Tuesday 10 October 1995
This was not supposed to happen - a saviour was meant to be at hand. As the autumn season began, New York was plastered with cast photos from Central Park West, a glossy new series starring Mariel Hemingway. The soap saga is set in a slick New York magazine not unlike Vanity Fair, with characters modelled on folk like John F Kennedy Junior. CPW has been on for three weeks and the ratings trend is clear - each week it finished fourth in its time slot, behind episodes on Fox of Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210. CPW is produced by Darren Star, who devised Melrose and 90210. At a million dollars an episode it's a disaster for CBS - and it is committed to 22 episodes.
The CPW bomb has made the other networks nervous. In the US, programme ideas are like measles in a classroom - soon everybody has the same itch. There are now five different sitcoms set in the news business. One of the five is also on CBS and the dialogue on New York News leaves one gasping: who is running this network? An elevator salesman? Actually yes, but Westinghouse can't be blamed for this tripe. Here are some gems from this week's episode: harassed hack on telephone: "I can't talk now, I'm just about to nail a major dirtbag"; or handsome columnist to beautiful reporter: "Two people working for the same newspaper shouldn't be this competitive."
The absence of realism may explain why none of the new journo shows figure in last week's top 20. Number one in that list was ER, and CBS had but one entry. If Westinghouse doesn't make changes soon, its new purchase may become an enormous burden.
More news news: building will soon start in Washington on the world's first "Newseum", a museum dedicated solely to news. The $40m project has been funded by the Freedom Forum, a foundation devoted to protecting the freedom of expression enshrined in the First Amendment. The Newseum will feature everything from Columbus's letter to Queen Isabella on what he found in the New World to a video wall with 24-hour satellite news feeds. There will be a "Freedom Park" outside with a memorial to a thousand slain journalists.
The Newseum director will be the former USA Today editor Peter Prichard: "If we can help people understand the news process and the values that underlie it, that's a healthy contribution."
Others are less pleased. "It sounds absolutely sickening," says the veteran columnist Jimmy Breslin. "You're supposed to be scruffy and despised. You're not supposed to be honoured."
The British author Nicholas Evans has taken a beating in the US press. His book The Horse Whisperer was bought by Dell Publishing for $3.15m. Good enough for a first novel, but then the book's movie rights went for $6m. The backlash was inevitable. First up was the New York Times, which described the book as "sentimentally bloated".
But what comics are calling The Horses of Madison County has now established itself on the US bestseller list. According to experts, Dell ran a masterly pre-publication campaign, persuading bookshops across the malls of America that the Evans book would be a sell-out. The Times review did not bother the Dell people, but a pounding in the populist USA Today did. "I didn't think the Times review would affect my customers," says Joy Sanger at the Brentano book chain. "But then USA Today trashed it and that reached straight out to the mall audience."
Dell responded with a special mailing to book stores, countering the USA Today review with critical acclaim from other sources. The rest is history and a model of a publisher's battle plan. "This book has many lives," says Carole Baron, president of Dell Books. "There's the paperback and the movie tie-in. We're on the way to not only breaking even but making a great deal of money."
OJ was found not guilty and may get $10m for book and movie deals. The convicted fraudster Michael Milken just got paid $15m by Ted Turner for advice given during the Time Warner deal. Now Oliver North gets in role in a prime-time drama. The man who lied to Congress will appear in NBC's new serial JAG, which features the police force of the US Air Force. He plays a good guy - it's called casting against type.
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