- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Comedy’s triple threat

Comedy Central is forging ahead with three new pilots, including an unscripted series inspired by a 1999 documentary, MediaWeek.com reports.

Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank, the hilarious Milwaukee duo of the 1999 documentary “American Movie,” are the focal point of “Mark and Mike,” which picks up where the film left off. The series follows the loquacious Mr. Borchardt as he tries to secure distribution for “Scare Me,” a low-budget horror film that he wrote and directed over a period of three years.

Also in the works are “American Body Shop” — which shares its improv pedigree with Comedy Central’s Reno 911 — and an untitled sketch comedy/variety hybrid featuring DeRay Davis, a past winner of the network’s nationwide stand-up competition.

Stars shine on ‘Today’

Janet Jackson — who, according to the tabloids, has been spending time on the treadmills to shape up for the release of her new album — will have plenty of time to tone those once famous abs before she closes out the annual “Today” show concert series, the New York Daily News reports.

The pop star, who turns 40 on Tuesday, will bring down the curtain on “Today’s Toyota Concert Series” Sept. 29.

Now in its 11th year, the popular performance showcase kicks off Friday with the suddenly hot Barry Manilow. Others scheduled to take the stage at Rockefeller Center include the Go-Gos (May 19), Jimmy Buffet (May 26), James Blunt (May 29), Brad Paisley (June 2), Natasha Bedingfield (June 9), Earth, Wind & Fire (June 16), Phil Collins (June 23), Rascal Flatts (June 30), Pink (July 7), Sheryl Crow (July 12), KC & the Sunshine Band (July 14), Chicago (July 28) and Chris Brown (Aug. 11).

Fox ITunes in

Fans of “24” and “Prison Break” no longer have to rely on their VCRs or TiVo.

Fox TV is teaming with Apple Computers’ ITunes to sell episodes from its television division through Apple’s Internet download service, Reuters news agency reports.

The move makes Fox the latest major American network to reach a deal with Apple’s service.

Along with “24” and “Prison Break,” other shows, including FX’s “The Shield,” became available yesterday at $1.99 per episode. ITunes — which allows downloads for watching on the computer or on an IPod — also has started to sell episodes of older series such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Lost in Space.”

TV’s other major networks, including Walt Disney’s ABC, General Electric’s NBC, and CBS Corp. already sell shows on ITunes. They also redistribute some programming over the Internet and maintain their own Web sites.

The Fox move came as no surprise. James Gianopulos, co-chairman of News Corp.’s Fox Filmed Entertainment, in December told the Reuters Media and Advertising Summit that Fox would be open to a deal with ITunes.

Grim news for ABC

ABC opened the May ratings sweeps with a fourth-place finish despite having three of the 11 most popular prime-time programs, illustrating the challenge faced by its executives as they prepare to announce a new fall schedule Tuesday.

Take away the hits “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost,” and ABC’s lineup is hurting.

Even though NBC had no series that outranked ABC’s big three, it still managed to slip by the alphabet network to take third place behind CBS and Fox in the overall ratings last week, Associated Press reported yesterday, citing data from Nielsen Media Research. ABC finished third among viewers aged 18 to 49, the demographic many advertisers seek.

Tougher competition is hurting ABC’s hits. “Desperate Housewives” was down 18 percent in viewers from the comparable week last year, when it did not have to go head to head against HBO’s “The Sopranos.” “Lost,” which had 15.6 million viewers last week, was averaging more than 20 million viewers an episode this season before Fox’s “American Idol” started airing its results show in direct competition, Nielsen said.

CBS cruised to victory overall, averaging 12.3 million viewers, while Fox had 10.7 million viewers and won for the 11th straight week among the youthful demographic. NBC averaged 8.9 million viewers, and ABC had 8.7 million. Following were the WB with 3.2 million, UPN with 2.7 million and the I network (formerly Pax TV) with 410,000.

Among the Spanish-language networks, Univision averaged 3.4 million viewers, Telemundo had 790,000 and TeleFutura 540,000.

For the week of May 1 through 7, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 29.2 million; “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 28.5 million; “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” CBS, 26 million; “House, M.D.,” Fox, 22.7 million; and “Grey’s Anatomy,” ABC, 21.9 million.

Compiled by Christian Toto from Web and wire reports.

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