- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

Braugher steals show

There’s larceny afoot in FX’s latest drama, and leave it to star Andre Braugher to walk off with the new series.

“Thief,” debuting at 10 tonight, finds the Emmy-winning “Homicide: Life on the Street” star playing television’s latest anti-hero, a career criminal with a soft side. He’s the kind of crook who only steals from those with enough insurance to cushion the blow, the show’s bald attempt at making his crimes less damning.

The six-part series opens with Mr. Braugher’s Nick Atwater knee-deep in a San Francisco bank vault. His crew is supposed to steal some jewelry and scram, but his greedy partners can’t help themselves when they happen upon a large stack of cash.

The best crooks know you never deviate from the plan, and we soon learn the cash belongs to a Chinese crime syndicate — a setup that all but guarantees entanglements. The theft also catches the attention of Detective Sgt. Hayes (film veteran Michael Rooker), who has his own immoral actions to defend within the precinct.

Nick’s home life is equally unsettled. He’s doing all he can to connect with his stubborn stepdaughter (Mae Whitman), and when a personal tragedy strikes, that bond will be sorely tested.

Mr. Braugher could make a detergent commercial must-see TV, so pairing him with a quality channel such as FX makes perfect sense.

A victory for USA

The USA Network can officially claim bragging rights in the competitive cable universe.

The network has captured the prime-time crown in all key demographics among basic cable channels for the first quarter, which ended Sunday, Reuters news agency reports.

The NBC Universal-owned network swept total viewers as well as adults aged 18 to 34, 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, according to a Turner Broadcasting analysis of Nielsen Media Research data. USA drew an average of 2.6 million total viewers for the quarter, ahead of Time Warner’s TNT, with 2.3 million. In adults 25 to 54, the target network of advertisers, USA outscored TNT 1.2 million to 1.1 million.

Also competitive in each demographic was TNT sister network TBS, which ran third in all key categories except adults 18 to 34, where the average of 503,000 was enough to beat TNT, MTV and ESPN.

Rounding out the total-viewer category were TBS (1.7 million), ESPN (1.7 million), Nick at Nite (1.6 million), Lifetime (1.5 million) and Cartoon Network (1.5 million).

Among fully distributed networks, BET and FX had the strongest quarters in adults 18 to 49, jumping 31 percent and 28 percent, respectively, compared with the same period a year ago. Both networks recently saw a boost from strong starts to new reality series — among them BET’s “Lil’ Kim: Countdown to Lockdown,” and FX’s provocative “Black. White.”

FX finished fourth in the 18-to-49 adult demographic with 742,000, followed by ESPN with 739,000, Spike TV with 670,000 and Lifetime with 585,000.

By contrast, Lifetime suffered a 20 percent drop among adults 18 to 49, in part because of a protracted battle with EchoStar Communications that left the network off the air for months on Dish Network, Reuters reports. Also hit hard in the first quarter were Sci-Fi Channel, down 19 percent, SoapNet (down 17 percent) and Spike TV (also down 17 percent). Spike TV recently announced it was undergoing yet another rebranding to appear more manly to its target audience of young men.

USA was powered in part by “WWE Raw,” which scored three of the top-10-rated telecasts among audiences 18 to 49 for the quarter. In total-day ratings, children’s channel Nickelodeon scored highest among total viewers, with 2.2 million.

Leno vindicated

We guess some people don’t want their 15 minutes of fame.

“The Tonight Show’s” Jay Leno, who is embroiled in a legal skirmish with a woman whose likeness he used for comical purposes on his late night show, has won the latest round in the belabored case, Associated Press reports.

A state appeals court ruled last week that a lower court should have dismissed the suit. The lawsuit brought by Claire Walter, 40, of Irondequoit, N.Y., claims Mr. Leno violated the state’s civil rights law by commercially using an unflattering photo of her in an on-air joke without her permission in 2003. The photo was taken for internal use at her former employer, Dorschel Automotive Group Inc.

According to the complaint, Mr. Leno said “a customer would not want to have their car serviced by someone like Ms. Walter. There were comments about [the] plaintiff being scary looking, being big.”

The appeals court cited an exception to the law regarding use of photos for comedic purposes.

However, the ruling isn’t a laughing matter for Miss Walter’s attorney.

“Just because you’re a comic doesn’t give you the right to take someone who is an obscure person and make fun of the way someone looks,” attorney Nira Kermisch said.

Christopher Thomas, a Rochester attorney representing Mr. Leno and NBC, declined comment.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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