Ellen Gray: WHYY rethinks airing of 'Chess'
SO MUCH television, so little time: * In January, PBS hosted members of the Television Critics Association at an event in which Broadway star Idina Menzel performed and lyricist Sir Tim Rice talked about an upcoming "Great Performances" presentation of his revamped 1980s musical "Chess" that starred Menzel, Josh Groban and Adam Pascal.
SO MUCH television, so little time:
* In January, PBS hosted members of the Television Critics Association at an event in which Broadway star Idina Menzel performed and lyricist Sir Tim Rice talked about an upcoming "Great Performances" presentation of his revamped 1980s musical "Chess" that starred Menzel, Josh Groban and Adam Pascal.
It was a very cool evening.
I finally got to see the full " 'Chess' in Concert" last week, and was charmed. PBS scheduled it for 8 p.m. June 17, but Philadelphians who'd like to see it were originally going to either have to tune in to Allentown's WLVT (Channel 39) or wait until June 28, when WHYY (Channel 12) plans to air it at 3 p.m., because the Philadelphia station has chosen to skip the national feed in favor of back-to-back episodes of the locally produced "On Canvas" (one original, one a repeat) and an episode of the British spy series "MI-5."
And while hardly as egregious as the time 'HYY planned to shift the middle installment of "Masterpiece's" popular "Cranford" to its digital channel to make room for pledge-related programming on the main broadcast channel - a decision rescinded after I wrote about it - it was still disappointing.
But once again, Channel 12's made a course correction.
Though the station traditionally hasn't carried "Great Performances" on Wednesdays because "the flow wasn't working for us," its chief content officer, Christine Dempsey, said yesterday she's decided to make an exception and air " 'Chess' in Concert" from 10 p.m. to midnight on June 17.
After looking "more closely at our 10 o'clock show" - that would be a documentary titled "Ferrets: The Pursuit of Excellence" - Dempsey decided to pre-empt it for " 'Chess.' "
Ferret lovers may address their complaints to me.
I hope the rest of you will give " 'Chess' " a chance.
* The ratings for NBC's "I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here," continue to sink - on Monday, it placed fourth in its first hour, third in its second against network competition that consisted of ABC's "The Bachelorette" and reruns.
Still, there are apparently more than 4 million Americans trapped in front of their TV sets with no way of switching off NBC, even as Daniel Baldwin complains that Janice Dickinson won't help pick up poop.
Maybe they were watching one of the other Baldwin brothers on "30 Rock" one night, laughed too hard and somehow got stuck in their chairs? I can't say.
We need, however, a plan to get them out of there.
Before it's too late.
* Nielsen late last month estimated that only 3.1 million U.S. homes - about 2.7 percent - remain unprepared for Friday's switch to digital TV.
Though that means that more than 97 percent of American homes remain vulnerable to random sightings of Spencer and Heidi Pratt, who may have escaped the Costa Rican jungle but not their own dubious celebrity.
* Seriously, though, if you happen to be living in one of the 2.7 percent of U.S. homes - an estimated 60,000 of them in this region - that still only get TV signals delivered over the air, and you'd like to watch TV after Friday, there's information at www.dtv2009.gov for you. If you don't have Internet access at home, check with your local library.
You can also call the Federal Communications Commission at 888-CALL-FCC.
* Kent Jones, pop-culture correspondent for MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show," whom I quoted in yesterday's column on Conan O'Brien, was, of course, being satiric in last week's history of "The Tonight Show," in which he credited Steve Allen for breaking the barrier for "white men in suits telling jokes after 10 p.m."
But as Bruce Klauber, author and founder of JazzLegends.com, reminded me yesterday in an e-mail, that wasn't strictly true.
"NBC's first foray into late night television arrived on May 29, 1950 - and lasted until the following August - in the form of 'Broadway Open House,' hosted by comic Jerry Lester and featuring a cast that included bandleader Milton DeLugg and the quintessential 'dumb blonde' named Dagmar," wrote Klauber.
"Originally, there was a rotating casts of hosts that included Morey Amsterdam. Lester ultimately took over as full-time host," added Klauber, who, by the way, ascribes O'Brien's popularity to the appeal of the "talented amateur."
* TV Land, which seems determined to chase the same under-50 audience as nearly every other channel on the tube, is touting the Aug. 6 premiere of Joan Rivers' "How'd You Get So Rich?" as part of "the network's new primetime programming block designed to appeal to the attitudes, life stage and interests of people in their 40s."
Because nothing says "people in their 40s" like Joan Rivers. *
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