JON AND KATE PLUS 9.8 MILLION VIEWERS

Partly explaining how struggling NBC wound up Monday night with the most viewers on the broadcast networks, it now turns out that the top-rated show of the night was not on broadcast television at all -- but on cable. TLC's 75-minute reality show Jon and Kate Plus 8 recorded 9.8 million viewers, 4 million of whom were women 18-49, the target demographic for for the channel. Viewership was boosted by a slew of tabloid articles about the alleged marital infidelities of the couple featured on the show, Jon and Kate Gosselin, the parents of eight children. Today's (Wednesday) Los Angeles Times observed that TLC had been in the "awkward position" of trying not to appear that it was exploiting the free publicity. "The network had to rethink how to shoot the pilot to address all the attention, and the episode was literally in production justݖ hours before its premiere Monday night," the newspaper reported. Alan Sepinwall, the TV columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger observed, "TLC needs people to believe in the Gosselins as a functional, albeit bickering, couple for the show's cute, aspirational schtick to work." TLC is not the only one betting on the Gosselins. Celebrity magazines have reported an uptick in sales every time the couple and their children are featured. Their book, Multiple Bles8ings, has sold a stunning 272,000 copies in seven months. But David Hinkley commented in the New York Daily News, "It's hard to see how Monday night's sad, uncomfortable dance will create the kind of long-term television viewers really want to follow. ... "Watching an actual relationship deteriorate -- the cold silence, the simmering resentment, the little cruelties -- that's not much fun. And not very good television." However, Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik noted: "I suspect the prospect of seeing a marriage crack up brick by brick in front of your eyes is just the kind of reality-TV 'pleasure' that might keep some viewers tuning in week after week this season -- and some of the advertisers paying top cable dollar to be part of it. But not me."

DID AT&T THROW IDOL VOTE TO ALLEN?

AT&T has denied reports that it might have influenced the outcome of last week's American Idol finale by providing free phones at Arkansas parties organized by fans of Kris Allen on the night of the vote. As first reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last week, AT&T representatives attended the parties and showed guests how they could send 10 or more votes as test messages to the show's toll-free phone lines. (AT&T's cell phone network is the only one that can be used to cast votes for the Idol contestants.) In a statement on Tuesday AT&T said, "In Arkansas, we were invited to attend the local watch parties organized by the community. A few local employees brought a small number of demo phones with them and provided texting tutorials to those who were interested." The New York Times observed today (Wednesday) that the use of so-called "power texts" for voting violates the show's voting rules which warns that blocks of votes cast via "technical enhancements" can be thrown out and that text voting is open only to AT&T subscribers.

YOUNGER SCHULLER TO START OWN CABLE NETWORK

Robert A. Schuller, who stepped down as co-host of The Hour of Power last October, citing "irreconcilable differences" with his father, televangelist "Robert H. Schuller, has joined a group that has acquired the AmericanLife TV Network, which, he said, will promote "family friendly" programming. Although ALN had previously been owned by the Unification Church, headed by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, Schuller's partner, Chris Wyatt, founder of GodTube.com, told Broadcasting & Cable that "we are not creating another religious network but rather a family-values channel." The trade publication said that Schuller will host a show on the revamped network that will presumably give some clue to the irreconcilable differences he had with his father. "I'm looking forward to pioneering a new definition of 'family-values' programming that speaks to all generations," he said.

LIVE DRAMA RETURNING TO U.K. -- "WARTS AND ALL"

Live drama is returning to British television for the first time in 25 years. Sky Arts, a channel of News Corp-controlled BSkyB, announced Tuesday that it plans to air six half-hour new plays weekly beginning July 8th under the banner "Sky Arts Theatre Live!" The creative company producing the plays is headed by artistic director Sandi Toksvig, who said in a statement, "For the first quarter-century of British Television drama was live. Live drama has a rawness and immediacy in which anything can and did happen ... Now Sky Arts brings back genuine 'reality' television -- drama as it happens, whatever happens. Vibrant, immediate, warts and all." A handful of attempts have been made in the U.S. in the recent past to revive live TV drama, most notably a live episode of E.R. that aired in 1997. While the show received much critical praise, no subsequent live episode of the series was ever aired.

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