- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2006

‘Housewives’ OK for now

Will the mobsters of “The Sopranos” muscle in on the hefty ratings for ABC’s “Desperate Housewives”?

We’ll see when the acclaimed HBO hit returns March 12 for its sixth and (supposedly) final season after a two-year hiatus.

With Tony and company on ice, so to speak, since 2004, and with the tearful send-off of the premium cable biggie’s long-running “Sex and the City,” the women of Wisteria Lane have faced little competition, dominating Sunday’s 9 p.m. slot with more than 20 million viewers each week.

According to data from Nielsen Media Research, “The Sopranos” enjoyed its highest ratings to date with an estimated 13 million viewers in the fall of 2002 (following a 16-month hiatus, noted E! Online). That’s just a little more than half of “Housewives’ ” audience, yet enough to cause a noticeable dent if viewers choose murder and mayhem over melodrama.

Moreover, “Housewives” will air opposite the HBO mob drama until early next year. Twenty episodes are planned for “The Sopranos” finale, with the first 12 beginning next month. The remaining eight will begin airing next January.

For the next two weeks at least, “Housewives,” with little serious competition, will likely dominate Sunday nights with new episodes airing Sunday and on Feb. 26. (It will be pre-empted by ABC’s live telecast of the 78th annual Academy Awards on March 5).

This Sunday, Maria Conchita Alonso (“Moscow on the Hudson”) makes a guest appearance as Gabrielle’s (Eva Longoria) much-married mom, Lucia, who drops in on her daughter after parting ways with her latest husband.

Also Sunday: Edie (Nicollette Sheridan), who’s expecting a proposal from her ex-husband, Karl (Richard Burgi), may be in for a rude awakening, and Lynette (Felicity Huffman) learns about Bree’s (Marcia Cross) deepening alcoholism.

“Desperate Housewives” airs at 9 p.m.

A spirited ‘Stripper’

Showtime, which kicked off its 15th annual Black Filmmaker Showcase on Feb. 1, is now showcasing each of the seven short films on a solo basis, offering the festival winner, “The Sunday Morning Stripper” at 9:30 tonight on its Showtime Too channel.

“Stripper,” undoubtedly the best film of the lot, captured the festival’s $30,000 top prize for its hilarious yet slightly sad tale of a church singer who’s moved by the spirit in a most unusual way — one that brings both benefits and chaos to a church on the brink of financial ruin.

Comedian Bruce Bruce (familiar from his stint as host of “BET’s Comicview”) heads the small ensemble cast as Pastor Gregory, a Chicago clergyman whose big city slickness arouses suspicion among the congregants when he signs on to pastor the small town Greater Mount Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.

“Stripper,” which despite its title contains no nudity, was written by Lionel Hilliard and directed by Sheldon Collins.

VH1’s new ‘Games’

The producers of VH1’s reality show “The Surreal Life” are expanding the franchise — and, likely, water-cooler buzz — with a new series, “The Surreal Life Fame Games,” reports the New York Daily News.

The show will pit 10 “Surreal Life” alumni in a series of challenges, all designed to test their level of fame.

“One of the biggest questions we always get is, ‘Who’s more famous?’ when we cast a show,” said “Surreal Life” executive producer Cris Abrego.

Among the players for the new show: Actress Brigitte Nielsen, former adult film star Ron Jeremy, World Wrestling Federation wrestler Chyna Doll, rapper Vanilla Ice, “Baywatch” babe Traci Bingham, one-time boy band member Jordan Knight (New Kids on the Block), rapper Sandy (Pepa) Denton of Salt ‘N’ Pepa and former child star Emmanuel Lewis (“Webster”).

Robin Leach (“Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”) will host.

Producers came up with a cast list by picking players from past shows who would create sparks when thrown together on TV. So far, the only “Surreal Life” veteran to say no to “Fame Games” was MC Hammer, whom Mr. Abrego said had had a good time on the show.

“We asked him to come down,” Mr. Abrego told the Daily News, “and he said not to spend the money on the jet fuel.”

Like “The Surreal Life,” which has a group of celebrities living in a home for two weeks, the players on “Fame Games” will live in the same place in Las Vegas, which will serve as a backdrop for the challenges.

There is no airdate for the show.

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

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