The latest news from the TV beat

Manic ‘Monday’

Chris Matthews, call your agent. CBS’ Supreme Court drama, First Monday, which debuts Jan. 15, plans to become the hot spot for real-life pundits and newsmakers. In most episodes, the series will incorporate unscripted segments of a fictional news-talk program titled Curveball (a la Matthews’ MSNBC show, Hardball), to be hosted by former CNN Supreme Court reporter Charles Bierbauer. Rev. Jerry Falwell, Marcia Clark, and Johnnie Cochran are already on the docket to discuss cases under consideration by the TV justices (played by such luminaries as Joe Mantegna, James Garner, and Charles Durning). ”I told Bierbauer, ‘You’re moderating here, so take it wherever you want to go,”’ says executive producer Don Bellisario (JAG), adding, ”I love the Curveball idea because it lends realism to the show, and people love a platform. But we only need a minute and a half. We can’t air 10 to 15 minutes of them arguing back and forth.” No, we already get enough of that on Survivor.

Rabid Response

What does The View’s Star Jones have in common with the ABC sitcom My Wife and Kids and those sheep-eye-chomping contestants on Fear Factor? They’ve all earned the wrath of The Ark Trust, a media watchdog group that monitors TV’s treatment of animals. The Trust cited Jones’ segments on fur clothing and alligator skirts as one of 10 anti-animal ”Foe-Paws” for 2001. Other missteps included USA Network’s coverage of the Alaskan dogsled race, the Iditarod; an episode of Kids that played the accidental death of a hamster for laughs; the pig slaughter on Survivor 2; and the now-infamous segment of NBC’s Fear Factor that required contestants to lie in a vat of rats. ”We’re not operating in a vacuum,” says Ark Trust spokeswoman Janet Winikoff. ”We get calls from viewers who are watching these shows and telling us how outraged they are. Cruelty is not something to be used for a gag.” NBC insists it is ”sensitive to the need for the fair and ethical treatment of animals,” and that the ”producers of Fear Factor have acted responsibly.” Although PETA doesn’t have a beef with Factor, it still has a bone to pick over the pig-killing on Survivor, but on the bright side ”we did find more story lines in 2001 that included animal rights stories,” says spokeswoman Lisa Lange. ”And there were vegans on Will & Grace, The Simpsons, and The West Wing. That thrills us.” Gee, who knew people could get so excited about soy milk and seaweed?

AND SO ON… In yet another wacky marketing ploy, the Sci Fi Channel recruited five Babylon 5 fans to wrap their cars with ”billboards” touting the series’ upcoming spin-off film The Legend of the Rangers, airing Jan. 19. More than 1,000 people volunteered before Sci Fi — the same network that put talking billboards in bathrooms — narrowed it down to one fan each from Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Says Sci Fi president Bonnie Hammer: ”We can’t believe how many of those fans are willing to take days and weekends to drive around their city to promote the movie.” Neither can we.

Fear Factor
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