Repeat As Needed
Finding new episodes on prime time is tough this time of year

Focus

Been there? Seen that? You're probably watching network television, where reruns—once the sole province of summer—now rule the airwaves year-round. Take NYPD Blue. One week, Jimmy Smits's tough detective, Bobby Simone, dies. The next week, Rick Schroder replaces him. A month later, Smits's Simone is back on the beat, thanks to the magic of repeat episodes. Similar confusion reigns at ER, where the post of emergency room chief was filled, then vacant again when NBC decided to air an old episode. In the first 21 weeks of the TV season, in fact, ER aired only 13 new episodes, NYPD Blue 10 and FOX's X-Files only 9.

The reason? "Time and money," says Phil Rosenthal, executive producer of CBS's Everybody Loves Raymond. Since the mid-'60s, the average number of new episodes per TV season has shrunk from 39 to today's 22. Typically, a sitcom costs a network around $800,000 per episode, while an hour-long action-adventure series runs from $1.3 million to $1.6 million. (Big hits, with high-salaried stars, cost a lot more; ER costs NBC $13 million per episode.) But what really aggravates the problem for viewers is the increasing importance of "sweeps," the three months each season that TV networks use to set advertising rates. The more viewers networks attract during those weeks, the more money they can charge advertisers during the months that follow. Naturally, the networks decide to cluster new episodes in sweeps months—November, February and May—forcing them to stretch out the season until Memorial Day, with weeks of repeats between original episodes. And even if the networks were willing to spend the extra money, the product isn't always available. Raymond's Rosenthal turned down a network request for an extra two shows above the 26 promised (already above average for most shows) for this season. "I don't want the quality of our show to suffer," he says, "by spreading ourselves too thin."

Oscar Clips Joan's Wings
"I don't mean to sound bitchy," Joan Rivers says about Geena Davis and her new pre-Academy Awards show. "She may turn out to be fabulous. There may be more to her than dimples and boobs." Viewers will see for themselves March 21 when Davis hosts ABC's new Oscars special and, thanks to an exclusivity agreement with the Motion Picture Academy, bumps Rivers, appearing on cable's E! channel, off the air for the half hour before ceremonies begin. That's when Academy nominees and presenters sashay down a red-velvet carpet and talk about their glamorous outfits. Davis insists she is bored with fashion questions—a Rivers trademark—saying they turn the stars into walking advertisements and "take away from the class of the event." Rivers defends the schtick, saying the stars are too nervous to talk about anything else. "If you're not going to ask, 'What are you wearing?' what do you talk about? Calculus?" Now that her show must end early, Rivers is advising viewers to "go and get a sandwich" or "walk the dog...whatever" during her rival's program. Davis, however, sees no reason for Rivers to fret about her lost airtime, noting "most stars arrive before the last half hour, anyway, because it is bad if you are late." At least Rivers isn't worrying about the statuesque Davis's blocking her view of the stars' arrivals. "I'm 5'1". I'll stand on a box if it's a problem. Hey, I'll stand on Danny DeVito if I have to."

Achieving Parody
How does a young director get to make a movie? Simple: First make a short movie that makes fun of a real movie—and hope a big studio takes notice. Eating Las Vegas, written and directed by acting-class pals Art Brown, 33, and Tracy Fraim, 37, takes the Leaving Las Vegas plot and retells it with food replacing booze as the drug of choice. Saving Ryan's Privates—no plot summary necessary—is aspiring director Craig Moss's calling card. The three-minute Swingblade, directed by Nicholas Goodman, is the unlikely combination of Sling-blade and Swingers. And the Fields brothers (Scott, 35, and twins Adam and Jordan, 33) of Cleveland are pinning their hopes on their $150 Script Doctor, eight minutes of film-industry insider jokes in ER format, made with equipment borrowed from their wedding video business. Do cinematic résumés work? "The studios are always looking for new talent," says Art Brown, who is now meeting with studios, "and they're anxious to take a look without having to actually invest."

Original

ER
Leaving Las Vegas
Saving Private Ryan

Parody

Script Doctor
Eating Las Vegas
Saving Ryan's Privates

Just Another Smart Alec?
Alec Baldwin is not a politician; he just talks about politics on TV. After jokingly suggesting on Conan O'Brien's late night talker last December that Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) should be stoned to death, Baldwin told a TV reporter last month that New York City's Mayor Rudy Giuliani runs "this efficient, sharklike, machinelike, dispassionate, cold-blooded " mayoralty." He also called Giuliani "ferocious, feral and uncompassionate." A mayoral aide responded that Baldwin will "say anything about anyone." But will Baldwin run against Giuliani for a U.S. Senate seat in the year 2000? "That's a big task," said Baldwin, ruling out the run. "Giuliani's a powerful guy."

ON THE TOWN

TYSON'S CORNER
The Victorian English had a name for the sporting gentlemen who frequented prizefights; they called them "the fancy"—a good description of the glittering crowd that packed the Las Vegas MGM Grand's arena to see former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson KO South African Francois Botha. There were Baldwins (brothers William, Daniel and Stephen), three varieties of Hines (Gregory, son Zachary, 16, and father Maurice) and eight Alis (Muhammad with seven of his nine children). "It's one of those life-experience things," said Ben Affleck, "so you can say, 'I saw Mike Tyson fight,' when you're 50 or 60 years old." Oh, that Tyson! "I thought it was Tyson the supermodel," said Howie Mandel.

For new 60 Minutes, a little Tingle

Jimmy Tingle has his work cut out for him. On Jan. 13, the Cambridge, Mass.-reared comic made his debut as commentator on the new 60 Minutes II, inviting inevitable comparisons with television's reigning curmudgeon, Andy Rooney, 80, who has been holding forth on the original 60 Minutes for more than 20 years. Scoop talked to Tingle, 43, about his new gig.

What's your biggest fear about taking this job?

What's to fear? I have friends who are firefighters and run into burning buildings. That's scary. This is important. But it's not life and death.

What was your worst gig?

It was losing [the comedy contest] on Star Search. I was really angry and devastated. My friends are now writing in for a rematch.

What's your take on the impeachment?

[Clinton has] suffered enough. On TV discussing your sex life? That's cruel and unusual punishment. Most couples don't discuss sex with each other, never mind on television.

Give us an example of a social or political issue that grabs your attention.

Every time you look in the paper, someone is merging with someone else. Eventually one company is going to be running the entire world. If you don't pay your phone bill, they tow your car.

What do you think of Andy Rooney?

He's certainly the best TV essayist ever. I was relieved to see that it takes [him] three or four days to come up with one of these before it's ready. I was thinking that I could wing it: "Here's Jimmy. What are you going to talk about tonight?" "I'm going to do something on warning labels." But they don't want you to ad lib on the air; they want you to write these things out.

How are you different from Rooney?

One of the producers said, "You don't look like Andy Rooney, you look like Mickey Rooney." So maybe if this doesn't work out I can be like Mickey Rooney.

Give us your take on a Rooneyesque topic, like junk mail.

I get junk mail from everybody—from the Republican party to the Democratic party, to Greenpeace to Amnesty International: "You can stop torture." So can you. Quit sending me things in the mail.

ON THE BLOCK

PUFFY'S POSH PAD
Rap star-music producer-restaurateur-style setter Sean "Puffy" Combs can now add "landlord" to his résumé. Combs, 29, recently purchased a 12-story building on Manhattan's tony Upper East Side for $12 million. Combs's four-story apartment—one of three in the building—contains four bedrooms, seven baths, a screening room and a gym. According to broker Jeffrey Cohen, there's no word yet on what Puffy plans to do with the other two apartments (which rent for about $25,000 per month each) when their leases end this summer. Combs also bought homes in East Hampton, N.Y., and Beverly Hills within the last year.

Military aid from Hollywood
First he saves Private Ryan. Now, Tom Hanks has come to the aid of the World War II Memorial, a $100 million project a long way from its financial goals. Hanks pitched the memorial, to be built in Washington, D.C., on the People's Choice Awards, urging viewers to call its toll-free number (1-800-639-4WW2). More than 30,000 calls were logged by the next day, raising as much as $300,000. Hanks's plea hit "a responsive chord," says memorial spokesman Mike Conley.

  • Contributors:
  • Larry Sutton,
  • Michael Neill,
  • Anna Lisa Raya,
  • Ken Baker,
  • Julia Campbell,
  • Tom Duffy,
  • Winnie Flach,
  • Lan Nguyen,
  • Melissa Schorr,
  • Margie Sellinger,
  • Irene Zutell.