- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Reading is fundamental

WETA-TV (Channel 26) tries to light a fire under young readers this weekend with a new program geared toward children ages 7 to 12.

“Reading Rocks,” airing Sunday morning at 9, is an upbeat special aimed at children who have difficulty reading.

The Disney Channel’s Nick Spano (“Even Stevens”) hosts the special, which uses wacky humor and hip-hop music to give hope to children who are learning to read.

“Reading Rocks” also features a child author, a claymation movie and a segment with children from the Lab School of Washington in Northwest.

A ‘Friend’-ly boost

“Friends” was a pal to the end for NBC.

The sitcom’s swan song boosted the network to its best weekly showing in two years, the Associated Press reports.

Last Thursday’s “Friends” finale, which drew about 52.5 million viewers, was the top-rated entertainment show on any network since the “Seinfeld” finale six years ago.

The final moments with Ross, Rachel and company became the fourth-most-watched series finale in TV history, behind CBS’ “M*A*S*H” (106 million) and NBC’s “Cheers” (80.4 million) and “Seinfeld” (76.3 million).

Overall TV viewership has splintered in recent years with the expansion of cable choices, making final episodes less likely to draw “M*A*S*H”-style numbers.

NBC had even more to crow about, according to Nielsen Media Research figures. Besides the top-rated sitcom, the network also aired the most-watched drama series (“ER”) and TV movie (part two of the earthquake drama “10.5”).

That programming punch gave the Peacock its best showing in two years among total viewers and matched its highest non-Olympic weekly rating in more than four years among viewers 18 to 49.

CBS, on the other hand, owned the reality realm. The network’s “Survivor All-Stars” finale and subsequent reunion show finished with 24.8 million and 23.9 million viewers, respectively.

NBC averaged 14.9 million viewers in prime time for the week of May 3 through 9 (5.4 rating, 15 share), besting CBS’ 13.2 million (4.8 rating, 13 share). NBC also won among viewers 18 to 49, the demographic group it most craves.

A ratings point represents 1.084 million households, or 1 percent of the nation’s estimated 108.4 million TV homes. The share is the percentage of in-use televisions tuned to a given show.

For the week of May 3 through 9, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: “Friends,” NBC, 52.5 million; “Friends Clipshow,” NBC, 36.9 million; “ER,” NBC, 28.4 million; “Survivor All-Stars Finale,” CBS, 24.8 million; “Survivor All-Stars Reunion,” CBS, 23.9 million.

‘High Life’ a goner

So much for NBC living “The High Life.”

The network officially passed on the proposed reality series about an Appalachian clan transplanted to Beverly Hills, according to E! Online.

Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican, told E! Online that senior officials at General Electric, the network’s parent company, told him last week that “The High Life” would never fly at the Peacock network. NBC has confirmed the decision, citing “creative reasons.”

“I’m glad NBC quickly came to its senses and decided this ill-conceived concept wasn’t going to become a part of must-see TV,” Mr. Rogers said.

“The High Life” never got past the pilot stage, but as soon as word of its premise hit the press, a drumbeat of negative comments started to sound.

Rural activists who previously had assailed a proposed CBS reality series about an Appalachian clan transplanted to the 90210 zip code zeroed in on NBC.

Criticism centered on concerns that the show would ridicule small-town folk.

“No one would dare propose creating a program focusing on stereotypes about African-Americans, Muslims or Jews,” Mr. Rogers said. “Why, then, would it be OK to bash those of us living in rural America?”

Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies in Whitesburg, Ky., told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he wasn’t buying NBC’s defense that “The High Life” would poke fun at rich, not poor, people.

“These are the same folks who have you watch people eat bugs and tell you that it’s uplifting programming,” Mr. Davis said in Friday’s Herald-Leader, referring to NBC’s gruesome “Fear Factor.”

“The High Life,” though, was not to be confused, with CBS’ “The Real Beverly Hillbillies” — which the network has neither moved ahead nor entirely renounced since casting began two years ago.

Similarly, CBS’ sister network, UPN, has resisted calls to back away from “Amish in the City.”

Thank goodness it’s still acceptable to mock the rich.

Fox’s smash hit “The Simple Life,” starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, returns for a second season of farmland misunderstandings June 16.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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