- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 12, 2006

More ‘24’

You didn’t think Jack Bauer would stay dead for long, did you?

Fox’s “24” returns this weekend with four new episodes packed into two nights.

After last season’s delirious, if wildly improbable ride, it’s only natural to expect season five to be a letdown.

Said letdown ends somewhere during hour three.

The powers that be at Fox implored us not to reveal any of the explosive events in the first four hours, and we’re more than happy to oblige.

Suffice to say the “24” formula is on full display, although signs of wear and tear are starting to show. It’s hard to be shocked when the umpteenth government employee is revealed to be a double agent. The show’s assembled terrorists wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t have a man — or woman — on the inside.

“24” ended last year with Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) faking his own death to avoid an extended jail sentence overseas.

It’s more than a year later, and Jack has found a new love (Connie Britton) while living under a false identity. The terrorists force Jack out of retirement by trying to sabotage a U.S.-Russian agreement that President Logan (Gregory Itzin, playing a more confident but still oily leader) hopes will be the pinnacle of his presidency.

Islamic groups will be pleased to know the terrorists du jour don’t appear to be Muslim, although over the course of a “24” day that could change.

What hasn’t changed is the show’s uncanny knack for weaving in new players (Sean Astin and Jean Smart among them) without sacrificing its cliffhanger set pieces.

“24” airs at 8 p.m. Sunday and Monday this week before settling into its regular 9 p.m. Monday time slot.

New home for ‘Wishes’

“Three Wishes,” NBC’s Friday-night feel-good series featuring Amy Grant, has fallen into the “whatever-happened-to?” category. NBC changed its mind on at least two occasions regarding the fate of the low-rated hour that followed Miss Grant as she fulfilled the wishes of local residents in small towns across the country.

Now that the show has officially been canceled, reruns of its 10 episodes will be aired on cable’s CMT (Country Music Television) beginning Jan. 21, reports Scripps Howard News Service. The initial rerun will follow the live broadcast of the Miss America pageant from Las Vegas.

“Three Wishes” then moves to a regular Monday time period Jan. 23. If producers decide to create more episodes, they also will air on CMT.

Super sales

With the exception of one 15-second spot, ABC has sold out the first half of Super Bowl XL, to be held at Detroit’s Ford Stadium on Feb. 5, say industry trade magazines MediaWeek and Ad Week.

Ed Erhardt, president of sales for ESPN/ABC Sports, would not discuss specific advertisers, but he did say two categories in particular were exceptionally strong and drawing more advertisers to the game than usual.

The first — which should come as no surprise with the game being held in Motown — is automotive. General Motors and Ford are believed to be in the game, while a Chrysler rep says the company has not finalized its Super Bowl plans. Some offshore brands are also in play, but Volvo, a 2005 advertiser, is sitting out, according to sources.

The financial services/insurance category is also strong, Mr. Erhardt tells Ad Week. Only Ameriquest, the mortgage services company, is a known in-game advertiser, but sources say MasterCard is considering purchasing some time.

Meanwhile, Burger King says it will buy a spot in the Super Bowl for the first time in 11 years. The company says it purchased one 60-second spot that will be produced by its lead creative agency, Miami-based Cripin Porter & Bogusky. The spot is set to air in the second pod of ads after the kickoff, Burger King says.

Additional advertisers not previously disclosed include Gillette and ESPN Mobile, which sources say is buying a 60-second spot and spending an additional $2.5 million to $3 million to produce a lavish ad for the game. Mr. Erhardt says the movie category also remains “very strong.”

Although he wouldn’t discuss pricing, Mr. Erhardt is “confident” that the average price of a 30-second unit will exceed last year’s $2.4 million. Now comes the hard part for ABC: selling out the second half of the game, which usually goes to the final week and sometimes the final day before the game. Mr. Erhardt wouldn’t discuss how many spots were left to sell of the 60 in-game units, but did confirm that there is also time available in both the third and fourth quarters. “Ideally, they should be sold out at this point,” says sports consultant Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports, “but I think they’ll get there.”

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

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