Friday, February 02, 2001

'Wishbone' search comes up dry




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        The dog is dead. Doggone it, PBS executives have finally given up looking for funds to revive Wishbone.

        It has been nearly four years since episodes were made of Wishbone, PBS' award-winning series about a Jack Russell terrier that travels through time to meet great literary characters.

        “We've tried, but we can't find funding to sustain it at this time. It's an expensive series,” says John F. Wilson, PBS senior vice president for programming services.

        Forty half-hour shows were produced in 1995, and another eight in 1997. Mr. Wilson says the “high six-figure” cost per show — nearly the price of a prime-time network sitcom — has kept Wishbone muzzled.

        “Wishbone is a terrific show, but because each episode is a new story, it requires a new set, new actors and new costumes — which makes it an extremely expensive series to produce. So one of its greatest virtues is one of its greatest liabilities,” he says.

        Unlike PBS' Clifford and Arthur cartoons, Wishbone can't easily be dubbed into foreign languages. “That limits our ability for international sales,” he says.

        Since the 1995 premiere, the popular pup has fetched several awards, including an Emmy and two “best children's show” honors from the Television Critics Association. But PBS and creator Rick Duffield haven't been able to sniff out an underwriter.

        “On Wishbone, it's a case where we've tried. We've really tried,” Mr. Wilson says.

        Wishbone airs at 4:30 p.m. weekdays (Channel 54); 10:30 a.m. Sunday (Channel 48) and 11 a.m. Sunday (Channel 16).

        Enquirering Mind: This Enquirering Mind wants to know: Why did WAQZ-FM (97.3) censor the Howard Stern Show two weeks ago when Mr. Stern was talking about anal sex? Should Mr. Stern's Cincinnati fans expect frequent disruptions when he gets raunchy?

        No and no, says Mike E. Fredrick, Channel Z general manager. He says the interruption was an accident by a rookie board operator, not censorship.

        On Jan. 17, in the final hour (9 a.m.) of the nationally syndicated show, Channel Z cut away from Mr. Stern in mid-sentence and started playing rock music. Channel Z later rejoined the sex conversation.

        “We broke away from the show, but not for the reasons you might think,” Mr. Fredrick says.

        “With the difficult and unpredictable nature with which Howard runs his show, we have to have our board operators on their marks. The day in question involved the training of a new board op who simply hit the wrong button,” he explains.

        Channel 9 news:The talent drain continues at WCPO-TV, with reporter Sam Louie headed to Los Angeles.

        News director Scott Diener is leaving March 2 to become news vice president for KNTV-TV in San Jose, Calif. Reporter Bob Holtzman left in October to work for ESPN in Atlanta.

        “We lose good people to big markets. That's the punishment of having good people in a small market,” says Bill Fee, Channel 9 general manager. Mr. Fee says he wants to hire a replacement for Mr. Diener before May sweeps.

        Radio update: Fall quarter ratings for public radio stations just released show that classical music WGUC-FM (90.9) was ranked No. 12 among all stations in the Tristate, tied with WVMX-FM (MIX94.1).

        WGUC-FM earned a 3.6 audience share, an improvement over summer (3.5) and the previous fall (3.3).

        Xavier University's WVXU-FM (91.7) drew a 1.7 share, which placed it No. 16 in the Tristate, ahead of Dayton's WHKO-FM (1.0).

        Northern Kentucky University's WNKU-FM (89.7) earned a 0.7 share, tied for No. 19 with Christian broadcaster WNLT-FM (104.3) and Middletown's country music WPFB-FM (105.9).

        Miami University's WMUB-FM (88.5) had a 0.2 share, the lowest-rated Tristate station. The Oxford signal does not reach most of Greater Cincinnati.

        Chance of a Lifetime: Lifetime was the most popular basic cable channel last month, beating out ESPN or Nickelodeon. Lifetime was watched in an average of 1.6 million homes, according to the New York Times.

        The ratings increase can be traced to the original series and movies launched by Cincinnati native Carole Black, the former Disney TV executive who became Lifetime president and CEO in 1999. She added Strong Medicine, a series about women doctors produced by Whoopi Goldberg, and movies like What Makes a Family, about a 1980s legal battle in which a lesbian fought for custody of her dead companion's daughter starring Brooke Shields.

        Electra bio: White Oak native Carmen Electra will be profiled on the True Hollywood Story Sunday (9 p.m., E! Entertainment). An E! crew was in town in November to interview her former dance instructors, teachers and friends.

        Grown-up geeks: Freaks and Geeks producer Judd Apatow has created a new Fox comedy about six college freshmen called Undeclared. Think of it as Freaks and Geeks Go To College starring Jay Baruchel (Almost Famous, Are You Afraid of the Dark?). Playing his father will be Loudon Wainwright III, who wrote and sang “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” in 1972.

       



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- KIESEWETTER: 'Wishbone' search comes up dry
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