Martha Preview Not Enough of a Good Thing


Martha Stewart started test tapings of her new syndicated show last week, in preparation for its live debut on Sept. 12. Flash! was there to bear witness to the spectacle that is—or will soon be—Martha.

After scarfing down complimentary pecan-dusted sticky buns and washing them down with bottles of vitamin water, the audience waited 30 minutes for the taping to start. Stewart might have been exhibiting poor manners, but the audience was a forgiving (if handpicked) lot: a group of employees from Stewart's Everyday Food magazine, Stewart fans from a local gardening club, and some Stewart confidantes (including daughter and The Apprentice: Martha Stewart co-star Alexis Stewart), in addition to standby ticket holders.

Any TV-show taping is full of stops and starts, but watching Martha was a bit like watching Stewart-branded paint dry. Even a montage of the domestic diva acting silly during the show's theme song couldn't seem to amp up the audience.

However, the set was impressive. It included a craft corner, a greenhouse, and a full-scale kitchen with chefs in turquoise coats toiling away throughout the show.

In the first segment, Stewart interviewed two little girls, their mother and their Iraq War veteran father about their “Good Thing,” a box for musical-instrument toys. Stewart's capable bantering came to a screeching halt when one child said her daddy had to go back to war. Martha tucked her hair behind her ear and changed the subject back to the toy box. Good thing, too.

In a taped interview, grill king George Foreman showed Stewart how to make shrimp and pineapples on his “next-grilleration” of grills.

Stewart at one point corrected Foreman on the difference between “marinating” and “macerating.”

Other segments included a performance by a 12-year-old violin prodigy and a lesson on making a hot-air balloon out of papier-mâché—which Stewart pronounces à la the French: “pah-pee-YAY mah-SHAY.”

Citizens Of Dish!

In a stunt promotion, EchoStar is seeking an American city or town to rename itself “Dish.” The citizens of Dish will then receive 10-year subscriptions to the company's Dish Network satellite-TV service. Who thinks so little of their name that they would sell their civic pride for free satellite TV?

Flash! nominates any faceless suburb, like one of the 44 Greenvilles in the U.S.

We consulted the media analysts at Sanford Bernstein, who contend that there are plenty of towns with unappealing names that should step up to the plate. Crapo, Md., and Hygiene, Colo., for instance.

EchoStar's offer is worth around $4,000 per home. So, say Sanford Bernstein analysts, smaller towns would be cheaper.

Changing the name of French Lick, Ind., would cost Dish just $2.9 million. Boring, Ore., at 5,406 homes, would cost $21 million, making Boring, Md.'s 905 homes a bargain at $3.6 million.

New York City would likely bust EchoStar at a cost of $12.3 billion, but there's no way that Flash!'s landlord would let us install a dish on the building.

Labor Intensive

Like any holiday, Labor Day weekend would seem to be one of the year's low points for television viewership, with Americans forsaking the Jerry Lewis telethon in order to savor the final moments of summer.

For the most part, that's true. The first three days of the weekend—Friday, Saturday and Sunday—draw far fewer viewers compared with the weekends before and after Labor Day, according to Turner Research data for 1999-2003. (Stats for 2004 were unavailable due to Hurricane Frances.)

Yet the Monday holiday itself sees huge audience increases versus the same day one week before and after: 19% more viewers and 26% more 25- to 54-year-old viewers in total-day viewing. As they prepare to send the kids off to school or trudge back to work on Tuesday, Americans are apparently content to park on the couch in front of movie marathons and the last gasp of summer's original cable series (like the Sept. 5 finale of TNT's The Closer).

Final results for Labor Day weekend viewership could be much different this year, due to news coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Many viewers surely tuned in for something rarely seen on holiday program schedules: endless tragedy.