By ED BARK
Smiting a wealth of negative reviews from iniquitous TV critics -- including yours truly -- The Bible rose up and drove the History network to near-record ratings heights Sunday.
Vikings, another original scripted series that received a far better reception from reviewers, also scored well while ranking as the No.1 TV attraction in its 9 p.m. (central) time slot among advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds.
The Bible's 7 to 9 p.m. premiere averaged 13.1 million viewers while adding 1.7 million for the same night's repeat. Vikings drew 6.2 million viewers, with another 2.1 million for its encore telecast.
The Bible, which will continue with two-hour chapters through Easter Sunday, couldn't quite match the initial ratings high for History's Hatfields & McCoys, which drew 13.9 million viewers for its first two-hour airing on May 28th. But Jesus hasn't even appeared yet, and won't come into full focus until Sunday, March 24th. The Crucifixion scenes are being held back until Easter.
Hatfields & McCoys respectively drew 13.1 million and 14.3 million viewers for Parts 2 and 3. The Bible, which likewise attracted a predominantly older audience, has a solid shot to break those records.
Vikings, billed by History as a series rather than a miniseries, still has eight hours to go and almost certainly will be renewed for a Season 2. Averaging a significantly higher percentage of 18-to-49-year-olds -- 2.5 million of its first telecast's 6.2 million -- Vikings may well be an overall more attractive and lucrative property for History.
The success of The Bible and Vikings is yet another big headache for the Big Four broadcast networks, who once upon a time dominated Sunday nights with an array of big ticket movies and "Big Event" miniseries. AMC's Sunday night episodes of The Walking Dead already have been carving viewers away from ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. The zombie-dominant series also draws more 18-to-49-year-olds than any prime-time series on any night.
ABC and NBC both offered two-hour editions of new attractions Sunday night. But ABC's Red Widow (6.9 million total viewers) and NBC's All-Star Celebrity Apprentice (5.1 million) fell far short of the total audience for The Bible. And of all the Big Four networks' offerings, only CBS' 60 Minutes came close with 12 million viewers.
***Fox has given renewals for next season to two freshman series -- The Following and The Mindy Project -- and holdover comedies New Girl and Raising Hope.
***For the first time, NBC's America's Got Talent will have a fourth judge when it returns for Season 8 this summer. Heidi Klum has been named to joined fellow newcomer Mel B and incumbents Howie Mandel and Howard Stern. Sharon Osbourne left the show after last season.
***Jon Stewart will take a summer hiatus from The Daily Show, starting in June, to direct his first feature film. It's titled Rosewater, and is from his production company, Busboy Productions.
Daily Show veteran John Oliver, who came aboard in 2006, will anchor in Stewart's absence during the eight weeks of original shows planned. The program otherwise is in reruns during the summer.
By ED BARK
Ratings for Sunday's Oscar ceremony were down some in D-FW but up some nationally. Which means host Seth MacFarlane may not be history yet despite some heavy criticism of his jokes and bits.
The three hour, 35 minute show averaged 40.4 million viewers compared to 39.3 million for last year's Billy Crystal-hosted ceremony.
That's the biggest Oscar audience since 2010, when 41.7 million watched The Hurt Locker beat the mega-blockbuster Avatar for Best Picture.
Sunday's Oscar-cast otherwise was the most-watched in the past eight years. The 2005 telecast had 42.1 million viewers.
The 2013 Oscars also upped their percentage of advertiser-prized 18-to-49-year-olds by 11 percent. That was one of the main reasons the Academy and ABC went with MacFarlane. But it also helps to have a roster of popular pictures as nominees. And this year's telecast spotlighted hits such as Argo, Lincoln, DJango Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty and Silver Linings Playbook.
The most-watched Oscars -- and a record not likely to ever be beaten -- were in 1998, when 55.2 million turned out. Not coincidentally, that was the year when the hugely popular Titanic won big.
***ABC has announced the celebrity hoofers for its 16th edition of Dancing with the Stars, which returns on Monday, March 18th.
As usual, there are Olympians, a Disney Channel star, a pro football player, a goofball and a soap star.
Here they are, with their pro partners in parentheses:
Zendaya Coleman (Val Chmerkovskiy)
Andy Dick (first-timer Sharna Burgess)
Dorothy Hamill (Tristan McManus)
D.L. Hughley (Cheryl Burke)
Jacoby Jones (Karina Smirnoff)
Wynona Judd (Tony Dovolani)
Victor Ortiz (first-time Lindsay Arnold)
Kellie Pickler (Derek Hough)
Ingo Rademacher (Kym Johnson)
Alexandra Raisman (Mark Ballas)
Lisa Vanderpump (first-timer Gleb Savchenko)
And yes, you read it right. Dance pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy is not participating this time. He says in a statement: "I'm going to take this time to dive into producing and acing, while fulfilling my sponsorship obligations."
By ED BARK
Mark Cuban's fledgling AXS TV, launched in July as an offshoot of HDNet, now has CBS as a high-profile partner.
The sweetheart deal was announced on Valentine's Day, although no programming specifics were.
"CBS is happy to provide AXS TV with live event content as the basis of this partnership," CBS Corporation president and CEO Leslie Moonves said in a publicity release. "This is an innovative way to use our tentpole programming to gain more ownership in the cable network business. AXS TV will now serve as a terrific complement to our existing broadcast television entertainment programming."
Cuban, also a co-star on ABC's popular Shark Tank series, said that CBS "brings the industry's best and most respected resources and experience to AXS TV, which will accelerate our growth and realization of our vision that 'The future of TV is TV.' "
The Dallas Mavericks owner launched HDNet in September 2001 as the country's only fully high-definition network. Many rival networks, including CBS, now are in wall-to-wall HD. The shift to AXS TV, which also is available in standard definition, was made in partnership with Ryan Seacrest Media, Creatives artists Agency and AEG.
One likely use of AXS TV by CBS would be for live red carpet shows preceding some of the network's awards ceremonies. CBS currently has the rights to the Grammys, the Tony Awards, The People's Choice Awards and the Academy of Country Music Awards.
Cuban and CBS have partnered before. In 2003 the network launched a new prime-time version of Star Search, to which Cuban owns the rights. It was hosted by Arsenio Hall and ran until 2004.
***NBC has dumped Do No Harm after two abysmally-rated episodes. The Doctor Jekyll/Mr. Hyde-like medical drama is being replaced by repeats of Law & Order: SVU, beginning on Valentine's night.
NBC also has lost the co-star of Up All Night after Christina Applegate announced this week that she wants no part of the sitcom's new creative direction. The Peacock is trying to re-launch it as a live-before-a-studio-audience vehicle after it premiered last season as a single-camera comedy with no audience or laugh track sweetener.
***Just when it seemed Kate Gosselin had gone away . . . she's back. ABC says that Gosselin and Playboy playmate Kendra Wilkinson will assume each other's lives for a week on the first episode of Celebrity Wife Swap, which premieres on Tuesday, Feb. 26th at 7 p.m. (central).
That incursion will push The Taste back an hour while displacing the comedy series Happy Endings to Fridays at 7 p.m., beginning March 29th. Back-to-back new episodes of Happy Endings will air in place of Last Man Standing and Malibu Country, which will have their season finales before that date, ABC says.
***HBO has set the Season 2 premiere of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Veep for Sunday, April 14th at 9 p.m. (central). And The CW network has announced that The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural and Arrow all will return next season.
By ED BARK
A slew of series have been renewed in recent days. Let's catch you up.
CBS, whose hallmark is stability, has given new season orders to its entire daytime lineup. That would be The Talk, The Price Is Right, Let's Make A Deal, The Bold and the Beautiful and The Young and the Restless.
***The network's sister cable network, Showtime, has green-lighted new seasons for Shameless, Californication and House of Lies, all of which began their ongoing latest seasons on Jan. 13th.
***BBC America says there'll be another season for Ripper Street, which currently is in the early stages of its freshman year.
***Cinemax likewise is picking up Banshee for a second season. It also premiered earlier this month.
***HBO's Girls, early in its second season, has gotten the go-ahead for a third.
***TruTV has ordered a seventh season of Hardcore Pawn, which just hit the 100-episode mark.
***A little rain also must fall in the prime-time terrain. Which is another way of saying that ABC has axed Don't Trust the B . . . In Apartment 23, Fox has pulled the plug on Ben & Kate and TBS won't be inviting Wedding Band back for a second season.
***Chris Cuomo is the latest ABC News person to join CNN. And ABC already has named his 20/20 co-anchor replacement. It'll be incumbent staffer David Muir.
Jake Tapper, formerly ABC News' chief White House correspondent, jumped to CNN earlier this year after repeatedly being passed over for the host position on ABC's Sunday morning This Week program.
ABC seems to lose more big names than any other broadcast network to cable news rivals. Brit Hume, Chris Wallace and John Stossel all are with Fox News Channel after earlier being heavy hitters for ABC News.
By ED BARK
A pair of new dramas replacing ABC's canceled Last Resort and 666 Park Avenue highlight the network's midseason renovations.
CBS also is tinkering a bit while NBC and Fox earlier announced their planned makeovers.
ABC's Zero Hour, starring ex-ER mainstay Anthony Edwards as a myth de-bunker thrown into "one of the most compelling mysteries in human history," is slated for a Thursday, Feb. 14th premiere in the 7 p.m. (central) slot currently held by Last Resort.
Red Widow, which depicts "one woman's journey into the world of organized crime," lifts off on Sunday, March 3rd with a two-hour premiere. It will then settle into the Sunday, 9 p.m. slot of 666 Park Avenue. Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill) stars, with scripts from Twilight Saga writer Melissa Rosenberg.
ABC also has two new sitcoms coming. The elongated How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) finds Scrubs alum Sarah Chalke moving in with eccentric parents played by Brad Garrett and Elizabeth Perkins. It premieres on Wednesday, April 3rd.
Family Tools stars another familiar TV face, Leah Remini (King of Queens), in an alleged laugher that "proves mixing family with business is never easy." Launch date isn't until Wednesday, May 1st.
ABC's The Taste, a cooking competition with chefs Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Brian Malarkey, is set to fire up on Tuesday, Jan. 22nd with a two-hour premiere. And Celebrity Diving takes the plunge on Tuesday, March 19th, with Greg Louganis and 2012 Olympic champ David Boudia trying to teach novices how to make a splash. Celebs haven't been announced yet, but I'm liking the idea of Wayne Knight doing a cannonball.
Wait, there's more. ABC's Body of Proof is scheduled to return on Tuesday, Feb. 5th while Dancing with the Stars will start hoofing and puffing for a 16th time on Monday, March 18th.
***The CBS changes are far less eventful. Its lone new midseason series is Golden Boy, a crime drama starring Britisher Theo James as the youngest police commissioner in New York City history.
After a pair of sneak previews on Feb. 26th and March 5th, Golden Boy will move to Fridays alongside Blue Bloods, starring Tom Selleck as one of the oldest police commissioners in New York City history. CBS says that CSI: NY will have its Season 9 finale on Friday, Feb. 22nd before Golden Boy takes its spot on March 8th.
Rules of Engagement, CBS' all-purpose putty, will return anew on Monday, Feb. 4th in the 7:30 p.m. slot occupied by Partners until its cancellation.
Two long-running CBS reality-competition series, Survivor and The Amazing Race, respectively will return for editions 26 and 22 on Wednesday, Feb. 13th and Sunday, Feb. 17th.
***Fox has announced the so-called stars for its diving competition. Unlike ABC's, though, Stars in Danger: The High Dive mercifully will be just a two-hour special rather than a weekly series.
Poor Terrell Owens is among the eight participants. Also included: Jennifer Farley (JWoww from Jersey Shore, Bethany Hamilton, Alexandra Paul, Kim Richards, Kyle Richards, David Chokachi and Antonio Sabato Jr.
Wow, what a lineup.