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The Calm Before the Storm - January 4

This is your friendly weatherman with your trusty Numbers Game forecast. There's a big storm approaching from the east. Appears to be British in origin. This will be the sixth such storm in about five years. Like storm systems of this ilk previously, it is characterized by heavy winds and a downpour of horrible noises that will make you want to go out and scream, "It's raining sideways!"

Any person or persons not connected with the Fox Broadcasting Company, 19 Entertainment, or FremantleMedia North America are urged to take cover immediately.

No, hurricane season hasn't started early. Black January is upon us again.

Perhaps I was being a little vivid with the imagery, but it seems that if you're any network besides Fox, preparing for a new season of "American Idol" is a lot like preparing for a hurricane. After all, this is a show that went from a summer in which 13 million viewers saw a dude from Britain call Justin Guarini the next Justin Timberlake to a year in which 30 million a week saw a George Clooney look-alike take it. And I can tell you having previous experience with my fair share of hurricanes in the past, just like preparing for a hurricane, there are certain precautions that networks have to remember if they're to survive through the rest of the TV season...

1) Have a plan in place. I believe it was either Greek fabler Aesop or Thundercat mechanic Panthro who said, "The time to plan for a rainy day is when the sun is still shining." So as soon as Fox had dates in place, the other networks had two choices -- get ready to fight or prepare to take the brunt of the storm full force, hoping beyond hope that the eye won't pass overhead. A little hard to do when the storm approaching is all-eye. Like a hurricane, the tighter "American Idol" is, the stronger it tends to be, and with even the potential for that strength to impact scheduling, if you're a rival network, you don't want to take any chances.

ABC seems to have the most in-depth plan in place. The network was preparing to cut its losses with "Show Me the Money", throwing it to the wolves at 8p before throwing in the towel altogether. As for the residents of the mouse house that they actually planned on protecting, "Lost", which enjoyed a resurgence after its own season of suck, was jettisoned to the Fox-free- since-'93 hour of 10p ET. We still have no exact dates for the planned Jimmy Kimmel tome "Set for Life" (it had previously had a date of January 1) and "Dancing with the Stars" (all we know about that one is that ABC is still planning for a March release). At best, ABC's other hits, the Thursday night one-two punch of "Ugly Betty" and "Grey's Anatomy" MAY have to deal with three results shows during the preliminary rounds in late February, early March. And no one watches those things anyway. Comparatively, of course.

NBC also has a bit of a contingency in place, planning on expected, but not 9p Idol shows on Wednesday by throwing in its own 800-pound gorilla, "Deal or No Deal", in a battle that may become the primetime equivalent of Godzilla vs. King Kong. Advantages, only one. Recent shows have placed among the top of all network series, garnering 15 to 16 million viewers a night. The Christmas show scores 16.43 million alone. Disadvantages, there are two. First, "Idol" on its worst day still attracts more of an audience than "Deal" at its best ("Idol" hasn't dipped below 20 million on average since it was Fox's killer app in summer of 2002). Also, "Deal" has a hard, but competitive, battle against other heavy poo-flingers in the Thursday-9p slot, mainly CBS' "CSI" and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."

The CW right now is taking a wait-and-see approach with its current Wednesday night placeholder "Beauty and the Geek" (Yes, as good as the show is both in quality and ability to attract an audience to the fledgling netlet, it is only a placeholder between seasons of "Top Model"). But it looks as if any audience erosion will not be felt here, if history and structure is any indication.

Half-sister network CBS is sticking with what works. "NCIS", airing Tuesdays opposite the performance shows on "Idol", proved that there can be two hit shows in that time period and that the armor of Idol can at least be roughed up a bit. If they're smart, they'll stick with the plan of older-skewing dramas and procedurals as alternative programming. Hey, our elders and non-Idol fans alike need love, too.

2) Keep tabs on the situation. Just as it's important to monitor the course and severity of the storm, it's important to monitor the course and severity to which "American Idol" strikes. Pay attention to the papers. Watch for any sudden shifts in momentum. Take heed of any radical change in the tide, such as the so-bad-it-hurts audition that will make pop culture barometers or the sudden chaotic elimination of a strong contender. The effect on ratings may be minimal at best, but at least it will get people to tune in and vote, which, in the long run, will make for a stronger franchise.

3) This one ought to be called Chico's Rule of Centrist Optimism, although I probably won't end up taking credit for it even though I use it almost frequently... "Prepare for the worst... Hope for the best... Expect something in between." Before any hurricanes, there are a run on groceries on the idea of "better too much than too little." No need for me to say that from the time of the first audition to the final coronation are going to be the most trying four and a half months of the entire TV season. By now, there are two red-and-black flags on the shore of the TV scape in January, and the reallly smart schedule planners, or at least the ones that haven't lost their jobs due to last year's storm, are tying down their dinette sets and lawn furniture, boarding up their houses, and preparing to either shift up to higher ground or stay indoors and ride it out.

Best case scenario, you emerge relatively unscathed and all the stronger for it, ready to fight another killer reality show from another network. Worst case scenario, you have the equivalent of a big ugly refrigerator/freezer on your roof.

Don't laugh. I did plenty of laughing when Andrew came and visited my house back in 1992.

Unlike hurricanes, which, if you subscribe to Al Gore's inconvenient truth, are doomed to get worse, there can and will come a time when "American Idol" will run its course. After all, competition from ABC and NBC is beginning to mount ("Dancing with the Stars" averaged 20 million last season, and "Deal or No Deal's" strongest showing was over 18 million), and if current Hollywood watercooler talk is any indication, then the question of whether or not either ABC or NBC will have the grapes to show its fangs against Fox's awesome foursome of Randy, Paula, Simon, and Ryan is no longer a question of "if", but rather, of "when". From Variety...

"[American Idol] has defied odds by rising in the ratings five years into its run -- and could do so again this year. The pressure is on for "Idol"... since none of Fox's new fall shows made the grade. Should "Idol" take a big dip in the Nielsen numbers, Fox's adults 18-49 crown -- which it has held for the past two seasons -- figures to be up for grabs. But if the show's a hit again, rivals will just shrug -- and hold out secret hopes that 2008 will bring its decline."

The show is contracted to 2009... After that, though, seemingly, all bets are off. The next round of the continuing Numbers Game between Fox and... everyone else... should prove to be quite interesting.

The Weekly Rant, or random musings as Hector Sandarti begins to worry about his job security.

We like to harp on "Playmania" a lot on this site, but so far as IPTV in the USA goes, GSN's diamond in the late-night rough proves that you don't need big cash prizes or a need to be edgy to be the best game in town. It's a good look into the future of this genre, and on any given night, viewers and players alike are in for a party.

That said, Jessica York has become a babbling idiot that does ill more than drag down the show recently.

I'm guessing that she was the result of GSN's search for a third host of the show, after seeing success for Shandi and Mel.

It occurs to me, at least, that they could've picked ANYONE to host this show. Hell, Danny Seckel could've shown up for the audition wearing his Green Ball outfit and doing the robot.

So why Jessica? Well, there are a number of reasons, but only one comes to my mind... They need a clone.

Blonde? Check.

Cheery? Check.

Nice... err... assets? Check.

Able to ad-lib for two hours? ... Was that even ON GSN's laundry list of abilities of a "Playmania" host, or did they just get lucky the first two times?

It's become par for the course for GSN to take what would otherwise be a perfectly good show and mess it up by thinking that they're at the top of their game and they can do no wrong. It's a common mistake for the network for games, and one that doesn't need to be made.

If Chico Alexander were a statuesque leggy model-type, he could probably host Playmania, too... But since that's too scary even for HIM to comprehend, he'll just stick to being Stuart Scott-lite. E-mail him at chico@gameshownewsnet.com.

 

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