- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2004

Rescheduled ‘Ones’

CBS is finally broadcasting its primetime special dedicated to the reeling King of Pop.

“Michael Jackson Number Ones,” airing at 8 o’clock tonight, takes viewers on a musical journey of the singer’s once-stellar career. The special originally was slated to air in November, but news of pending child molestation charges against Mr. Jackson prompted CBS to delay the broadcast.

Mr. Jackson, who serves as executive producer, has since been charged with seven counts of performing lewd or lascivious acts upon a child under 14 and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent.

The special features new versions of classic hits from his “Thriller” and “Off the Wall” days, using original music videos combined with live performances culled from past concerts.

Beyonce Knowles, Missy Elliott, Dick Clark, Mary J. Blige, Carson Daly, Shaggy, Savion Glover, Wyclef Jean, Quincy Jones and Jennifer Lopez opine on Mr. Jackson’s musical legacy while the rest of us scratch our collective heads at a musical talent squandered.

The morgue life

As “Green Acres” begat “The Simple Life,” HBO’s “Six Feet Under” has inspired the upcoming “Dearly Departed.”

Cable channel A&E; is developing a primetime series that re-imagines “Six Feet Under” as reality TV.

Like the HBO hit series, the tentatively titled “Dearly Departed” chronicles a California-based family operating a mortuary business — only the A&E; version exists in real life. The show is scheduled to bow as early as second-quarter 2004.

The series follows the Wissmillers, a trio of adult sisters who work at a mortuary in Poway, a quiet suburb north of San Diego. Their father also works there but not as the owner of the business; that distinction belongs to a fiance of one of the sisters. Like “Under,” “Departed” follows their personal and professional lives, but with less drama, according to Bob DeBitetto, senior vice president of original programming at A&E.;

“It’s somewhat like ‘The Osbournes’ because there’s a tremendous amount of humor,” Mr. DeBitetto told Reuters. “But nothing frivolous because these people are working in the shadow of death.”

Like “The Osbournes,” which was greenlighted after the family was featured on a segment of another MTV series, “MTV Cribs,” “Departed” was inspired by another A&E; series. When a segment about a mortuary on a series about unusual occupations called “Take This Job” was well-received by viewers and network executives, A&E; dispatched that show’s producer, Hybrid Films, to find an interesting extended family in the funeral business for its own series.

An open audition yielded five finalists, two of whom Hybrid shot for a presentation tape.

A&E; picked the Wissmillers because they were “utterly compelling,” according to Mr. DeBitetto. “They were articulate, edgy — everything you’d want for a scripted show. They just happened to be real.”

“Departed” also represents a departure for A&E;, which had yet to venture into unscripted material outside the realm of documentary series. “We’re looking at a variety of ways to expand the offerings at A&E; to find new genres that will appeal to a younger audience,” Mr. DeBitetto said.

Still to be determined by A&E; will be content guidelines for shooting some of the more gruesome tasks involved in preparing the deceased for burial, including embalming. The network, no stranger to dead bodies as evidenced by its forensic series “Cold Case Files,” will not emphasize the graphic nature of the business.

“I think it will push the envelope somewhat, but it’s not about shock value,” Mr. DeBitetto said.

More Madman on VH1

VH1 “survived” one reality special with rocker Ted Nugent. Now, the network is hooked. VH1 has ordered a full season of “Surviving Nugent,” a reality series that drops contestants into the Motor City Madman’s world, according to Reuters News Agency.

Encouraged by strong ratings for a recent two-hour special featuring Mr. Nugent, who also has been featured on other VH1 programs such as “Behind the Music,” the cable channel ordered additional episodes to air next year.

Details on the series are not yet available, but “Surviving Nugent” is expected to be a hybrid of MTV’s “The Osbournes,” focusing on the unconventional lifestyle of a bad-boy rocker and his equally odd family, and “Survivor,” which emphasizes outdoor competitions not for the faint of heart.

One stark contrast between the two is that Mr. Nugent professes not to drink or do drugs. Mr. Osbourne, on the other hand, can’t exactly say the same about his rambunctious life.

A select number of contestants would be invited to brave the elements at Mr. Nugent’s ranch in central Texas — as well as withstand the singer’s gleeful taunts. His wife and son also will star in the series.

Expanded ‘Politics’

CNN is prepping for the upcoming presidential season by launching a Sunday version of “Inside Politics.”

The Sunday spin on CNN’s weekday show will air live at 10 a.m. and give viewers a preview of the upcoming week. The new show periodically will telecast from the CNN Election Express, the network’s mobile campaign newsroom, to capture the campaign from up close.

The new “Inside Politics Sunday” will be hosted by members of CNN’s political team.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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