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As you may have heard by now, Kim Zolciak of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" is currently expecting her second child with Kroy Biermann (and fourth overall). So what is she saying to thank everyone for all of...
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LOS ANGELES -- Oprah Winfrey is used to running the show, whether it was her hit daytime TV program or the fledgling cable channel named for her and which she rules as chairman and chief executive.
But this week's Oprah Winfrey Network shakeup, which included a 20 percent staff layoff, thrusts her into a new dynamic: power-sharing with a top executive from the company that's bankrolled OWN with $300 million-plus.
It's a crucial moment for the media queen, who made OWN her next big move after "The Oprah Winfrey Show," and for OWN itself: Can Winfrey work as an effective corporate teammate with partner Discovery Communications to turn the struggling channel around?
There's another bedrock question: Does a big enough audience exist for the earnest, uplifting fare on Winfrey's OWN, so antithetical to the blowsy charms of "Jersey Shore," "Keeping Up With the Kardashians" and much else that's popular on cable TV?
As important as control might be to Winfrey, she's also a savvy businesswoman and has been willing to take advice before – and not just from Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil or her other TV health and wealth proteges. Her syndicated talk show's distributor made sure she stayed on track.
"In the past, when she was becoming too `New Age,' or becoming too distant, which can come with celebrity and wealth, the folks at King World would do a survey" and pass the results to her, said Bill Carroll, an expert in the syndication market for media consulting firm Katz Media.
As a smart broadcaster, Winfrey heard the public "and adjusted to what they were saying," Carroll said.
Winfrey started off slowly with OWN, busy wrapping her talk show's 25-year run last fall with much hoopla. She began exerting more control after leaving daytime, and as part of the executive turnover that began five months after OWN's January 2011 debut to disappointing ratings.
Christina Norman, who was dismissed as CEO in May 2011, had expressed hope that, within its first year, OWN would reach an average of about 400,000 viewers in prime-time among women ages 25-to-54. That would have been a doubling of the prime-time audience in that demo for Discovery Health, the channel OWN replaced.
For the year to date, OWN is averaging 318,000 total viewers in prime-time, a 9 percent increase over the same period last year.
It was philosophy, not numbers, that Winfrey focused on at the channel's launch. She was insistent that OWN would represent her talk show's message of self-empowerment writ large across an entire channel.
"What if I could take every hero who inspired me, every lesson that motivated me, every opportunity that was ever given to me and give it to you," Winfrey said in a promotional spot for OWN that showed her beaming against a computer-generated blue sky dotted by soaring balloons and puffy clouds.
Worthy, but is that entertainment? The high-water mark for OWN so far was the 3.5 million viewers for Winfrey's exclusive interview with Bobbi Kristina Brown, Whitney Houston's daughter, which aired earlier this month. The interview, while sensitively done, spun off the tabloid-tragic end to Houston's checkered life.
(It was also a reminder of the forum that Winfrey's talk show once gave celebrities who wanted to explain themselves. Former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner's agonized, post-Oprah speeches about lewd texts and photos were no substitute for possible absolution by Winfrey.)
For viewer Mamie Kwayie of Chicago, OWN's selling point is programs like "Oprah's Master Class."
"These shows work because they're infused with Ms. Winfrey's core platform for meaningful messages and impactful storytelling," she said in an email.
Such programs strike others as virtuous but dull, among them Robert Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University.
"You have to admire Oprah for this, but it doesn't seem she's willing to put the kinds of shows on that the channel really needs," Thompson said. "What OWN needs is `Jersey Shore.' What OWN needs is `Real Housewives,' a splashy program that everyone watches and talks about, that may have questionable elements."
"It seems the kind of spectacular reality show that OWN needs is one that seems to be outside the definition of what OWN will accept," he said.
OWN can find a middle ground, countered Discovery spokesman David Leavy.
"There's a lot of white space between `Jersey Shore' and `Housewives.' Good programming doesn't need to be as salacious as that," he said, citing "Undercover Boss" as an example.
Let Oprah be Oprah, said one viewer, Charles W. Rawls III, a Winfrey admirer – and a realist.
"I want programming that will share what she stands for. But that may not be what the masses want and advertisers are willing to pay for," said Rawls, a marketing manager in Philadelphia.
For a successful woman, one who thinks and lives big, Winfrey has entered new territory.
The overhaul announced this week, including the layoffs of 30 staffers intended to reduce redundancies between Discovery and its partner in OWN, Winfrey's Harpo Inc., brought Neal Kirsch, chief financial officer of Discovery's U.S. networks, to OWN as chief operating officer and CFO.
(OWN launched with a 150-person staff double that of the typical cable channel, another invitation to trim.)
In January, Discovery Fit & Health executive Rita Mullen was brought in on an interim basis to work on programming and development after the departure of Lisa Erspamer from OWN.
Their work is cut out for them.
Discovery CEO David Zaslav, speaking to analysts last month, said there will be "significant additional funding to OWN" that will exceed its earnings over the next two years. That will mean adding to the $312 million Discovery has given the venture so far, the figure cited in Discovery's annual report, but Zaslav said he expects the channel to become a "significant asset."
Discovery owns 50 percent of OWN but Winfrey holds operational rights when it comes to programming, marketing and decision-making authority for key management positions, Zaslav said. Beginning in 2016, she can require Discovery to "purchase all or part of (her) interest in OWN," he added.
"Ultimately, it's Oprah's network. A lot of the policy decisions are with her," said analyst Brad Adgate of media consultants Horizon Media Inc.
Winfrey's real contribution will come in front of the camera, not from behind a desk, suggested analyst Carroll.
"She is what viewers are asking for. If she's there, they're there. If she isn't, she isn't," he said.
This is the time of year when networks begin clearing out old inventory in preparation for the new round of delicious treats they will bring us in the fall. Not that I'm against networks debuting shows all year long -- anything to avoid the September train wreck -- but sometimes, you look at a mid-season show and instantly know why it wasn't on the fall schedule (I'm looking at you, "Work It"). By spring, parts of the broadcast-TV schedule look like the Island of Lost Toys; shows that didn't find strong advocates at the network or favorable slots for their debuts wander onto the schedule almost tentatively, hoping not to get run over by the trucks that are March Madness and various reality franchises.
But sometimes a lack of buzz works in a show's favor; "House," "Parks and Recreation," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Happy Endings" are just a few of the mid-season programs that left the gate with modest expectations and used their first seasons to make swift and successful course corrections. It's hard to know whether "Bent" (9 p.m. ET Wednesday, NBC) will get to enjoy the kind of long-term success some of those shows have had, but it would be a mistake to count this scruffy little comedy out. It's really charming.
"Bent," a goofy romantic comedy about an amusingly irresponsible contractor and his uptight client, is a little stiff in its early outings, but it loosens up over its first half-dozen episodes. As is the case with contractor Pete Riggins (David Walton), "Bent" grows more shaggily endearing over time, and if you're already a fan of the goofy/sharp vibes on display in "Happy Endings," "Cougar Town" and "Suburgatory," this new NBC ensemble comedy should be right up your alley.
There are many other things to recommend about it, but the best thing about "Bent" is Walton's thoroughly wonderful performance as Riggins, an enjoyably rogueish construction guy who gets a kitchen-rehab job from Alex (Amanda Peet) because he's cheap, not because he's especially good. Pete arrives for work with a motley crew of subcontractors who excel at goofing off, and his father, Walt (Jeffrey Tambor), is an aging actor who sponges off his son when not starring in vanity-driven projects about postal workers.
As a single mother with her own family issues -- her husband went to the slammer for dirty financial dealing -- Alex has a lot on her plate, but over time, Pete's ad hoc family becomes hers as well, and after a while, no one really keeps track of how the new kitchen is coming along.
Truth be told, in the early going, it's not that easy to believe that Pete is all that attracted to Alex, who is off-puttingly hard-edged at times, and not necessarily in a "she doth protest too much" sort of way. And on occasion, the show makes Alex's other suitor, Ben (Matt Letscher), a little too douchey; the competition between Pete and Ben would be more believable if the deck weren't so stacked in favor of the surfing contractor with the aging truck and the groovy stubble.
But one of the good things about "Bent" is that NBC is showing two episodes every Wednesday during the next few weeks. By the sixth episode, the chemistry between Pete and Alex seems much more tangible, and by that point, we've seen enough of Pete's issues (which include his recovery from a gambling addiction) to understand why she still remains a little hesitant to dump Ben, a doctor, in favor of the guy with an endless array of ragged T-shirts and dippy ex-girlfriends.
Yet "Bent" wisely doesn't put all its eggs in the Pete-Alex basket; Pete's team, which consists of the excitable Clem (J.B. Smoove), the naive Gary (*Jesse Plemons) and the stolid Vlad (Pasha Lychnikoff) is quite amusing on its own; as the new guy on the construction crew, Gary, is incessantly hazed, and Plemons endures the good-natured taunting with wonderfully low-key stoicism. Walt, who crashes at Pete's scruffy Venice, Calif., pad provides many opportunities for Jeffrey Tambor to play the kind of self-involved, hammily amusing characters that he does so well. He reminds me a little of Jane Lynch's character on "Party Down": He's forever recalling the recurring role he had on various '70s procedurals and soaps -- and of course, this is information that only he finds interesting.
[*By the way, if you're also a "Friday Night Lights" fan, you may find yourself repeatedly stumbling over the fact that Jesse Plemons, a.k.a. "FNL's" Landry, is on a show alongside a character named Riggins. And yet no one plays football. Weird!]
I can't quite figure out what NBC is doing with "Bent" -- by showing two episodes each week, is the network burning this comedy off and more or less, betting on its failure? I hope not. Part of me wonders if "Bent" will be a footnote on Walton's resume if and when he finds a successful vehicle -- and if "Bent" doesn't make it, he absolutely needs to star in another comedically-tinged vehicle very soon -- but I'd rather assume that this show has a chance at making it. Far too many romantic comedies in the movie realm seem to be about punishing successful women, and while Alex and Pete certainly learn from each other, everybody on this show is believably flawed.
More to the point, I absolutely don't believe NBC will come up with any comedies that are better than this in the fall. The network shouldn't be cavalier with half-hours that work as well as this one does.
For Wednesday, March 21st 2012 LA TV Insider Examiner recommends: Bent (NBC, 9pm) – “Pilot” – Recently divorced Alex (Amanda Peet) is a high-strung lawyer raising her 10 year-old daughter Charlie (Joey King) as...
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Love Is Blind: A blind gentleman loses his hearing but saves his relationship. But who cares, because there's Billy Connolly!
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NBC's comedy Bent is part of their new midseason lineup, and it stars Amanda Peet and David Walton as two people who can't really stand each other - and obviously become love interests. The half-hour show is set in Venice Beach, and the tone is as relaxed as the beach town setting. If you want to know whether Bent is something you'll want to tune in to before tonight's premiere, my pilot scoop can clue you in.
To watch a preview and see some photos from Bent, just keep reading.
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Previews for the return of Mad Men on AMC show Christina Hendricks looking silently at John Slattery. That?s certainly enough enticement to watch, but no clue as to what may be happening when we pi...
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NEW YORK — Get ready for more drama from Sylvester, Twan and Pimp Lucius – R. Kelly is delivering more chapters of "Trapped in the Closet."
The outrageous musical series started off as five videos for the R&B singer's dramatic cliffhanger songs in 2007. It quickly became a cult classic, and he added more chapters, put the accompanying videos on a DVD and also teamed up with IFC to premiere it.
For the next chapters, Kelly is teaming up with IFC again. He said in a statement Wednesday: "The Alien is back and It has brought friends along."
He also called the series "not of this Earth."
Kelly has a new album due soon as well as a memoir due out in June.
It's unclear when the new "Trapped" chapters will debut.
By the end of this season of "The Office," it appears that we better get ready to say our goodbyes to James Spader. It is already confirmed that the actor is going to be leaving the show after...
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