- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2007

Simon sounds off

Jordin Sparks has pipes that cannot be beat. Blake Lewis rocks a contemporary beat. For that reason alone, the never-at-a-loss for words Simon Cowell has no prediction to make about tomorrow’s “American Idol” finale (8 p.m. on Fox).

“I can’t call it, because I think they’ve both got different strengths,” he told TVGuide.com during a conference call to tout the new (and totally improved) season of ABC’s “American Inventor,” which Mr. Cowell also produces. It premieres June 6.

“One is a better entertainer, and one is a better singer. It will come down to what they do on [Tuesday].”

Later in the call, Mr. Cowell dissed the dismissal of critical darling Melinda Doolittle but stopped short of saying it cripples the credibility of “Idol.”

“I didn’t agree with the vote, but more people should have dialed for Melinda,” he said. “When you allow the public to choose, you’ve got to live and die by the vote. It’s as simple as that.”

Reflecting on the “Idol” season gone by — which is more likely to be remembered for rejected contender Sanjaya Malakar and his evolving hairstyles than for the actual winner — Mr. Cowell said: “I like crazy. The panel is wacky, and therefore I think the contestants should be a bit strange as well.” Speaking specifically of Sanjaya’s stint, Mr. Cowell added: “The whole thing was hysterical. I don’t think I’d be happy if he was in the finals … but looking back, I thought he was quite amusing.”

J.Lo offers ‘Como’

A miniseries from pop-singer-actress Jennifer Lopez, a Spanish-language version of “Desperate Housewives” and a number of new prime-time telenovellas are on Univision’s programming slate for next season, Reuters news agency reports.

Miss Lopez was on hand for Univision’s upfront presentation to discuss the five-part miniseries “Como Ama una Mujer” (“How a Woman Loves”), which she created and will executive produce. She said the series, which is based on her new Spanish-language CD, is inspired by real events and will track a woman’s love and happiness in the light of Hollywood.

Miss Lopez said that when she had the idea for the miniseries, she knew Univision was the place to go. The miniseries will debut in a 10 p.m. slot at an unspecified date during the new season.

Miss Lopez’s project was one of several spotlighted Wednesday by Univision during its upfront, which also was attended by the singer’s husband, Marc Anthony, who closed the show with a performance. Also joining the presentation were several Univision stars and Team Univision, a contingent of viewers who won the privilege to be onstage by virtue of creating videos expressing the role Univision plays in their lives.

Among the prime-time novellas being rolled out by Univision for the new season are “Pasion,” a love story set in the era of oceangoing pirates; “Muchachitas Como Tu” (“Little Girls Like You”), about the challenges teenage girls face growing up; “Amar sin Limites” (“Love Without Limits”), a story that poses questions about what people will do for love; and “Yo Amo a Juan Querendon” (“I Love Irresistible Juan”), about a kindhearted man who isn’t rich or handsome but is a Don Juan just the same.

Univision President and Chief Operating Officer Ray Rodriguez added a few more details about another big project with high expectations: the Spanish-language version of “Desperate Housewives,” called “Amas de Casa Desesperadas,” which will be produced by Disney-ABC International Television Latin America and Univision. It will be made in Argentina, Mr. Rodriguez said, and aims to appeal to Hispanic Americans. Casting is under way.

Also this fall: Univision will introduce a Sunday-morning public affairs show, “Al Punto,” which will be hosted by “Noticiero Univision” co-anchor Jorge Ramos and feature the week’s top stories and interviews with newsmakers.

All aboard

Discovery Communications’ TLC will introduce its first original online video series, “Makeover Train,” on June 4, MediaWeek.com reports.

The 10-webisode “Train” will feature three stylists in search of Boston subway riders to make over during their commutes. The stylists will work to upgrade the participants’ clothes, hair and/or makeup during the time it takes them to reach their final destinations on the train.

Herbal Essences Color has signed on as the Web-only show’s premiere sponsor, MediaWeek.com reports. The brand will run both video- and banner-ad placements, and its products also will be integrated within the webisodes.

“Makeover Train” will arrive just as TLC.com introduces its new couture-focused section, Fashion Guide. Besides video, that section will feature expert advice from the stars of several TLC shows, including the popular hits “What Not to Wear” and “10 Years Younger.”

HBO goes viral

For the first time, HBO has used the Internet not only to debut an upcoming TV series but also to allow viewers to spread its pilot episode virally across the Web, Reuters reports.

Through a partnership with the interactive ad agency Deep Focus, the network is introducing an online marketing campaign centered on the new comedy series “Flight of the Conchords” that enables viewers to access it on a number of video-sharing sites and embed the pilot episode on blogs, Web sites and social-networking profiles.

“Conchords” centers on the adventures of a music-comedy duo transplanted from New Zealand to New York’s Lower East Side. The campaign began Tuesday with promotion on the MySpace network, and the episode featured on the “Conchords” MySpace page. The user experience will expand, with consumers directed to HBO’s site for an embed code that will enable them to re-post the episode on other sites.

Besides MySpace, online partners in the sharing and distribution of the show include ITunes, Yahoo TV, MeeVee, IFilm, Superdeluxe, Blip TV, Movielink and the broadband sites Comcast.net and Roadrunner.com.

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

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