Sunday, December 26, 1999

'99 Television: A million reasons to watch




BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        It's hard to believe, but the break-out TV star we'll remember from 1999 won't come from the teen dramas that filled the fall airwaves.

        At the head of the Class of '99 — past everyone on Dawson's Creek, Freaks & Geeks or Popular — was a man old enough to be the kids' grandfather: Regis Philbin.

        Reege hit it rich hosting ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and revived a trend that will explode in the new millennium:

        • Who Wants To Be A Millionaire: ABC's November sweeps sensation, following an August test, led ABC to its first sweeps win in five years and inspired a game show revival. Millionaire returns for three hours a week starting Jan. 11, while other networks dust off Twenty One (Jan. 9 on NBC), What's My Line and the $64,000 Question (both CBS, times to be announced).

        • National champ: Speaking of game shows, the year began with Dave Abbott of Sharonville winning the Jeopardy! $100,000 Tournament of Champions. The General Electric Co. attorney dedicated his preparation to his brother, Doug, who lapsed into a coma in 1998 and died the week of the championship telecast.

        • Lack of minorities: Three decades after Bill Cosby broke TV's color barrier, becoming the first black prime-time series star (I Spy in 1966), TV executives couldn't explain why few people of color were cast in fall shows. Under pressure from the NAACP, TV executives added more than a dozen minority characters to prime-time series. On Jan. 16, CBS debuts City of Angels, an African-American hospital drama starring Blair Underwood and Vivica A. Fox from producer Steven Bochco.

        • George Clooney leaves ER: This doctor was no longer in. George Clooney, who played Dr. Doug Ross on ER, declined to renew his five-year contract and left in February. ER producers denied reports earlier this month that he will return in the May season finale for Dr. Ross to marry nurse Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies, who is leaving ER).

        • Radio days: The former Jacor Communications continued to grow. After merging with San Antonio-based Clear Channel last year, creating the nation's No. 2 radio chain, the company announced plans in October to gobble up No. 1 AMFM. Clear Channel must sell all four local AMFM properties (WUBE-FM/AM, WYGY-FM, WBOB-AM). But Clear Channel may keep its eight other stations here (WLW-AM, WEBN-FM, WVMX-FM, WOFX-FM, WKRC-AM, WSAI-AM, WCKY-AM, WKFS-FM) as part of its 830-station empire.

        • Network news: CBS shocked the TV world by merging with Viacom, combining the assets of Paramount, MTV, Nickelodeon, VH1, UPN, Showtime, The Movie Channel and Kings Island with CBS, King World and TNN). The odd man out was UPN, half owned by Viacom, which must be sold under federal regulations restricting a company to owning one broadcast TV network. If Viacom can't sell its investment, will UPN shut down?

        7• Morning people: Charlie Gibson, Diane Sawyer and Bryant Gumbel were drafted to bolster sagging morning network show ratings. Mr. Gibson and Ms. Sawyer replaced Lisa McRee and Kevin Newman, after eight rocky months on Good Morning America. Mr. Gumbel, the Today veteran whose news magazine bombed on CBS, returned Nov. 1 with CBS' The Early Show.

        8• Getting animated: Network programmers were drawn to cartoons and animated shows this year. A half-dozen series were penciled into the prime-time lineup (Family Guy, Futurama, Dilbert, The PJs, Home Movies, Mission Hill), joining King of the Hill, South Park, and The Simpsons. Get ready to 'toon in more next year: God, the Devil and Bob and David Spade's Sammy (both NBC); Baby Blues (WB) and Meg Ryan's Quints (UPN).

        • Tornado coverage: WCPO-TV's coverage of the April 9 killer tornado put Channel 9 and Pete Delkus on the map. Mr. Delkus stayed overnight at the station and broadcast a street-by-street description of the twister's path across Hamilton County.

        • End of an era: Two broadcasting institutions came to an end, with the retirement of radio/TV personality Bob Braun and WLWT's move out of Crosley Square for new digital studios in Mount Auburn. Since 1942, the biggest names in show business entertained Tristate residents from the WLW-AM or WLWT (Channel 5) studios in the former Elks lodge. Mr. Braun, 70, who hosted the Bob Braun Show there (1967-84), retired from his morning radio show in November. He has Parkinson's disease.

       



'99 Year in Review: Recalling the century's last gasp
'99 Sports: Color the year Red
'99 Local News: Prosperous year punctuated by hard times
'99 Business: Consumers hang on as economy and technology take rocket ride
'99 Nation/World: A fitting finale to the century
'99 Films: Embarrassment of riches
'99 Pop music: Cincy back on the charts
- '99 Television: A million reasons to watch
'99 Classical music: Life imitates opera
'99 Dance: Comings and goings
'99 Theater: A year to remember
'99 Visual art: All eyes on Vontz Center