TV Notes: CNN hires documentarian Spurlock to supersize ratings

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Looking to plug its sinking ratings, CNN has hired documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock to host and produce a new weekend series. "Inside Man" will give viewers an "insider's view" into American subcultures: marijuana growers, end-of-life caregivers, migrant farmworkers, etc.

CNN did not say what troubled time slot would get the Spurlock show, but the network has lots to chose from. In May, CNN hit a 20-year monthly ratings low and hasn't gotten a lot better since. The network had a slight ratings uptick in July, for instance, but sank again to 20-year lows in prime time during the Summer Olympics.

CNN Worldwide president Jim Walton said last month that he was leaving the network.

The Time Warner-owned network did say that "Inside Man" would debut in April. CNN also said Mr. Spurlock's show would be coupled with its already-announced new docu-series, hosted by chef Anthony Bourdain, which will look at food and dining cultures around the world.

Mr. Spurlock is maybe best known as the guy who made and starred in an innovative documentary take on obesity and fast food. His 2004 docu, "Super Size Me," followed him for a month as he ate only at McDonald's and recorded the results, which included a 24-pound weight gain. "Super Size Me" was nominated for an Academy Award in one of the documentary derbies.

The new Spurlock show seems to fulfill reports, which emerged after CNN's ratings problems, that the network was looking for talk shows and "reality" series to prop up its numbers.

Waiting on 'Anger'

Charlie Sheen is playing the waiting game after FX on Thursday aired the last of its initial 10-episode order of his comedy series, "Anger Management."

Should the ratings on the 10 episodes hit an agreed-upon threshold -- agreed upon by the network and producing studio Lionsgate -- FX is on the hook for 90 episodes. The new episodes would be produced at a much faster clip than the usual broadcast model of about 22 episodes a season, or the even slower cable model of 13 episodes, or six episodes -- or however many episodes the show's creator is in the mood to make that season. We call it the Larry David model.

Anyway, that means Lionsgate will hit 100 episodes total in about two years -- half the time it takes to snag that many episodes of a broadcast series. And that's important because 100 episodes is the magic number needed for a truly robust aftermarket.

Last month, FX programming chief John Landgraf said the show's third, fourth, fifth and sixth episodes exceeded the ratings threshold that's required for the "back 90" renewal. The first two episodes, which ran consecutively June 28, were excluded from the formula governing that pickup agreement, he told TV critics at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

That's a pity, because those first two episodes clocked an average of 5.5 million and 5.7 million viewers, making the premiere the most watched for a scripted prime-time comedy series in cable history at that time -- excluding children's programming. It was also the most-watched series premiere in FX history. The ratings provided much the same story among the 18-to-49-year-olds who are the currency of FX ad sales.

Since Mr. Landgraf made that statement, the ratings for the seventh, eighth and ninth episodes have come in lower than those of the earlier batch, although those more recent stats have not been updated to include DVR viewing up to seven days after each episode's premiere -- which is industry standard these days.

Over the course of its run, "Anger Management" has averaged more than 4 million viewers, more than 2 million of whom are 18 to 49 years old.

At his press tour Q&A session, Mr. Landgraf said he would not make a decision on the 90-episode pickup until all 10 episodes aired. But he added that "in the very likely event that those 90 episodes ... are produced," Martin Sheen would join the cast, playing the father of Charlie Sheen's character. Martin Sheen would have a recurring role on the show, which means he would appear in several, but not all, of the 90 episodes.

"As with any comedy, I think it's got more growth in it creatively, I think it's still developing, but generally speaking, I'm real happy," Mr. Landgraf told reporters diplomatically last month at the Beverly Hills Hilton.

Just last week, Charlie Sheen, in Toronto to throw out the first pitch before MLB action between the Chicago White Sox and Blue Jays, told the Ottawa Citizen about FX's waiting to announce the show's future: "I guess they have to play the game out, though, and that's fine. That's the deal we made, and that's the one they'll honor and we'll honor. But I think ultimately the fans want it."


First Published August 25, 2012 4:00 AM


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