- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 26, 2006

A ‘Wide’ gamble for CBS

Alfre Woodard, who, as Betty Applewhite, seems to be getting more face time these days on ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” steps into a starring role with “The Water Is Wide” — adapted from Pat Conroy’s (“The Prince of Tides”) 1990 novel of the same name — which will square off against her Wisteria Lane doings Sunday evening at 9 on rival network CBS.

Miss Woodard plays Mrs. Brown, a stern and staunchly religious teacher charged with educating poor students in a two-room schoolhouse on Yamacraw Island, a small, isolated island off the South Carolina Coast. Newcomer Jeff Hephner portrays Mr. Conroy, a free-spirited teacher who comes to the island in 1969 with his own ideas about education.

The two frequently clash, and Mr. Conroy is shocked to learn that many of Mrs. Brown’s pupils can barely read or write. The young upstart also makes an enemy of the local school superintendent (veteran character actor Frank Langella). Yet Conroy and the youngsters manage to bond, with each having a profound effect upon the other.

Aside from predictable storytelling, the well-meaning “Wide” (directed by John Kent Harrison and airing under the Hallmark Hall of Fame banner) faces an uphill ratings battle against the successful ABC Sunday night juggernaut of “Housewives” followed by “Grey’s Anatomy” at 10.

Unfortunately for Mr. Harrison — who also helmed last month’s low-rated miniseries on Pope John Paul II for CBS — it may well be deja vu all over again when Nielsen ratings are released next week.

Miss Woodard, on the other hand, not only has “Housewives,” but also a co-starring role in the feature film “Something New,” which opens Feb. 3. And her “Housewives” household could be expanding, too.

According to Vibe magazine, Miami-based rapper Trina has been tapped to appear as Miss Woodard’s wanton daughter in four episodes of the hit series. However, Trina’s label Atlantic Records has not confirmed her appearance, Vibe reports.

Tyra returns

Busy Tyra Banks will be back for a second season of her daytime talk show, syndicator Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution announced this week.

The announcement — made Monday in Las Vegas on the eve of the National Association of Television Program Executives’ star-studded annual TV programming marketplace — ends weeks of speculation about the first-year talk show’s future, the New York Post reports.

“Tyra has done exactly what we said she would do — create a fresh, advertiser-friendly format that would bring young women back to broadcast [TV] in daytime,” Warner Bros. executive vice president Jim Paratore says.

Indeed, Miss Banks has become something of a powerhouse by attracting young female viewers via both her daytime talk show (seen weekdays at 9 a.m. on Fox 5-WTTG) and “America’s Next Top Model,” which starts its sixth cycle March 8 on UPN.

The former supermodel’s daytime talker is averaging only a 1.6 household Nielsen rating since its premiere last September. Still, the show leads last fall’s other new chat fest, Martha Stewart’s “Martha,” among the young, female viewers — the 18-to-34 and 18-to-49 age groups — that advertisers crave.

Warner said “The Tyra Banks Show,” produced by Warner subsidiary Telepictures Productions, has been renewed by stations “representing more than 60 percent of the country” — enough coverage, apparently, to merit a second season.

Hall’s new role

Michael C. Hall, known to millions of “Six Feet Under” fans as David Fisher, the homosexual undertaker on the former HBO hit, is returning to episodic TV in an equally macabre role.

According to Cox Newspapers, the versatile actor — now appearing in the off-Broadway comedy “Mr. Marmalade” through Sunday — will star in “Dexter,” Showtime’s 12-episode series about an “incredibly likable” forensics expert who also happens to be a serial killer.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff, Web and wire reports.

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