Category: TV News Tracker 2008

Critic's notebook: 'Grey's Anatomy,' blasted for Brooke Smith firing, is behind the gay character learning curve

Aaaand they’re back. After a brief respite from the entertainment media and Internet chatterazzi, “Grey’s Anatomy” has returned to the headlines with charges of homophobia, cultural obtuseness and just plain poor judgment for the firing of Brooke Smith. Smith found herself in the tragicomic situation of getting the big Emmy-worthy “Oh, my God, I’m gay” monologue in one episode and the boot in the next.

So swift was that boot that just last night Dr. Erica Hahn (Smith) took her final stand against the generally disgraceful medical standards of Seattle Grace, turned on her complicit almost-girlfriend Callie (Sara Ramirez) and stalked off into the night presumably never to be heard from again.

Just as many Americans were simmering in outrage over the passage, in three states, of bans on gay marriage, the folks at “Grey’s” jettison their first, and newly realized, gay character. That show has had its share of what-were-they-thinking moments, but this one may set the industry standard.

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Fox News' Greta Van Susteren scores first post-election interview with Sarah Palin

Greta Fox News host Greta Van Susteren has landed the first post-election interview with Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the network announced today.

The host of “On the Record” is flying Saturday to Alaska, where she’ll interview the onetime Republican vice presidential candidate on Sunday and Monday. The taped interview will air on her program Monday evening.

Palin is granting the interview after being been pummeled in the press for the last several days by unnamed aides to Sen. John McCain, who said that she made exorbitant clothing expenditures beyond what had been previously reported, and lacked basic knowledge of world affairs.

In the days since she and McCain lost the election, the Alaska governor has been besieged with interview requests from the likes of Barbara Walters, Larry King and Oprah Winfrey. But she chose Van Susteren, who has objected to the bashing of Palin by unnamed aides.

“The sniping at Gov. Palin after the election by ‘anonymous’ sources is rotten,” Van Susteren wrote on her blog today. “I have said over and over and over again, it is our job in journalism to be aggressive in challenging politicians ... but it is not right to gratuitously trash someone ... and worse, it becomes “conventional wisdom” giving some journalists blinders -- meaning they don’t step back and investigate for themselves but rather go with the so-called conventional wisdom ... that is not fair to the politician and is not a good for journalism or the First Amendment ... our goal is to get information and let the people decide.”

Some of the sharpest charges were reported by her Fox News colleague, correspondent Carl Cameron, who said he was told that Palin didn’t know which countries were members of the North American Free Trade Agreement or that Africa was a continent.

“All these things caused great doubts,” Cameron told Bill O’Reilly on Wednesday.

Palin’s spokeswoman has released a statement calling the allegations untrue and “sickening.”

Van Susteren, who interviewed Palin during the campaign, plans to talk to her about the accusations by McCain aides and her political future.

-- Matea Gold

(Photo courtesy Fox News)

HBO snaps up new documentary about Barack Obama

HBO announced this afternoon that it has acquired a still-untitled documentary about President-elect Barack Obama that will air on the premium cable channel next year.

The film, produced by Edward Norton and his production company Class 5 Films, was shot over the last 2 1/2 years with the cooperation of Obama and his campaign. Documentary filmmakers Amy Rice and Alicia Sams, who served as co-directors of the project, had access to Obama’s staff, family and friends. Filming is continuing through the inauguration.

“We believe this film will capture a tipping point in American history when a new generation of leadership emerged and old prejudices were finally vaulted over,” Norton said in a statement. “We’re thrilled that this film will be presented by HBO, which has long been one of the notable champions of the documentary film but, more importantly, offers us by far the best chance to share this film with the widest audience.”

The documentary is being edited by Samuel D. Pollard, the award-winning editor of HBO’s "When the Levees Broke" and "4 Little Girls.” 

— Matea Gold

Joss Whedon's 'Dollhouse' dumped onto Friday nights

When Fox President of Entertainment Kevin Reilly first heard Joss Whedon's pitch for "Dollhouse," his new show, he was so taken that he later described it to an L.A. Times reporter this way:

"He had me at 'hello,' " Reilly said. "I was kinda drunk with the surprise of it all. He laid out the whole concept but I think it was one of those things where I heard every other word of it."

Reilly no longer appears to be in a love-drunk daze about the much-anticipated project, because Fox announced that "Dollhouse" will premiere in one of the worst time slots in all of television--Fridays at 9 p.m., beginning Feb. 13.

The news was posted immediately on Whedoneque, a Joss Whedon fan site, and prompted an outcry. "It's 'Firefly' all over again!" posted one worried fanboy or fangirl. (Whedon's "Firefly" was also given a Friday night graveyard shift in Fall 2002.)

Behind the scenes, "Dollhouse" has had its share of ups and downs in its short life. Whedon shut down production in September for 2 1/2 weeks to rewrite scripts and wound up shooting the pilot again. But Whedon recently mused on his website about how happy he was with the results and that he and the network were finally in a good place about what they both want from the series.

On Thursday, it became obvious that the problems persist. Production on the seventh episode, which is supposed to begin Monday, is being delayed at least a day because the script was in such bad shape, according to a source who requested anonymity. The script for the sixth episode also had big problems, causing production delays that left the cast and crew very frustrated, the source said.

Whedon, who directed the first episode, is hardly seen on set these days, focusing all of his attention to writing. The show stars Eliza Dushku and centers on a group of people who are imprinted with the personalities and abilities they need to carry out specific missions. After they carry out their duties, their memories are wiped clean and they live together like children in Dollhouse, a futuristic dormatory and lab.

"We have yet to gain any momentum," the inside source said. "The network wants to tone things, and Joss is trying to figure out how to give them that and still do the show he wants to do."

Sounds like deja vu for Whedon. The "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" creator vowed to never work with Fox again after experiencing creative issues with Fox over "Firefly," his canceled TV show that led to "Serenity," the movie, after success on DVD.

--Maria Elena Fernandez

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post said that Joss Whedon himself posted the timeslot/premiere news on Whedonesque.

David Alan Grier parties like it's 1863, thanks to Obama

How did David Alan Grier celebrate the election of Barack Obama on Wednesday?

He partied "like it's 1863" on his new Comedy Central show, "Chocolate News."

Grier always opens his sketch comedy show with a monologue in which he implores someone, somewhere, not to lose their d*** minds over something.  On Wednesday's "Landslide Edition," Grier had the following to say:

Holy [expletive], did we just elect Barack Obama "President of the United States?"

I got to be honest, America. I didn't think you had it in you. That is a 7-million vote TKO. You were not playin' around because you just put a black man with a brown name in the White House. Ain't this a [expletive that rhymes with witch] ?

President Barack Obama, mmm, mmm, mmm. Words so sweet they melt in your mouth. Now, I don't know about you, but I got to scream. AAAGH!

I think about all the stories my grandmother told me about being raised in the segregated South, marching as a little boy with the Martin Luther King Jr, I never thought I would live to see this day in my lifetime. (Grier actually choked up during this part.)

It is incredible. To have my own show, here on Comedy Central. I'm excited! And the Obama thing -- that's cool too.

Now, I hate to stick my junk in the jello. But, Barack, you cannot screw this up. This is a once-in-the-millennium opportunity because if you drop the ball, every brother and sister from Memphis to Mozambique will go down faster than Lindsay Lohan at the WNBA All-Star weekend.

So a few suggestions, Barack:

Ignore those parts of your black half that may make you wanna, oh, I don't know, smoke crack with a hooker in a D.C. motel, text message bootie calls to your chief of staff while having a buck-naked stripper party at the Detroit mayoral mansion, or create a show called House of Payne.

And while you're at it, ignore the parts of your white half that make you wanna lie to the country to start a war, watch New Orleans drown because you just don't give a d*** and don't...

(This last part  involved Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky and a cigar and it cannot be printed in a family newspaper.)

Barack Obama, please, I am begging, do not lose your d*** mind!

From there, Grier showcased a special interview with an Obama campaign volunteer named Peanut Wiggins.

Please to enjoy.

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

Obama's victory draws more than 71 million viewers, a record audience

Barack Obama’s historic win of the presidency Tuesday night captured the attention of more than 71 million television viewers, a record audience for a presidential election, capping an election season that saw interest in political news reach new heights.

Nearly a quarter of all television viewers in the United States watched the results come in between 5 and 8 p.m. PST on 14 networks, far outstripping the number who tuned in for the last two presidential elections, according to Nielsen Media Research.

In 2004, 59.2 million people watched President Bush defeat Sen. John Kerry. Four years earlier, about 61.6 million viewers followed the coverage of the matchup between Bush and then-Vice President Al Gore.

Nielsen's measurement does not include all the networks that carried the election coverage; PBS, C-SPAN and other cable networks were not counted in the ratings.

The winning network of the night was ABC, whose anchor trio of Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos drew an average of 13.13 million viewers, the most of any broadcast or cable channel.

It marked the first time since 1996 that ABC has gotten the largest audience on a presidential election night and comes as Gibson is locked in a tight battle with NBC’s Brian Williams for the crown of top-rated evening news anchor.

ABC News President David Westin credited the network’s win to its determination to “make it about the story, not about us.”

And on a night when the networks loaded up on technological tricks like holograms and virtual graphics, he noted that ABC “used technology in the service of substance, not for its own sake, which helped.”

It remains to be seen whether ABC’s victory will pay dividends for “World News,” its flagship evening broadcast. So far this season, the newscast has averaged 7.95 million viewers, down 2% from last season, while “NBC Nightly News” is up slightly with an average of 8.06 million. “CBS Evening News” trails with 6.04 million viewers.

“I think it helps any network to have a lot of people see their anchor in this setting, and you would think it would help in the long run, but I don’t think we’ll see an immediate effect,” said Westin, adding that he views election coverage as a public service more than a competitive tool.

Aside from ABC’s win, this year’s election night viewership underscored the growing strength of the cable news networks, which have seen their audiences surge during the presidential campaign. On Tuesday, CNN –- which showcased some of the flashiest technology of the night -- drew the second-largest audience in prime time, with 12.3 million viewers. That was 98% more than tuned into CNN’s 2004 election coverage and the biggest viewership in the network’s 28-year history.

NBC took third place with 12.02 million viewers, down 18% from four years ago, while Fox News followed with 9.04 million viewers, up 12%.

Despite the positive buzz CBS anchor Katie Couric attracted this fall for her political interviews, her election night special lagged behind the competitors, pulling in just 7.83 million viewers, a decline of 14% from four years ago.

MSNBC followed with 5.89 million viewers, but enjoyed the biggest gains of any network –- a spike of 108% over 2004. The Fox broadcast network placed last with 5.14 million viewers.

-- Matea Gold

'The View': Guess who's praising Barack Obama?

It is a new day in America, and a new day on "The View."

Can you guess which co-host of the ABC gab fest said this today?

"Today is a victory for this country: to have Barack Obama be our president, the first black president, the first black first lady. To have the amount of voters -- 14 million  more voters in this election than the last -- present themselves and vote in this election. Today is victory."

What about this?

"In seeing the amount of people that were able to gather with enthusiasm, ignited and ready to move this country in a fresh direction under Barack Obama, I think he has a gift. And I think with everyone’s support and prayers, he has the ability to really move us in a new place."

Was it Joy Behar? Whoopi Goldberg?

Nooo. It was Elisabeth Hasselbeck, the lone Republican voice on the panel and passionate supporter of Sen. John McCain who recently accused Behar of drinking the Obama Kool-Aid.

Hasselbeck and Behar have been arguing a lot lately. Behar has staunchly supported president-elect Barack Obama and the two women have reportedly been fighting behind the scenes, though they adamantly deny that.

Today, after Hasselbeck "made nice" with the president-elect, Behar took the opportunity to gloat. "What are you saying? I was right all along?" Behar said and laughed.

The two women shook hands. Then Behar explained how she viewed the election:

"For me, this was a triumph over negative campaigning. And I appreciate that about Americans today. That they didn’t fall for the Jeremiah Wright ads and this association baloney. They went for themselves. For the country. And it’s such a wonderful feeling."

The real winner, all women seemed to agree, was America.

Goldberg opened the discussion by saying that she was bowled over when her mother admitted to her on Tuesday night that she didn't think America would elect a black president in her lifetime.

"And the realization that hit me and really messed me up for a lot of the night was that as an American, I always thought of myself as an American with all of the promise that America holds," Goldberg said. "But suddenly last night I felt like I could put my suitcase down finally.

"When people say, everybody can be president ... this is a moment where you realize that you have become the fabric of America, that people really do want greatness for the country and they’re willing to do as much as they can to bring it about. And I was so knocked out by it. "

Co-host Sherri Shepherd was so emotional about Obama's win that she couldn't contain her tears while trying to explain why she finally decided to cast her vote for him. Shepherd was undecided until the very end.

"I took my son with me and he kept saying, 'Barack Obama, we did it! We did it!' We’ve always had these limitations on us. And I remember somebody in my family, when I said I wanted to be a comic and an actor, 'Go get a job at the post office, they don’t let people like us do that.' So to look at my son and say, 'No limitations on you.' It is an extraordinary day for me to be able to tell my son.

[Sarah Palin] spoke to me as a mother who has a child who has special needs. But this spoke to me more. And I know there are people who died to be able to see this day."

Walters played a clip of Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1963 "I Have A Dream" speech after explaining her feelings.

"None of us who are white can know what you feel," she said, looking at Shepherd. "And I didn’t cry last night. But this morning I was brushing my teeth and they had an excerpt of Martin Luther King. I remember that. It was 1963 and I found myself crying. It struck me so that I’ve asked to just play a little bit of that for you who are too young to remember and for those of you who remember and finally his dream came true."

-- Maria Elena Fernandez

UPDATED: Comedy Central's 'fake' anchors deliver real news

While most of us were hanging on the words of Charlie, Brian, Wolf, Brit and Katie last night, waiting for the official network projections of the winner of the 2008 presidential race, some chose to get the news from less traditional sources.

Over on Comedy Central, which put on a live "Indecision 2008" special, comedian Jon Stewart broke from his sardonic character for a moment to announce at 8 p.m. PST that Barack Obama had won the presidency. (So much for only offering "fake news.")

As the audience cheered wildly, Stewart's co-anchor, Stephen Colbert, peered at his laptop. "Jon, McCain can still pull this thing out," he said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Watch here:

UPDATE: Maybe Stewart should try reporting real news more often. Tuesday's Comedy Central special shattered ratings records for the network, delivering 3.1 million viewers. It was the most-watched election special ever for the entertainment channel, drawing 45% more viewers than Stewart's "Prelude to a Recount" special on election night in 2004.

But last night's special still didn't get as many viewers as Stewart's interview with Barack Obama on the Oct. 29 edition of "The Daily Show," when a record 3.6 million people tuned in.

-- Matea Gold

All three broadcast networks expand their newscasts tonight

After attracting huge audiences with their political coverage, the television networks aren't about to change the subject. It's been all politics, all day on the cable news networks. And tonight, Brian Williams, Charles Gibson and Katie Couric are all getting an hour to chew over the election results, as opposed to their usual 30 minutes.

It's not often that the broadcast news divisions do expanded editions of the evening newscasts, since that forces local stations to choose between the network broadcast and their local news or syndicated programming.

-- Matea Gold

UPDATED: Early ratings show ABC in the lead for election night viewership

Now that the presidential vote is in, we’re starting to get a sense of the results of another tightly contested race that was held Tuesday –- the competition between the television networks for the most election-night viewers.

Nielsen Media Research’s version of an exit poll is now available: the ratings from the 56 largest markets in the country, which make up about 70% of U.S. television households.

In those cities, ABC -– whose coverage was anchored by Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos -- garnered the biggest viewership in prime time, pulling in a 9.2 rating, meaning it was watched by 9.2% of TV households. It was followed by NBC, with an 8.3 rating, and CNN, which pulled in a rating of 8.0.

Fox News took fourth with 5.6, while CBS had 4.7 and MSNBC had 4.0.

If those figures hold, that would give ABC sizable bragging rights at a time when it’s locked in a battle with NBC over which network can claim to have the top-rated evening newscast.

We’re still waiting to get a sense of the overall audience Tuesday night. With about two dozen television networks covering the election results, the viewership seems bound to eclipse the record audience that tuned in 2000, when 40 million households watched the returns.

UPDATE: The latest ratings just came in, and they show ABC beat its broadcast competitors with an average of 13.14 million viewers in prime time, which was 9% larger than its election night audience in 2004. It marks the first time ABC has won a presidential election night since 1996.

NBC pulled in an average of 12.02 million viewers, down 18% from 2004. CBS had 7.83 million, a drop of 14%. The Fox broadcast network averaged 5.18 million.

-- Matea Gold

The network anchors set the tone for the night

At 4 p.m., all the broadcast networks went on the air and offered their preliminary assessments of the race so far. The early calls nearly everyone agreed upon: Vermont for Obama and Kentucky for McCain.

NBC’s Tom Brokaw: “We can say with certainty, based on all the long lines we saw at the polls today…It’s the end of apathy. People want to get back involved in their American political system, because they have a big stake in it.”

ABC’s Diane Sawyer said people are thinking about “the economy, the economy, the economy.”

CBS’s Katie Couric: “America stands at the doorway of destiny as we the people make choices about the future of our nation.”

Couric outlined the 10 key states CBS is watching: Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Florida, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. Jeff Greenfield noted that Bush won all of those states in 2004, except Pennsylvania. McCain has to win the rest of the states to be in the game, Greenfield said.

“This is not a wind he sailed into tonight,” Greenfield said. “It’s a gale.”

-- Matea Gold

Election: Sen. Hillary Clinton looks to the future

CNN caught up with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton after she voted today. Asked how she was feeling on election day, she replied:

"I think the country will be well served. I'm not painting any rosy scenarios. It's going to be difficult to get ourselves out of the ditch the Republicans are going to leave us in. But we're going to do it, and I'm confident in that."

--Maria Elena Fernandez

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