Tuning In: NBC's Odd Nod to Fox's 'Glee'; World Series Notes

Brian Steinberg on the Fall TV Season and Changes in the Industry

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A "Glee"-ful "Office" on NBC: One of the brightest spots on NBC's prime-time schedule will give a loud nod to a program on a rival network when the Nov. 11 episode of "The Office" features the gang at Dunder Mifflin gathering for a viewing party focused on "Glee," the popular Fox hit.

An upcoming episode of NBC's 'Office' will have a viewing party focused on rival network Fox's 'Glee.'
An upcoming episode of NBC's 'Office' will have a viewing party focused on rival network Fox's 'Glee.' Credit: Fox/NBC
This is very rare stuff. Each TV show is a universe unto itself. Moments when the characters of, say, ABC's "No Ordinary Family" acknowledge the past super-heroics of characters on NBC's now-defunct "Heroes" are typically unheard of. For one thing, such stuff takes audiences out of the comfortable little trance they've worked themselves into when they start watching their show (we watch TV shows to forget about real life, not to be reminded of it) and for another, why would a network suggest there's something worth watching on another channel?

Sure, the networks often hold promotional gambits that use "Happy Days" to launch "Laverne & Shirley" or "Mork & Mindy." Sometimes they feature "crossovers" that send the casts of "Law & Order" careening into "Homicide: Life on the Street," "One Tree Hill" into "Life Unexpected" or even "Hello Larry" into "Diff'rent Strokes." But those crossovers have all taken place between shows on the same network, encouraging viewers to watch the other and maybe making the shows' universe feel more real.

NBC's maneuver is "certainly unusual," said Tim Brooks, a former broadcast and cable network executive who is the co-author of "The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV."

"Parody shows ('South Park,' 'SNL') of course reference lots of other shows," Mr. Brooks said in an e-mail exchange. "And a few actors have played the same role on different shows, like Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman on 'The Six Million Dollar Man' (ABC) and 'The Bionic Woman' (NBC). But I can't remember a show in which the characters had a viewing party for a competing network's show!"

NBC wasn't able to offer immediate comment. While this programming maneuver is, well, different, we wonder if the peacock network isn't trying to snare some "Gleeks" to watch "The Office." Maybe it forgot that "House" at least is produced by NBC Universal, if it was going to promote a Fox show; perhaps someone at Dunder Mifflin can get a jones for Hugh Laurie the week after and at least goose the ratings for an NBCU-owned property.

The crack of the bat: The World Series starts tonight, and while baseball fans will likely throng to the TV screen, the final moments of this year's baseball season come tinged with speculation and even a bit of controversy. Here's why:

  • Smaller market teams
    With the Yankees and Phillies out of the matchup, the Series lacks a big East Coast team to draw interest from the major northeastern markets. This isn't a smack at fans in Arlington, Tex., or San Francisco, who will certainly cheer on the Rangers and the Giants, but if you ran a media outlet charging around $450,000 for a 30-second spot, you'd want your broadcast to reach as many people as possible so the ratings made the games worth advertisers' while. Sure, it's the World Series and it will get a substantial audience regardless, but media execs usually like to see two teams from two very different parts of the country in the Series to ensure the maximum audience possible.
  • The other bruising standoff
    News Corp. and Cablevision have yet to come to terms on how much the cable distributor should pay for transmission of Fox stations, which means Cablevision's 3.1 million subscribers in the New York metropolitan area will likely not have access to at least tonight's game and possibly others. These so-called "retransmission battles" have become increasingly common as more media companies try to increase revenue from sources beyond traditional ad sales, but this wrestling match has become particularly noxious. Will the absence of the Series on Cablevision affect its ratings ?


A tabloid Sheen: Charlie Sheen's latest colorful antics provide some solid gawk appeal, but the actor is also the star of one of the most important programs on CBS's prime-time schedule.

Not only does "Two and a Half Men" command the highest rates from advertisers out of all of CBS's prime-time offerings, but its durability has given the network the freedom to move "The Big Bang Theory" over to Thursday nights in an effort to start a comedy block on that evening and give a pounding to NBC, which has boasted Thursday-night comedies for years.

Every time Mr. Sheen gets into trouble, the incident sparks speculation about the fate of "Two and a Half Men," which is produced by Warner Brothers and has been on CBS's schedule long enough for the show to start generating revenue from syndication and other aftermarket activities. CBS typically downplays this stuff, and, so far, history supports the network's approach: "Two and a Half Men" continues to be successful.

But some folks may wonder whether a show now in its eighth season featuring a costly star prone to getting into trouble can keep on keeping on. For now, The Hollywood Reporter's James Hibberd chronicles past CBS comments on and non-responses to this ongoing drama.

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