- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Showtime renews 2

Premium cable channel Showtime yesterday announced plans to renew Penn & Teller’s award-winning series for a fourth and fifth season, Futoncritic.com reports.

The pickup order will consist of 10 hourlong episodes for each season, with season four premiering April 3 at 10 p.m.

The show, starring master illusionists Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller, offers viewers an aggressive, humorous expose of taboo topics using the duo’s trademark humor along with hidden cameras and blatant confrontation.

Also returning to Showtime: “Masters of Horror,” an anthology series of hourlong films directed by today’s most prominent filmmakers in the horror genre.

“Masters” — which debuted in the fall with productions by John Carpenter (“Halloween”), John Landis (“An American Werewolf in London”) and Tobe Hooper (“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) — has been given a 13-episode pickup and will debut this fall.

Playoffs power Fox

Fox took the ratings crown last week with a combination of pigskin heroics and tonally challenged singers.

Fox’s broadcast of the National Football Conference championship game between the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks ranked second for the week, scoring an enormous audience of 35.2 million viewers, Associated Press reports.

Meanwhile, the network toasted the return of “American Idol,” which came in first (Tuesday’s edition) and third (Wednesday’s edition).

Overall for the week in prime time, Fox was way ahead of the pack, averaging 19.2 million viewers. Excluding Super Bowl and World Series weeks, it was the highest-rated week in Fox’s history.

But CBS, the week’s runner-up, could claim its own victory, too. Although outside prime-time hours, its Sunday-afternoon American Football Conference championship game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos attracted 39 million viewers — the most-watched broadcast on any network so far this season.

In other ratings news, low numbers brought pink slips for three series — ABC’s “Jake in Progress,” NBC’s controversial “The Book of Daniel” and TNT’s “Wanted.”

For the week of Jan. 16 through 22, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 35.5 million; NFC Championship: Carolina at Seattle, Fox, 35.2 million; “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 31.7 million; “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 27.1 million; and “Desperate Housewives,” ABC, 25.3 million.

Iraqi TV on the Web

Iraqi-Americans will soon get a taste of channel surfing from their country of origin.

As early as next month, New York-based JumpTV will start offering the programs of five independent Iraqi television stations for $19.95 per month, Reuters news agency reports.

The Iraqi programming bundle is the latest addition to an online distribution network that streams live, high-quality TV signals from about 100 channels in more than 40 countries over the JumpTV Web site (http://www.jumptv.com).

Kaleil Isaza Tuzman, president of privately held JumpTV, declined to specify to Reuters how many subscribers have signed up since the service was started in 2000, but he said its customers number in the tens of thousands in more than 70 countries.

JumpTV’s latest Baghdad offering is aimed at Iraqi expatriates. Mr. Tuzman cites population estimates ranging from 1.5 million to 6 million living in relatively small diaspora communities around the world.

However, a sizable portion of early subscribers carry a “.gov” suffix on their e-mail addresses, indicating they are employees of the U.S. government, he said.

The Iraqi TV channels offer outsiders a rare glimpse of a nation and culture overshadowed in the international media by daily reports of bloodshed, kidnappings and political strife.

One channel in the package is Alsumaria, whose most popular show is a local talent competition similar to the “American Idol” and “Pop Idol” formats that have become hits in the United States, Britain and elsewhere.

The Iraqi show, whose title in English is “Iraq Star,” even features a cranky, acerbic judge named Mo-Hadi, Baghdad’s answer to “American Idol’s” Simon Cowell.

Internet streaming offers a cost-effective way of getting TV content to niche audiences too small or spread out for traditional terrestrial cable or direct-to-home satellite companies to serve economically, Mr. Tuzman said.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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