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Media: Holiday Specials That Didn't Make the Cut

And other year-end ruminations

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Back by popular demand (or at least by one reader in Mint Hill), I bring you this breaking-news-this-just-in-sneak-peek at the holiday specials that the morons (read: TV programming execs) put into development, but shelved before they got to our humble television sets. Some are too bad to be true, while others are just too close to the truth.

THE B-LIST: CONCERT FOR SEPTEMBER 11 (VH-1) Just when you thought celebrity charity concerts were over, comes this less-than-impressive assortment of TV, movie, and music "stars" to lend their support for the Off-off Broadway Fund of Actors Who Over-Enunciate Who Were In New York On 9-11. Scheduled to appear: Jean-Claude Van Damme, O-Town, Lindsay Wagner, Brandy, Tim Allen, the cast of the original Brady Bunch, and Hootie and the Blowfish.

THAT'S MY OSAMA!(WB) In this holiday episode, the murderous title character learns the true meaning of the season from a trio of gruff guys. Starring Donny Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, and Little George Bush. Surprise guest star: The Rock.

LESSONS TO BE LEARNED: THE BILLY GRAHAM CHRISTMAS SPECIAL (PAX) America's evangelist packs 'em in at Yankee Stadium in New York for a Christmas sermon on religious tolerance and other theological gems. Should appear but doesn't seem to get it: Franklin Graham.

OVEREXPOSED: THE NEW YEAR SPECIAL (MTV) The music channel promises a blockbuster ending to the year 2001: ridding its airwaves of "stars" so overexposed as to be tiresome and faintly nauseating at this point. On the roster: Jennifer Lopez (oops, sorry, we mean J-Lo), Destiny's Child, N' Sync, Britney Spears, and please Lord, Carson Daly.

FROSTY, THE KING OF POP (E!) Cautionary Christmas tale about a wacko music superstar who fails to see that he's out of touch with his fans until it's too late. Stars Michael Jackson.

MIRACLE ON TRADE AND TRYON (ESPN) Against all odds, a city pulls together to keep a merry band of little bees in their community, despite evil beekeepers determined to move to (fill in the blank) Louisville, Norfolk, St. Louis, Poughkeepsie, Wichita, whatever. Stars: Ray Wooldridge, George Shinn. Filmed on location in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS:DVD EDITION In a new twist on the TV classic, the tale takes a dramatic turn as a political thriller when Charlie decides to form a band of losers to help him with his self-esteem. Stars: Ella Scarborough, Richard Vinroot, and Gary Condit.

THE GRINCH WHO STOLE NEWS (Fox News) In a loose adaptation of the Dr. Seuss story, a cranky, mean creature who thinks he's the center of the universe is assisted by a goofy housepet to rob Whoville of any shred of journalistic ethics. The Grinch: Bill O'Reilly. The Dog: Geraldo "Pistol-Packin" Rivera.

SANTA'S MISSING ELF (Court TV) Hilarious interactive show traces a missing elf who Santa worries will not deliver the cash by Christmas Eve. A long drive to Boston and a moving van that leaves in the night are just some of the clues in this holiday "Where's Waldo?" tale, and the public is invited to call in with their tips. Featuring the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and Andrew Reyes as the Missing Elf.

*****

In my annual, ridiculously optimistic hope that crap will sink to the bottom of the TV programming barrel, comes the devastating news that NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker has really upped the quality ante to counter Fox's Super Bowl programs on February 3. Folks, this is not an item that I have made up, unlike the "holiday specials" above.

Zucker, who was known for his stewardship of Today, became the entertainment head, and has OK'd a special version of NBC's trash reality series Fear Factor. Eighty minutes long, it will air at halftime and after the football game. The shtick here is that the "contestants" are present and former Playboy Playmates.

Poor Fox will have to stick with its game plan: a football game, a U2 concert planned for halftime and a Malcolm in the Middle to follow the game. Jiggle meets the Jugheads.

*****

In these just-past New Year's columns, we're supposed to wax poetic a bit, or at least give a few predictions for the year ahead. Fine.

All the media outlets here, whether they are print, web or broadcast, will continue to tighten the budget belt, and play the programming that works for them. Playing it safe in a tough ad climate will also make for a lack of creativity, or taking a chance in content.

For radio, that means hunkering down with current formats and sometimes making do with syndicated programs, when local offerings would better serve listeners.

Print folk will continue to look for ways to bring younger readers into the paper tent, convinced that they are the best news bang for your buck.

TV stations are starting to grasp that maybe their news departments aren't the cash cows they used to be, as well as the fact that their content's irrelevance is not lost on viewers, because well, those viewers are going away. All eyes will also be on the Time Warner Cable news operation which will debut in the spring.

The economy will be driving the media bus, and unless something interesting happens, the buck will stop everywhere.

Stay tuned, and happy 2002... *

(E-mail with feedback and questions at Shannon.Reichley@cln.com)

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