- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

‘Sponge’ rocks China

SpongeBob SquarePants” has swept to the top of the ratings on Chinese state broadcaster CCTV’s Children’s channel, Variety reported Tuesday. The quirky cartoon has become the most popular children’s show in 15 of the nation’s key cities, drawing a viewership of 20.5 million to the fictional town of Bikini Bottom.

The success of “SpongeBob SquarePants” comes despite the fact that the show is not shown until 9 p.m., Variety notes. (In an effort to boost the domestic animation industry, the Chinese government has limited foreign products to the period after peak viewing times.)

However, it does not seem to have made a big impact on the relentlessly cheerful sponge. Since SpongeBob picked up his spatula again at the Krusty Krab on Christmas Day, he has swatted aside the competition, MTV Asia says. The show is No. 1 among youngsters 4 to 14, according to CSM Media Research.

A breakdown of viewers between Dec. 25 and Feb. 4 shows that 45 percent of SpongeBob’s audience are ages 4 to 14, while one-third of SpongeBob fans in China are 25 to 44.

CCTV Children’s channel ranks No. 1 among children and is also the fourth most popular of all CCTV channels among women 25 to 44.

‘Bachelor’ on a roll

Viewers are gobbling up “The Bachelor” as they haven’t in several years, so ABC is adding one final course to its menu this season.

According to Zap2it.com, in addition to airing the usual “After the Final Rose” special following the season finale on March 2, ABC will serve up “After the Final Rose, Part 2” at 10 the following night. The extra hour will feature bachelor Jason Mesnick appearing with the final two women, along with an “exciting and moving look back” at the season.

The reason for all this extra “Bachelor” business is pretty simple: The show is drawing its best ratings in several seasons. It’s averaging 10.4 million viewers a week, which is nearly a 40 percent improvement over the last cycle. The audience also has grown every week this season, Zap2it.com notes.

The improved numbers make another season of “The Bachelor” all but a lock for 2009-10.

Meanwhile, ABC also will roll out another edition of “The Bachelorette” later this year.

Vartan on TNT

Michael Vartan has been tapped to co-star opposite Jada Pinkett Smith in TNT’s upcoming series “Time Heals,” the Hollywood Reporter says.

Set to premiere later this year, the series centers on Christina Hawthorne (Miss Pinkett Smith), a strong but caring director of nursing at a North Carolina hospital.

Mr. Vartan, an “Alias” alum, will play Tom Wakefield, the director of medicine at the hospital. Tom and Christina care about each other - possibly as more than colleagues.

Miss Vartan replaces Jeffrey Nordling, who played the role in the pilot. He recently starred on ABC’s dramedy series “Big Shots.”

‘Road’ revs up

CBS has ordered a pilot of the racing reality competition show “Thunder Road” from executive producer McG, Zap2it.com says, citing a story inTHR.

On the show, two teams of contestants will race through a driving course filled with challenging obstacles.

“Road” is just the latest reality programming CBS is considering - including the arranged-marriage series “Bucket List” from Mark Burnett and Jeff Probst; “Live Like You’re Dying”; and the missing-persons series “Missing You.”

McG - whose big-screen directing credits include “We Are Marshall (2006) and “Charlie’s Angels” (2000) - will executive produce “Thunder Road” with Scott Messick, who created the show with Justin Hochberg.

McG’s other small-screen producing credits include “Chuck” and “Pussycat Dolls: Girlicious.”

On tap tonight

American Masters (9 WETA-Channel 26) - A profile of director-choreographer Jerome Robbins (1918-1998), the genius behind such Broadway classics as “West Side Story,” “Gypsy” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” Program highlights include excerpts from his journals, performance and rehearsal footage and interviews with Mikhail Baryshnikov; Jacques d’Amboise; Suzanne Farrell; Arthur Laurents; Peter Martins; Frank Rich; Chita Rivera; Stephen Sondheim; and Mr. Robbins’ “Fiddler” collaborators Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick and Joseph Stein. Actor Ron Rifkin (ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters”) narrates the two-hour documentary.

• Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse from staff, Web and wire reports

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