviews by Hannity, as well as a feature called “Hate Hannity Hotline” that will highlight the critical comments he receives from listeners of his syndicated radio show.

“When Alan Colmes left us with a void last month, we decided to build a new program utilizing Sean’s signature talents, rather than take on the monumental task of replacing someone as exceptional as Alan and attempting to rebuild a rare chemistry that is unlikely to ever be matched in cable television again,” Bill Shine, the network’s senior vice president of programming, said in a statement.

This marks the first time in Fox News’ 12-year history that it has changed its programming in the 6 p.m. time period.

-- Matea Gold

Joss Whedon: 'I would have put "Dollhouse" on Fridays too'

WhedonThere was an outcry heard 'round the Web among Joss Whedon devotees after Fox announced it was sending his heavily anticipated TV series "Dollhouse" to Friday nights.

But in an interview Wednesday morning, Whedon said that Fridays are "a better fit" for the show.

"It's not a slam dunk, 'We love everything you're doing' slot. Everybody knows that," he said. "Dollhouse" will air Fridays after new episodes of the similarly sci-fi-themed drama "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." Whedon says he trusts the network. "The executives I’m dealing with are canny guys."

By canny, does he mean Fox has given him assurances that it will be patient with the show? More or less. "They’re bringing down expectations regarding how big of an audience they think it will bring in the beginning, and then as the show progresses. They need to do that."

“Dollhouse” revolves around a team of programmable people — or dolls — with various skills and abilities rented out for assignments by high-paying clients. Early on, one of the dolls, Echo (Eliza Dushku), begins to become self-aware.

The show's troubled production has already branded it as perhaps an overly complicated project, which may have sent it to Friday nights. Whedon admitted the show "is not simple" but added "we're not trying to lecture or bore people either. It's fun. It's designed to entertain, but in a way that plays on a lot of levels."

That said, Whedon says he anticipated the Friday move — and not as a bad thing. "If I were an executive, I would have put it on Friday too, honestly, and not as a dig. The people who want this will find it, and hopefully more will as well. Fox is aware that TV just doesn’t exist the same way. People watch it online, on DVD, on their TiVos. It’s not the end of the world, but of course everyone's been predicting the end of the world for 'Dollhouse' since it was announced."

Whedon also noted that while Fox executives will likely have to wait patiently for building returns on the show, he hopes fans will be just as patient with the story line. "We’re trying to create something that’s more than the sum of its parts. And not just in an 'Oooh, we’re heavy with mythology' way. Dare I say we're reaching for something more philosophical? Am I allowed to say philosophical? Or does that just mean my show will fail?"

"Dollhouse" premieres Feb. 13 at 9 p.m. on Fox.

— Denise Martin

Photo: Joss Whedon  Credit: Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times

'Kings' star and executive producer react to loss of 10 p.m. slot on NBC

The implications of Jay Leno’s move to 10 p.m. in the fall were still being absorbed throughout the industry this afternoon. The news hadn’t reached the cast of “Kings,” the highly anticipated NBC drama taking “ER’s” 10 p.m. Thursday slot this March and would be bumped to 9 p.m. if it’s picked up for another season.

Star Ian McShane, who plays King Silas Benjamin in the contemporary retelling of the David and Goliath story, said he learned Leno was getting a new time slot from a report on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” But the actor was taken aback to hear that the comedian would be on NBC at 10 every night.

“Is he going to be on every night at 10?” asked McShane as he took a break between shooting scenes on the grounds of a historical Nassau County estate this afternoon. “Every night at 10? Every night?”

“Well, I don’t think this is a 9 o’clock show,” he said, noting that the complex characters make it an atypical network program, much more similar to fare on cable.

“We’ll be on at 10 next year, and then maybe they’ll make it a kids program after that,” McShane quipped.

But Michael Green, creator and executive producer of “Kings,” said he was happy that the series would get an earlier time period next season.

“We would all like to see this show in a 9 o’clock slot,” he said. “Character-based shows seem to work better at 9. We’re glad to start there [at 10 p.m. in the spring], and we would look forward to moving somewhere with a wider audience.”

Green said that Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, called him Monday night to let him know about the move and assure him it wouldn’t impact the show this season.

“He called to reaffirm his very strong support for the show,” Green said, adding: “We’re just excited to premiere finally. I don’t care where they put us on.”

-- Matea Gold

Jay Leno hits the prime time

Jayleno The show will go on for Jay Leno.

NBC officially confirmed Tuesday what the entertainment press had been reporting all weekend: Beginning next fall, Jay Leno will have a comedy show that will air five nights a week at 10. Five years ago, NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker arranged for Leno to hand off "The Tonight Show" next May to Conan O'Brien. But that didn't mean NBC didn't want to be in business with Leno, said NBC Entertainment co-Chairman Marc Graboff during a press conference on Tuesday.  Graboff added that Zucker has been wooing Leno for a long time.

Leno, who attended the conference, said he does not want to stop working and, although there has been a lot of interest from rival networks to land him, he'd rather stay on familiar ground.

"I'm still in my first life," Leno said. "I'm comfortable with all of the people I work with. And it just makes it easier."

Leno said his new show will begin with a monologue and will include sit-down chats with guests but will spend more time on the street.

"We would not have done this with anybody but Jay Leno," Graboff said.

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

(Photo courtesy NBC)

Wolf Blitzer reups with CNN; John King takes over Sunday mornings

CNN announced today that Wolf Blitzer, its lead political anchor, has extended his contract with the network through the next presidential campaign. Blitzer will continue anchoring the three-hour news block “The Situation Room” each weekday afternoon but is paring back his weekend duties, handing off Sunday mornings to chief national correspondent John King.

King, who drew attention during this year’s campaign for his facility with using CNN’s “Magic Wall” to break down electoral returns, will anchor a political news block each Sunday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., beginning in January.

— Matea Gold

George Stephanopoulos offers David Gregory some advice

As NBC officially named David Gregory the new moderator of "Meet the Press" this morning, one of his competitors shared some words of wisdom. George Stephanopoulos, host of ABC's "This Week," posted on his blog a tongue-in-cheek list of the top 10 things "David Gregory Needs to Know":

10.)  Monday night is the new Saturday

9.)  Saturday Night Live is a pretty cool wake-up call

8.)  Dennis Kucinich is a biter

7.)  You'll never have to anchor another car chase — ever

6.)  No more OJ stories either

5.)  Remember to wink at the camera when you say "stimulus package"

4.)  Never let Chuck Todd drive you to work

3.)  Don't sit Doris Kearns Goodwin next to David Broder.  Long story

2.)  Rapping with Karl Rove is a guaranteed bump during sweeps

1.)  Most important, don't forget we move our clocks back next Sunday.

He closed by offering his new rival "good luck (but not too much)."

— Matea Gold

It's official: David Gregory takes over 'Meet the Press'

David_gregory_kbipeync_300 “Meet the Press,” the predominant political forum on television, entered a new era today as the network confirmed that David Gregory will take the helm of the NBC program, six months after the death of longtime moderator Tim Russert.

“We lost a legend this summer, and today we hand the program over to someone who has a true appreciation and respect for the 'Meet the Press' legacy, and a keen sense of what it needs to be in the future,” NBC News President Steve Capus said in a statement released this morning.

Interim moderator Tom Brokaw is expected to welcome his predecessor on today's program.

The selection of Gregory, NBC’s chief White House correspondent, came as no surprise, having leaked out in the press days ago after weeks of speculation.

“I'm honored and deeply humbled as I take on this role," Gregory said in a statement. "I'm filled with a great sense of purpose as I join a superb team to cover Washington and the world from a treasured platform in our country. Above all, I want to make Tim proud."

NBC also announced that Betsy Fischer, who served as Russert’s executive producer, will continue in her role.

“It's an exciting next chapter in the long history of 'Meet the Press' and I, along with the rest of the staff, am eagerly looking forward to this new era," Fischer said. "Tim so often said one of the most important things for a good journalist to do is be prepared — and there is no doubt that David is prepared for this. Not only is he a huge talent, but his tremendous knowledge of Washington and his persistence for truth and accountability make him a natural fit to uphold the strong ideals of 'Meet the Press.' ”

The furious conjecture that preceded today’s news underscored the lasting potency of the program, the oldest on television. For six decades, “Meet the Press” has been a political mainstay, one of the preeminent platforms for elected officials and policymakers.

In addition to his new post, Gregory will be a regular contributor for "Today" and will continue to serve as a backup anchor for the broadcast. He will also continue as a regular contributor and analyst on MSNBC and report regularly for other NBC News broadcasts, including coverage of special events.

Gregory comes to the job with substantial political bona fides, having covered three presidential campaigns and the Bush White House, where he was known for his pugnacious questioning of press officials. But there’s no question that the 38-year-old faces a steep challenge in living up to the legacy of Russert, who moderated the program for 17 years, longer than anyone else. A larger-than-life figure inside NBC News, Russert’s zest for the job and prosecutorial style gave him a national profile.

“Tim left such a void there that there was no natural to step into that role,” said Garrick Utley, a former NBC anchor who preceded Russert in the post.

Network executives spent months pondering the dilemma, ultimately choosing Gregory from a short list that included NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell, NBC political director Chuck Todd, PBS anchor Gwen Ifill and CBS anchor Katie Couric.

— Matea Gold

(Photo David Gregory courtesy AP Photo / Meet The Press)

NBC announces the end of ER

Er_nbc_mt_sg_250 The long-running medical drama "ER" will come to an end on March 12, NBC announced today.

One of TV's most honored shows, "ER" has won 22 Emmys and has the most Emmy nominations of any other show on television. It will say goodbye with a two-hour episode.

The announcement was part of a news release NBC issued about its midseason schedule, which included the following:

"The Office" will have the coveted post-Super Bowl slot on Feb. 1.

— The new drama "Kings," starring Ian McShane, will premiere on Thursdays, beginning March 19.

— "Celebrity Apprentice" will premiere on March 1 and will be expanded to two-hour episodes.

— "Medium" will return to the lineup on Feb. 2, the same night that "Heroes" kicks off its new volume and "Chuck" returns with a 3-D episode.

— The miniseries "XIII" will air on Feb. 8 and 15.

—Maria Elena Fernandez

(Photo: Maura Tierney as Abby Lockhart, Scott Grimes as Dr. Archie Morris, courtesy Joel Warren / NBC)

Exclusive: Bravo sizes up a second season of 'The Rachel Zoe Project'

Zoe I die. I die. Our favorite fashionista is coming back.

Bravo tells us exclusively that the network has ordered up a second season of "The Rachel Zoe Project," the behind-the-scenes reality show following Zoe as she styles celebs, keeps the peace between her feuding assistants and goes on mad vintage-store shopping sprees.

Production has not yet begun, but expect new episodes of "Rachel Zoe," produced by Original Media, to air in mid-2009.

No word yet on whether on-and-off-again rivals Brad and Taylor will be back, but as of October, when I last spoke to Zoe, both were still happily employed.

At the time, Zoe thought Taylor was getting "a bad rap" from viewers, who took issue with Taylor talking back to the boss lady. "Taylor's tough, she keeps me focused. She's there to tell me no, because I'm really bad at saying no," Zoe said. "But I need her to do that. I'd be lost without her."

Bravo also will be unveiling several new series on Thursday.

Now all the network needs to do is tell us when "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" comes back and my Christmas wish list will be complete. And that would be, as Zoe might say, "bananas amazing."

-- Denise Martin

Photo credit: Bravo

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