By ED BARK
***Princess Leia, a k a Carrie Fisher will be among the four judges on Fox's On the Lot, a new filmmaking competition co-produced by Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett. Also signing on are director/producers Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman), Brett Ratner (X-Men 3: the Last Stand) and Jon Avnet (Fried Green Tomatoes).
They'll judge the series' two "audition episodes" on May 22 and 24, with other judges to be named later. Fox says the show has received 12,000 submissions, with just 50 being selected to attend On the Lot's "Hollywood Boot Camp."
***On a lesser Fox note, the network has junked the new series Drive, which becomes the 10th series this season to be canceled after five or fewer episodes. Drive's been towed after four episodes. House repeats will air in its place at 7 p.m. (central time) Mondays.
***Mark Cuban's Dallas-based HDNet will air a live John Mellencamp concert at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Friday, April 27 (7 p.m. central).
Mellencamp says in an HDNet release that he originally planned to do a benefit show, but "then it dawned on me what I really wanted to do is lighten the load of the soldiers and workers in the hospital, so why not just play for them."
Cuban, whose Dallas Mavericks are in the thick of the NBA playoffs, is the founder of the Fallen Patriot Fund.
***HBO has signed Kevin Bacon to star in Taking Chance, a fact-based film about a lieutenant colonel assigned to accompany the body of U.S. Marine Chance Phelps on the journey back to his hometown of Dubois, Wyoming. Phelps was killed in Iraq in spring 2004. Bacon plays escort officer Michael Strobl.
HBO also has greenlighted The Pacific, a 10-hour World War II miniseries that will re-team Band of Brothers producers Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. Production starts this summer, with a cast to be named later.
By ED BARK
***NBC has tapped Sharon Osbourne to replace Brandy Norwood as one of the three judges on its second season of America's Got Talent, which returns on May 29.
"On this show, it just had to be Sharon Osbourne," says co-executive producer Simon Cowell without elaboration in an NBC release.
The show also has a new host, Jerry Springer, in place of Regis Philbin. Holdover judges are David Hasselhoff and Piers Morgan.
***American Idol evictee Sanjaya Malakar has quickly discovered that his post-Fox fame is lasting longer than 15 minutes. He appeared on Jay Leno's Tonight Show Thursday and will have a very busy day on Monday. So far he's booked on Live with Regis & Kelly, Ellen and Late Show with David Letterman, where he'll be reading the Top 10 list. Any other takers? Get in line.
***My Name Is Earl already is renewed for another season, but lately the ratings have kinda stunk. So the May 3 episode is giving viewers a chance to "laugh 'n' sniff" along. First though, you'll have to buy that week's TV Guide, which will have a special "scented" insert card. Wonder what Earl's slovenly brother, Randy, smells like. Probably a cross between corn chips and road kill.
***The season finale of NBC's only new hit, Heroes, is set for Monday, May 21st. Subtitled "How to Stop an Exploding Man," the synopsis goes like this: "With Isaac's horrible predictions all unfolding before them, the everyday people with extraordinary abilities face moments of pain and peril in Kirby Plaza with unflinching heroism, as Heroes' first volume comes to a close -- and the next surprisingly begins."
They had me with Kirby Plaza.
By ED BARK
Reality maestro Mark Burnett has a sinking ship in Donald Trump's The Apprentice while Survivor is starting to take on a little water.
Still, he's got a new hit under his belt in Fox's Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? And now Burnett hopes to further fatten his treasure chest with CBS' new Pirate Master.
The high-seas sweepstakes will premiere on Thursday, May 31 in Survivor's time slot, with 16 mates vying for weekly booty. Your host is Cameron Daddo, an Aussie actor whose credits range from a guest shot on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation to the feature film Big Mama's House 2.
CBS describes the show as an "epic adventure" starring made-for-TV buccaneers on board a ship traveling around the Caribbean island of Dominica. In the end, only one will claim the title of "Pirate Master."
The network has gone a bit overboard with an over-the-top clip of what to expect. See for yourself:
By ED BARK
Gone in 60 seconds. OK, some of this season's new and since canceled shows actually got as many as five episodes.
Networks have long been notorious for passing quick judgments on whether a series will make it or not. This has been the season of the Quick Hook, though, with of course some exceptions.
NBC to its credit gave Friday Night Lights a full season to somehow kick at least a field goal in the Nielsens. And the Peacock already has renewed 30 Rock for next season despite its rock-bottom ratings performances.
Conversely, no fewer than nine newcomers have been yanked this season after five or fewer episodes. And these don't include the likes of NBC's Kidnapped and Andy Barker, P.I., ABC's The Nine, Six Degrees and Day Break, and Fox's Happy Hour, Vanished and Justice. They all got at least a half-dozen outings before getting the gas.
As Fox's new Drive threatens to screech to a five-episode-or-less halt, here are the other members of this season's clubbed. May they live on in multi-disc DVD sets featuring an unusually large number of "lost" episodes.
***Celebrity Duets (Fox). Premiered Aug. 29. Lasted five episodes.
***Smith (CBS). Premiered Sept. 19. Lasted three episodes.
***Runaway (The CW). Premiered Sept. 25. Last three episodes.
***20 Good Years (NBC). Premiered 11. Lasted four episodes.
***The Rich List (Fox) -- Premiered Nov. 10. Lasted one episode.
***3 Lbs. (CBS). Premiered Nov. 14. Lasted three episodes.
***Show Me the Money (ABC). Premiered Nov. 14. Lasted five episodes.
***The Wedding Bells (Fox). Premiered March 7. Lasted five episodes.
***The Great American Dream Vote (ABC). Premiered March 28. Lasted two episodes.
By ED BARK
***Keith Olbermann, close, personal fiend of Bill O'Reilly, is getting a high-profile spot as a new co-host of NBC's Football Night in America.
Olbermann, who will continue with his weeknight Countdown show on MSNBC, joins Bob Costas, Cris Collinsworth, Jerome Bettis and Tiki Barber on the Sunday night telecast. Out is Sterling Sharpe.
Known for being blunt-spoken, Olbermann blazed trails in sports journalism on ESPN's SportsCenter, where he teamed with Dan Patrick from 1992 to 1997. His last regular sports work was in 2001 with Fox.
Countdown, scheduled directly opposite Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor, has jumped from 404,000 viewers in the "First Quarter" (Jan.-March) of 2006 to 711,000 for the same period this year. The show regularly rips O'Reilly, who has returned fire and called for Olbermann to be fired.
***Showtime has renewed The Tudors, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a svelte, beardless Henry VIII. The series premiered on April 1 to generally favorable reviews and still has seven episodes remaining in its freshman season.
The premium cable network also is giving Ira Glass's this American Life a second season and has greenlighted a sketch comedy series starring Tracey Ullman. And it's come up with a title for a previously announced comedy headlined by former X-Files star David Duchovny. In Californication, he'll play a self-destructive novelist trying to raise his 13-year-old daughter while still pining for an old girlfriend.
***No late night comedian has a funnier opening monologue than Conan O'Brien. Here are five recent laughers:
"Camen Elektra has agreed to host a TV show where women wrestle each other naked. It's just one of several format changes in store for the new season of This Old House."
"Scholars who participated in a documentary called The Lost Tomb of Jesus are now saying that the tomb did not belong to Jesus. New evidence reveals that the tomb actually belongs to Jesus' cousin, Larry Christ."
"A judge in Indiana ruled this week that schools cannot punish students for things they write on their MySpace pages, because it's protected by free speech. This ruling was made in the case of 'The People vs. that skank Sheryl'."
"In a new interview, singer George Michael announced that despite repeated requests, he will never be part of a reunion of the '80s group Wham. In case you're curious, the repeated requests have all come from the other guy in Wham."
"Edy's ice cream company has come out with five new flavors inspired by American Idol. The least popular flavor: Paula Abdul's Cookies n' Cream n' Pills n' Booze."
By ED BARK
Sunday's return of HBO's The Sopranos topped the weekly national cable ratings, but wasn't gangbusters compared to last year's curtain-raiser.
The award-showered mob drama drew 7.662 million viewers, says Nielsen Media Research. That's a significant drop from the 9.465 million who watched the March 12, 2006 opener, which ended with Tony getting gut-shot by a very confused Uncle Junior.
HBO's followup act, Entourage (No. 13), dropped to 3.765 million viewers in its latest season debut. Last year's post-Sopranos attraction, the new Big Love, lured 4.563 million viewers.
Airing opposite The Sopranos on Sunday night, the Discovery Channel's second hour of its Planet Earth series remained strong with 4.846 million viewers to rank 5th for the week in cable's universe.
ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball opener, featuring the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox, failed to crack cable's weekly top 40.
By ED BARK
***Bob Barker's looming retirement as host of The Price Is Right will be feted with two CBS prime-time specials during the May "sweeps."
The Price Is Right Million Dollar Spectacular is set for May 16. And on the following night it's Bob Barker: A Celebration of 50 Years on Television. Both one-hour shows will be at 7 p.m. central (8 eastern).
Barker, 83, has hosted The Price Is Right since 1972. His final daytime edition of the game show will air sometime in June.
***FX has greenlighted 13 episodes of the new drama Damages, starring Glenn Close and Ted Danson.
Close, making her debut as a TV series regular after a one-season stint on The Shield, is cast as heavy-duty litigator Patty Hewes, who preys on corporate titans. One of them is Arthur Frobisher, played by Danson after his Help Me Help You comedy series got axed by ABC earlier this season. The premiere date will be sometime this summer.
***Punk'd producers Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg are behind NBC's new six-episode The Real Wedding Crashers, which starts taking the cake on Monday, April 23 following the return of new Heroes episodes.
Real-life wedding couples conspire with five "quick-thinking, hilarious improv performers who've made it their mission to infiltrate" the big day, NBC says. Then comes a "huge reveal," with the newlyweds admitting to pranking attendees.
Maybe funerals will be next.
***Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama will be a guest on the Monday, April 9 edition of CBS' Late Show with David Letterman. It's his second appearance, and the first since Nov. 26, 2004. Halle Berry will be there, too.
Also, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi will join Jay Leno on the April 12th Tonight Show.