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Tuning in to TV

- - Wednesday, October 5, 2011

'The Playboy Club' canceled, becomes fall's first casualty

NBC's Playboy bunnies are being replaced by Brian Williams, the Associated Press reports.

The network said Tuesday that its 1960s period-piece drama, "The Playboy Club," is being canceled, less than 24 hours after the new series drew just 3.5 million people for its third episode. It's the first cancellation of the fall TV season.

Mr. Williams' new prime-time newsmagazine, "Rock Center," will take over the 10 p.m. slot on Mondays, starting Halloween night. Reruns of the drama "Prime Suspect" will fill the hour for the next three weeks.

"The Playboy Club" started weak, with 5 million viewers for its first episode, and didn't improve.

Set in a Chicago club and evoking the era and attitude made fashionable by "Mad Men," the drama was hurt by strong competition. Both "Hawaii Five-0" on CBS and "Castle" on ABC are their networks' strongest 10 p.m. dramas, said Bill Gorman of the website TV by the Numbers. The viewership for "Castle" is up 8 percent over the first two weeks of last year, according to Nielsen ratings.

NBC's drama drew mixed reviews and protests by activists who tried to encourage an advertiser boycott, deeming the material inappropriate for network television.

Mike Hale of the New York Times wrote that the series was "an unwieldy and mostly humdrum combination of mob tale and backstage musical."

Frazier Moore of the Associated Press, however, called the show "a plush escape" and selected it as one of his 10 new shows worth watching.

Mr. Williams, NBC's top news anchor, has been assembling talent in anticipation of a fall launch for the newsmagazine. "Rock Center" will feature Harry Smith and Kate Snow as correspondents, along with Meredith Vieira, Nancy Snyderman, Richard Engle, Matt Lauer and Ann Curry.

NBC did not give the show a time slot initially but promised one would become available when one of the new shows failed.

'Simpsons' negotiations stall, 24th season in jeopardy

In its 23rd year on TV, "The Simpsons" could be on the endangered species list, the Associated Press reports.

The show's producer said Tuesday that the show can't continue under its current financial model, following a report that big pay cuts are being sought for the actors who provide voices for Homer, Marge, Bart Simpson and other characters.

"We believe this brilliant series can and should continue, but we cannot produce future seasons under its current financial model," said Chris Alexander, spokesman for 20th Century Fox Television. He said producers hope a deal can be reached.

The animated series is a fixture on Fox's Sunday night schedule, and critics consider it one of the best shows in the medium. But as with many programs that have been on the air for a long time, the cost of making it has become prohibitive.

The Fox network reportedly loses money each year on new episodes even as all the old episodes run in perpetuity in reruns and are cash cows for producers and creators.

The Daily Beast reported Tuesday that producers are demanding a 45 percent pay cut from the six voice actors, who reportedly make nearly $8 million each for a season. The website said the voice actors have offered to take a 30 percent pay cut in return for a portion of the show's syndication and merchandise revenue.

Allan Mayer, a spokesman for one of the show's voice actors, Harry Shearer, said he had no comment on the talks. The manager for Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, told AP she didn't know about the negotiations, and creator Matt Groening didn't immediately return a phone call.

"The Simpsons" is averaging 7.1 million viewers for its new episodes this fall, down 14 percent from last year. Back in the 1991-92 season, an average of 21.7 million people watched it every week, Nielsen said. The median age of the show's viewers two decades ago was 23, and this season it is still very young for a TV show — 32, Nielsen said. That's an indication of how the show has regenerated its audiences as the years have gone by.

Rosie's first guest to be Russell Brand

Rosie O'Donnell gets her wish: Russell Brand will be the first guest on her new talk show.

The Oprah Winfrey Network announced last week that the comedian and actor will appear on Monday's premiere of "The Rosie Show."

Miss O'Donnell has said she's fascinated with Mr. Brand and has called him a genius. She previously said she would love to have him as her first guest.

The show will air on the Oprah Winfrey Network, which promises Mr. Brand will be "one of many notable celebrities" during the show's first two weeks.

Mr. Brand was featured in the movies "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Get Him to the Greek" and "Arthur."

'Chopped' judge: TV forces chefs to stay relevant

Television has changed not just the way Americans see food but also how restaurateurs must deliver it, Food Network star Scott Conant said.

Mr. Conant, who has spent his career reinventing classic Italian dishes, most recently at his Scarpetta restaurants in New York and elsewhere, said last week that TV is unmatched in its ability to help chefs reach consumers. But it also has accelerated our cultural dialogue about food, forcing chefs to keep pace and work harder to stay relevant.

"It's such a simple thing to say, but it's an incredibly difficult thing to do," Mr. Conant said at the New York City Wine and Food Festival.

He lauds chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, whom he credits with staying on top of food culture for so long.

"This guy's a genius. Here's a guy who has remained relevant for 30 years," Mr. Conant said. "He has stayed on the cusp the entire time."

Staying relevant also means looking beyond the plate, added Mr. Conant, a judge on Food Network's "Chopped."

"For me, it's a third of the experience" that must also be balanced by environment and hospitality, he said.

Mr. Conant said a TV show is not necessarily a requirement for being a successful chef, but today's media environment has made it more important than ever before.

Compiled from Web and wire reports.