- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Last tango for ‘Dancing’

The only thing more shocking than the mammoth ratings for ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” is that the network hasn’t announced a follow-up season yet.

That seems a no-brainer, given that Associated Press reports the show drew 22 million viewers last week to come in at the top of the ratings heap.

The wholesome fun of the dance competition made it a series entire families could enjoy comfortably together, but it’s uncertain if Hollywood will take that message seriously given its addiction to exploitative reality shows.

There also was good news for VH1 about “Hogan Knows Best,” a new reality series that follows professional wrestler Hulk Hogan and his family. Sunday’s debut episode earned the highest ratings of any premiere in the cable channel’s history.

Hulkmania, apparently, is alive and well.

Meanwhile, in an otherwise quiet week, two Fourth of July specials — CBS’ “Boston Pops Fireworks” and “Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks” on NBC — scored spots among Nielsen’s top 20 shows.

Despite the winning numbers for “Dancing,” CBS’ strong rerun schedule enabled the network to win the week, averaging 7.4 million viewers. ABC had 6.1 million viewers, NBC 5.8 million, Fox 4.4 million, UPN 2.3 million, the WB 1.9 million and Pax TV 590,000.

For the week of July 4 through 10, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: “Dancing With the Stars” (July 6 at 9 p.m.) ABC, 22.4 million; “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 14.9 million; “Without a Trace,” CBS, 12.3 million; “Dancing With the Stars” (July 6 at 8 p.m.), ABC, 10.3 million; “CSI: NY,” CBS, 9.8 million.

WB’s block party

The WB has inked two audience favorites to anchor its upcoming afternoon block of shows, Reuters News Agency reports.

Reruns of NBC’s “ER” and ABC’s “8 Simple Rules … for Dating My Teenage Daughter” will head up the new programming block set to begin in January.

Two episodes of the long-running “ER” will air weekdays from 3 to 5 p.m., followed by back-to-back episodes of “8 Simple Rules.” The format will replace the Kids’ WB! animation block, which is being dropped from WB’s 200-plus station affiliates.

The WB only signed on for one year’s worth of reruns, which are set to run through September 2006. A new schedule at that time will include back-to-back episodes of the sitcom “Reba” at 4 and 4:30 p.m. The 3-to-4 p.m. hour is yet to be announced.

“ER” enters its 12th season on NBC in the fall. ABC recently canceled the family sitcom “8 Simple Rules” after three seasons.

Discovery countdown

The Space Shuttle Discovery is set to blast off this afternoon, and the major networks will be on hand to capture every thrilling number in the countdown.

It’s like the good ol’ days of NASA-themed programming, when any shuttle flight became must-see television for millions of viewers. This time, the reasons are more somber than electrifying.

The shuttle program has been in dry dock for two years following the Feb. 1, 2003 crash of Columbia, which killed seven astronauts.

Still, anticipation is high.

Each of the Big Three broadcast networks will break into regular daytime programing this afternoon to cover the launch, scheduled for 3:51 p.m., according to a posting on NASA’s Web site. ABC, CBS and NBC will have their anchors hosting the brief coverage from New York; the cable news channels will offer more comprehensive reports.

It has been years since the broadcast networks have covered a shuttle launch live, with perhaps the last time being the 1988 launch of Discovery — the first since the shuttle Challenger exploded after liftoff, killing teacher Christa McAuliffe and six other astronauts in 1986.

“There’s almost a direct parallel to when Discovery finally flew in 1988,” said Miles O’Brien, co-anchor of CNN’s “American Morning” who has been covering launches since the early 1990s. “Back then, there was a tremendous interest in the return to flight.”

That is borne out by the number of credentialed journalists who are covering the launch from the Kennedy Space Center — more than 2,600, according to a NASA spokeswoman. That includes correspondents not only from the United States, but also from Japan and Australia, the home countries of two of the seven crew members.

“It still means something to people,” Paul Slavin, a senior vice president with ABC News, told Reuters. However, the networks are going to leave the wall-to-wall coverage to the cable news channels, which have allotted more time. MSNBC prepared a special that was scheduled to air Sunday night before hurricane coverage bounced it to tonight. CNN and Fox News Channel also have announced plans for extensive coverage, with Fox News sending Shepard Smith to Florida to anchor its reports.

The network’s total coverage is scheduled to last about a half-hour if all goes well, starting a few minutes before the planned launch. NBC and CBS will begin around the same time, with Brian Williams anchoring for NBC and Bob Schieffer anchoring CBS’ coverage. It wasn’t clear how long NBC planned to be on the air, but CBS will be on about 15 minutes, according to Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president for CBS News.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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