- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

‘A.I.’ to change?

Twenty contestants remain in this season’s “American Idol,” but Fox executives already are looking ahead to changes for next year, Broadcasting & Cable magazine reports.

Preston Beckman, the network’s executive vice president of strategic program planning and research, said he wants to see adjustments to the audition shows that kick off the ratings behemoth every year.

“It won’t necessarily be anything radical; we just have to figure out how to start the show next year,” said Mr. Beckman, who’s looking for a way to stem a ratings drop the network saw last month. “The early part saw some erosion, and then we got to Hollywood.”

That “erosion” includes this year’s premiere, which showcased early “Idol” auditions. Viewership dipped from 38 million to 34.5 million — numbers that nevertheless make every other network salivate.

Mr. Beckman said it is far too early to talk about any specific changes, but the show is tested heavily through market research, and that will help guide the plans. This year, the show has been shamelessly pushing the level of the talent pool after last year’s Sanjaya Malakar sideshow.

Mr. Beckman said he was not concerned about the franchise overall, which continues to dominate in its seventh season.

“The good news is that there is still enormous sentiment for the show,” he said. “If you listen to the audience, you will generally be fine.”

‘Deal’ hits the road

With the strong-performing “Million Dollar Mission” episodes of “Deal or No Deal” having concluded Monday night, NBC is brewing the next attention-getting stunt for its stalwart game show: an around-the-world tour.

Forty versions of “Deal” are produced worldwide, and most have variations in their rules, staging and game play. For the May sweep, the show will visit foreign-based “Deal” production sets in Estonia, the Philippines and South Africa. Host Howie Mandel and contestants from the U.S. will play the game according to the foreign set’s rules. And yes, the “Deal” girls will be locals, the Hollywood Reporter says.

The plan comes at the close of the 19 “Million Dollar Mission” episodes that have aired this season and re-energized the show’s ratings since the start of the year. Craig Plestis, NBC’s alternative programming chief, said he plans to repeat the stunt in the fall and make the episodes a staple of the series. (No official “Deal” renewal has been announced, but Mr. Plestis said another season can be assumed.)

In “Deal,” hosted by Howie Mandel, contestants open 26 briefcases containing values ranging from 1 cent to $1 million, gradually paring down the board and constantly shifting the odds of how much they’ll take home.

To date, nobody has won the $1 million.

‘ABC’s sweet ‘Raisin’

ABC’s original made-for-TV movie “A Raisin in the Sun,” based on Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning Broadway play, helped the network break NBC’s six-week Monday night winning streak on Monday while sending several new shows to series lows, Zap2it.com reports.

“Raisin” topped the competition among adults aged 18 to 49 from 8 to 11 p.m., according to Nielsen overnights. Granted, NBC was without the now-concluded reality show “American Gladiators,” which had provided some of its Monday momentum the last few weeks before going on hiatus. Nevertheless, “Raisin” also had a withering effect on several new shows, including “Gladiators” replacement “My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad” (9 p.m.), which slipped 20 percent from last week.

CBS’ “Welcome to the Captain,” a new sitcom, also dipped to a series low in its 8:30 p.m. time slot. Also, Fox’s “Moment of Truth,” the season’s top-rated new show — while airing in the lush post-“American Idol” spot on Wednesdays — slipped in its first Monday outing, off more than half from its season average.

Oscars top Nielsens

Television’s five top-rated shows for the week of Feb. 18 through 24, according to Nielsen Media Research were: 1) “Academy Awards,” ABC, 32 million; 2) “American Idol” (Tuesday), Fox, 29 million; 3) “American Idol” (Wednesday), Fox, 28.8 million; 4) “American Idol” (Thursday), Fox, 23.3 million; and 5) “Oscar’s Red Carpet 2008,” ABC, 21.5 million.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from Web and wire reports.

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