- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Barbaro’s tale on HBO

HBO Sports hopes to parlay a soon-to-be-announced documentary on ill-fated champion horse Barbaro, the trade publication Broadcasting & Cable reports.

The network will announce soon that it is in production on a Barbaro documentary, chronicling the story of the courageous Kentucky Derby winner whose horrific injuries, sustained in last May’s Preakness Stakes, led ultimately to his being put down in January.

Barbaro’s battle to survive became front-page news, garnering so much attention that it created a backlash as people wondered why the country had grown obsessed with a horse.

“We are going to try to explain why Barbaro became so significant and important to the American public. The entire country rallied around this horse,” says HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg of the project, slated to debut the first week of June.

Scorsese back to AC

HBO is also betting that gambling of a different sort will prove popular with viewers.

Martin Scorsese, fresh off his best-director and best-picture Oscar wins for “The Departed,” has teamed with “Departed” co-star Mark Wahlberg for an HBO drama series about the development of Atlantic City, Reuters news agency reports.

The project will be developed in conjunction with the book “Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City” by Nelson Johnson, which has been optioned by the cable network.

According to the book’s official description, “Boardwalk” chronicles Atlantic City’s existence from its birth as a quiet seaside health resort “through the notorious backroom politics and power struggles, to the city’s astonishing rebirth as an entertainment and gambling mecca where just about anything goes.”

Atlantic City is a familiar setting for Mr. Scorsese, whose 1986 feature “The Color of Money” was set there.

Mr. Scorsese and Mr. Wahlberg will serve as executive producers. Mr. Wahlberg received an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in “The Departed.”

Braff gets pay hike

Chances are no one wants to see “Scrubs” renewed for a seventh season more than Zach Braff.

The star of NBC’s hospital comedy has signed a one-year deal with series producer ABC TV Studio that will pay him about $350,000 per episode for the 2007-08 season of “Scrubs,” sources told Reuters. Each season consists of about two dozen episodes.

Mr. Braff’s deal is contingent on NBC picking up the show for a seventh year, which is expected, notwithstanding its lowly season-to-date viewership of 6.9 million people, according to Nielsen Media Research.

If it works out, Mr. Braff’s deal will place him among the highest-paid male actors on television, alongside “Two and a Half Men” star Charlie Sheen, whose paycheck also is in the $350,000-per-episode range.

Mr. Braff is the anchor of the “Scrubs” ensemble, playing the amiable medical intern John “J.D.” Dorian. His star has been rising over the past few years, thanks to “Scrubs” and the strong response to his turn as writer, director and star of the 2004 indie romantic comedy “Garden State.”

Mr. Braff’s upcoming projects include a starring role in the comedy “The Ex,” and he is slated to star and direct the drama “Open Hearts.”

Fox’s ‘Idol’ unbeatable

Three nights of escapist entertainment that kept parents and their children watching television together led Fox to a dominant week in the ratings.

The network coupled three editions of “American Idol” with three installments of the new game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” last week, Associated Press reports. The Jeff Foxworthy-hosted game show, with parents stumped by questions from elementary school textbooks, was the most-watched series premiere in eight years.

Nothing else last week came within 5 million viewers of these programs, Nielsen Media Research said yesterday. Rival networks could either fight or essentially give up. With 14.7 million viewers, “Survivor” was up slightly from the previous week, when the venerable game had its smallest audience ever competing against “American Idol.” ABC and CBS aired reruns of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” rather than go up against Fox on a Thursday when “American Idol” was on.

Fox averaged 15.3 million viewers in prime time last week, with second-place CBS averaging 11.8 million. Among viewers aged 18 to 34, Fox had more than double the audience of any other network. NBC’s 8.2 million viewers narrowly beat ABC’s 8.1 million for third place. Following were the CW with 3.4 million viewers and the I network with 630,000.

For the week of Feb. 26 through March 4, the top five shows, their networks and viewerships were: 1) “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 30.6 million; 2) “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 29.7 million; 3) “American Idol” (Thursday), Fox, 27.3 million; 4) “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” (Tuesday), Fox, 26.4 million; and 5) “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” (Thursday), Fox, 23.4 million.

Compiled by Kelly Jane Torrance and Robyn-Denise Yourse from wire reports.

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