Watching Their Step
Fear, loathing and lots of dancing at TCA press tour. We're not kidding.
By Ben Grossman and Jim Benson -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/31/2005 8:00:00 PM
Dancing, Paula Abdul's sex life and talk of colonics dominated the final week of the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills.
Fox, which concluded the 2½-week publicity orgy Friday, was deluged with questions about American Idol judge Abdul's alleged sexual relationship with a contestant. Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori said the ongoing investigation into whether Abdul or any producers affected the outcome of the show won't prevent her from continuing as a judge, even if the process is not finished prior to auditions, which start Aug. 18. He refused to name the independent counsel conducting the investigation.
The network tried to steer the conversation elsewhere, announcing a new sci-fi reality elimination show, Xquest, for next summer, in which two teams live and compete in “biocrafts” that simulate space travel.
Fox also said it's close to signing former Olympic skaters Katarina Witt and Nancy Kerrigan to appear on upcoming reality show Skating With Celebrities, designed to capitalize on the success of ABC's summer hit Dancing With the Stars. Preston Beckman, Fox's executive VP, strategic program planning and research, said the show will be ready for air by September and will probably air “sometime before the Olympics.”
Fox's big dancing show, So You Think You Can Dance, went into development last November, long before ABC's hit show debuted, said Mike Darnell, Fox executive VP for alternative programming and specials. The show averaged 7.9 million viewers last week, gaining every half-hour from 8 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, and won its time period in the key measures, including adults 18-49 and total viewers.
ABC takes a shot
After his presentation, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson took a jab at Fox for imitating the successes of other networks. “I hope that, with [Liguori], we are going to see a little different approach,” he said. “I was certainly disappointed to see Ice Skating With the Stars. But what can you do? It's pretty sad.”
A year ago, McPherson faced tough questions about the network's struggles, but this time TCA members showed him the love—except when it came to critical questions about the voting process for Dancing With the Stars. ABC responded a day later, announcing the addition of a 30-minute results show when Dancing returns midseason and possibly a “dance-off” special between winner Kelly Monaco and John O'Hurley.
McPherson, meanwhile, was mum about marketing plans for the fall season. “I don't mean to be cagey. It's just gotten so competitive, and people are stealing everything,” he told B&C. “I want to give as little as possible to the other networks. It's kind of kooky.”
Both NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker and Entertainment President Kevin Reilly stressed that they do not expect ratings to turn around this season. “There is no question that we understand we're in a downturn right now,” said Zucker, “and that doesn't turn around overnight.” He also gave Reilly a vote of confidence, saying rumors that he is on his way out “are the games played in this town.”
Reilly, for his part, purged immediately after breakfast. “Last season for us was kind of a colonic,” he told critics. “It wasn't a lot of fun to go through at the time, but it's going to be healthy in the long run. It literally took any residual sense of entitlement or complacency at our company and blew it out, so to speak.”
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