TIME Television

Bill Hader’s Saturday Night Live Was the Least Watched Episode Ever

Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader on Saturday Night Live on Oct. 11, 2014.
Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader on Saturday Night Live on Oct. 11, 2014. Dana Edelson—NBC/Getty Images

The beloved sketch comic can't shore up ratings for his ailing alma mater

So much for the power of a familiar face.

Bill Hader, whose return to Saturday Night Live as “Stefon” and other famous characters was widely heralded across the Internet, was not much of a ratings draw as a host. His episode, airing over the weekend, tied Charlize Theron’s turn as host in May as the lowest-rated SNL showing ever, both overall and in the prized 18-49 demographic.

This seems, at first blush, surprising. Hader and beloved co-star Kristen Wiig used the episode to revive character favorites from party promoter Stefon to senile reporter Herb Welch to Wiig’s Kathie Lee Gifford impression. But it’s the very nature of their appearances, treated as special and rare, that may account for why SNL viewership has dropped off.

This isn’t just the usual attrition accountable to DVRs and next-day online streaming: Saturday Night Live first saw its normally steady ratings falter last season, after the departures of Hader, Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen, and Jason Sudeikis. The show’s 40th season may continue to look shaky until it finds a new Bill Hader, rather than just bringing back the one who’s moved on.

TIME Television

The Good Wife Watch: The So-Bad-She’s-Good Wife

"Oppo Research"
Jeff Neumann/CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

As Alicia's political ambition grows, a show that started out saying that it's no easy thing to be a wife is now exploring how it's no simple thing to be good.

Brief spoilers for Sunday’s The Good Wife follow:

The Good Wife began its run, just over five years ago, as a political legal drama that dealt heavily with the “Wife” half of its title: would Alicia Florrick stand by her ambitious politician husband, about to mount a return run for state’s attorney, after he’d been disgraced in a sex scandal? The show has covered a lot of ground since then, but with “Oppo Research,” the best episode yet of the young new season, it’s come around to being a different kind of political drama, concerned with whether Alicia can stand her own run for state’s attorney.

And even more fascinating, it’s increasingly interested in investigating the “Good” half of its title.

The Good Wife has long been a morally complex series, dealing with the ethical gymnastics of characters we identify with but can’t always completely support. But the spectacular opening act of “Oppo,” with Alicia’s known and unknown secrets laid out by Steven Pasquale’s consultant, framed this in a new way. First, it asked, going point by point: how would Alicia’s personal and professional life look as viewed, not by sympathetic fans who have followed her story for years, but by an outside audience of voters?

Paced at the show’s typical double-time–with Grace’s friends singing Jesus hymns in the background–the interrogation crisply ran down Alicia’s political vulnerabilities, some she knew about (but maybe underestimated), some she was clueless of. (Say, Zach’s girlfriend’s abortion. Oh, that’s right: The Good Wife just dropped a teen-abortion storyline right into a primetime network drama, like it wasn’t even a thing.) And then of course there are the many professional conflicts we’re aware of, starting with Lemond Bishop, still very much a factor in this season.

The public, we’re told, sees her as “Saint Alicia.” And we the audience–maybe “Saint” is too strong a word, but the perspective of the show pushes us to empathize with her, to see her decisions in a better light. The first thing the oppo scene did was to shock us into a sense of perspective, to remind us that, all along, we’ve been watching the story of a complicated woman who’s motivated by power and security at least as much as by ideals.

The second thing it does is set in motion the rest of the episode, in which Alicia, now taking her potential run seriously, looks to set her house in order. It’s not pretty: her phone call with Zach goes from understandable anger to a brutal cutting-off, and her managing the situation with her brother may be practical, but it’s also callous. None of her actions are totally without justification, nor are they out of character; we’ve seen Alicia turn cold and massage the truth when she needs to in her legal work.

But “Oppo Research” suggests that politics may push her to be even more baldly Machiavellian–to do ugly things for the right reasons, or kinda-ugly things for the kinda-right reasons. To preserve the viability of Saint Alicia, she may need to unleash Sinner Alicia, even if we know that neither is the full picture of her.

A show that started out saying that it’s no easy thing to be a wife is now exploring how it’s no simple thing to be good. And that could just make it better than ever.

Now a quick hail of bullets:

* It’s hard to discuss the antiheroine aspects of The Good Wife without mentioning the return of the Darkness at Noon parody show-within-a-show. I’m probably in a minority among Good Wife fans, but I’ve never been a fan of them. The parody of the widely panned Low Winter Sun by one of TV’s best dramas is punching down, and like most Emperor’s New Clothes arguments–here, the Emperor’s New Dark Antihero Cable Drama–it feels self-congratulatory. But I can’t lie: I laughed at the Talking Dead parody (complete with cameo from The Americans‘ producer Joe Weisberg) and especially the Mystical Elk. Sometimes funny is its own best argument.

* The oppo-research opening scene was so structurally playful and captivating that I originally thought it would take up the entire hour, bottle-episode style–and not to knock the rest of the episode at all, but I kind of wish it had.

* Mrs. Tuned In and I know the casting patterns of The Good Wife well enough by now that, before Eli opened the door to introduce Alicia’s potential campaign manager, we played a quick round of: “What NYC stage actor will it be?” Sure enough, though you and I might know Pasquale better from Rescue Me (or, sadly, Do No Harm), he’s a Broadway veteran, most recently of The Bridges of Madison County.

* With Homeland and The Good Wife both on the air is fall, both the white- and red-wine protagonist contingents are well-represented. If Madame Secretary wants to stand out, it should give Tea Leoni’s character a taste for rosé.

TIME Television

John Oliver Thinks You’re Ridiculous for Loving Pumpkin Spice Lattes

"I don't mean it tastes like a candle smells. I mean it tastes like a candle tastes. Don't ask me how I know that."

John Oliver’s HBO show had the week off, but that didn’t stop him from releasing a web-only video about an issue he’s apparently rather passionate about: the national obsession with all things pumpkin.

“It’s that special time of year where we voluntarily imbibe pumpkin spice lattes, the coffee that tastes like a candle,” the Last Week Tonight host says. “I don’t mean it tastes like a candle smells. I mean it tastes like a candle tastes. Don’t ask me how I know that.”

He continues his rant, growing more and more ardent. “But what is strange is that pumpkin spice foods seem to grow more omnipresent every year, even though there’s no actual pumpkin in the drinks. Kind of like how everyone you meet calls himself a DJ all of a sudden, when what they really mean is that they own an iPad and have been to a party.”

Look, we totally agree that this whole pumpkin craze has probably gone too far. But we still maintain that pumpkin spice lattes are delicious. We’d like to invite Mr. Oliver to wrap himself in a chunky cable-knit sweater, throw on some Ugg boots and go for a stroll through an apple orchard on a crisp October afternoon — all while sipping on a PSL. We have a feeling that could change his mind.

TIME Television

Jim Carrey Is Booked to Host Saturday Night Live on Oct. 25

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Roaming Show
Actor Jim Carrey speaks onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. Kevin Winter/MTV1415—Getty Images for MTV

He first hosted the show almost two decades ago

Saturday Night Live has booked Jim Carrey to host its Oct. 25 broadcast.

Carrey, a two-time Golden Globe best-actor winner, has appeared on SNL twice before, in 1996 and 2011, Entertainment Weekly reports.

The comic actor will host the show just in time to promote Dumb and Dumber To, the sequel to 1994’s Dumb and Dumber, in theaters on Nov. 14.

Singer Iggy Azalea will join comedian Carrey as the show’s musical guest, the late-night television show announced on Twitter. The “Fancy” singer also tweeted about her upcoming SNL stint.

TIME

The Walking Dead Watch: ‘No Sanctuary’

Walkers - The Walking Dead _ Season 4, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Gene Page—AMC

Rick summarizes it best in the season premier: It’s not over until every one of them is dead

Anybody who was hoping the stalemate viewers were left with at the end of season four of AMC’s The Walking Dead would be resolved by a civilized, diplomatic negotiation between mutually consenting parties is going to be disappointed by No Sanctuary, the first episode of season five. Anybody who was hoping for something more in the Death Wish vengeance, fuel tank detonating, flaming face-munching, backwoods cabin nihilism ballpark will be very pleased.

The Walking Dead’s creators promised a darker, more gruesome season five, after the group’s failed turn at rebooting civilization behind the walls of a state penitentiary last season. Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes, recently told TIME the show is “entering the heart of darkness.” If the rest of the season operates on the same frequency as No Sanctuary, that will surely be the case. It was brutal from the first frame to the last.

The episode begins with a flashback. Gareth, the emo-sadist leader of Terminus, is in a train car seemingly identical to the one Rick and most of the others will eventually be trapped in too. The screams of the living being tortured outside echo inside the darkened car. “We were trying to do something good. We were being human beings.” Gareth says to explain why the Terminus group put signs inviting the outsiders that are presumably tormenting them in. “What are we now?” asks one of Gareth’s friends.

That question is the central one for the rest of the episode, possibly the rest of the season. On the one hand, we have the Terminus group which it is made clear was once a “good” community that was twisted into deceit and cannibalism. (The short version goes something like: they promised sanctuary, were overtaken by some bad elements, and had to become vicious to retake their territory. Along the way, they started eating the people lured to Terminus by the promise of refuge.) On the other, we have Rick’s group which has grown tougher but still has to decide what it will and won’t do.

At one point, Bob pleads for his life by saying, “We can put the world back to how it was,” referring to the supposed “cure” Eugene is taking to Washington D.C. Gareth responds dryly, “You can’t go back, Bob.” Whether or not that is true seems to be the central debate here. The case for not be able to go back, a.k.a. living by a traditional, pre-apocalypse morality, is best made by the Terminus member that Tyreese holds captive while Carol is on the hunt. This good old boy fatalist tries to convince his captor that everybody has to look out for themselves, or die. (Tyreese eventually smashes his brains out for threatening to break Judith’s neck, proving him right.)

Carol, rocking a kind of Princess Leia on Endor outfit, is the key to the Terminus prisoners’ escape. She lights up a tank of gas, resulting in the most spectacular explosion in the show’s five seasons and giving Rick, Carl, Sasha, Michonne, and the others a chance to escape. Aside from Rick, Carol is arguably the most interesting character on the show in that she’s evolved so much. She began as a meek, battered wife and has been: a grieving mother, hopeless optimist, calculating pragmatist, zombie killing arts teacher, substitute mother, outcast, and now, it seems, prodigal daughter.

This is also one of the most squirm-inducing episodes since the show began. Within the first five minutes, four people have their throats cut in preparation for group meal. Faces are eaten, walkers set alight. And we get a tour through a really unappealing human abattoir. (Which was grosser, the dangling bits of neck or the lazy susan of human flesh toward the end, you decide.) Ultimately, it all ends with some welcome reunions. The moment when Daryl and Carol see each other again is one of the most emotional since Rick was forced to end Shane in season one.

Zombie Kill Report
1 sharp object to the skull by Carol on the train tracks; 1 piece of rebar to the face by a Terminus member working the fence; 15 in the gas tank explosion Carol detonates; 1 by Terminus sharp shooters; 5 blown to bits by sharp objects as Glenn leads a raid on a cargo container filled with prisoners; 5 by automatic gun fire by Terminus forces; 1 by metal pipe by Daryl; 3 by brute force by Tyreese when he’s forced to protect Judith; 2 by blunt force by Daryl and Bob as Rick opens the box car door; 3 by knife by Maggie during the escape; 1 by knife by Tara; 1 by automatic gunfire by Rick; 2 by pipe to the face by Daryl; 2 by brass-knuckle knife by Rosita; 1 by handgun fire to the open mouth by Sasha; 1 by knife to the face by Bob; 1 by gunfire by unidentified shooter; 1 by baseball bat swung by Glenn; 2 by makeshift sword to the head by Michonne.
Estimated Total: 49

Was That Negan?
In the last few shots of the episode, we’re taken back to the flashback to tie up Terminus’ origin story. The antagonist looks a lot like Negan, the greatest, most fearsome villain in the comic book. Presumably, the Terminus crew took what they had back by force. But it might have been a glimpse at this.

Other Unanswered Questions
Gareth—still alive or dead? What’s up with DC? Eugene does not exactly seem like a genius. When he’s asked about the “cure,” he uncorks a jargon-laden spiel about weaponized diseases being used to fight weaponized diseases and a vague conclusion that humanity will be able to “fight fire with fire.” It basically made no sense, thought it seems to have convinced the rest of the group.

Walkers As Strategy
We’ve seen it before here and there, but this was the first time we saw the group using a horde as an asset in a fight. Over the past seasons, the walkers have receded into the background as the main source of conflict (and terror). Other living people and strangers especially have become much more threatening. But it will be interesting to see if the walkers start being employed as pawns between groups of human beings.

TIME Television

Bill Hader Hosts SNL: Best, Worst, and Weirdest Moments

"This old wet Band-Aid found in a Jacuzzi is the kind of place that makes you feel weird the next time you see your parents"

When longtime cast member Bill Hader returned to Saturday Night Live on Saturday, for the first time back since his departure last year, the audience couldn’t suppress its adoration. Before Hader could even begin his opening monologue, someone shouted out, “I love you!”

Without a second thought, Hader said, “I love you, too.”

It was an appropriately affectionate kick-off to an episode, the season’s third, brimming with familiar pleasures. Hader and his catalogue of vocal tics slipped into nearly ever sketch. Even Kristen Wiig (and her saxophone) popped by for a bit. And in the sketches where Hader took a supporting role, in newer material, the cast seemed sharper for it.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

The monologue hinged on Hader’s desire to sing on SNL, for the first time, with Wiig showing up to encourage him and then theater legend Harvey Fierstein, then Wiig again, this time with a saxophone. All three riffed on a quick show-written tune, Hader’s voice so bad it nearly scraped the floor. That was the joke, which was really just its own kind of joy, seeing these three weirdos all pulled together and dancing.

The best joke also came during the best sketch, a faux movie trailer for The Group Hopper, a mish-mash of borrowed references from The Maze Runner, Divergent, and all of their ilk that was “adapted from a YA novel written entirely in the comments section of a Hunger Games novel.”

The faux-trailer starred Pete Davidson as a boy who thinks his parents named him “TheHero” (get it?), and co-starred Hader as the horned, genderqueer antagonist and Sasheer Zamata as the love interest. Sample line: “You’re the chosen one and I’m a virgin pregnant with your baby.”

The throwback took on Hollywood Game Night, an actual show, hosted by Jane Lynch (“America’s No. 2 lesbian”). Most of the episode’s sketches trended strange, but here was something familiar: Lynch was played by Kate McKinnon and she presided over a classic SNL roster of celebrities: Taran Killam, excellently, as Christoph Waltz, Cecily Strong as Sofia Vergara, Jay Pharoah as Morgan Freeman, Beck Bennett as Nick Offerman, Hader as Al Pacino, and Wiig as Kathie Lee Gifford. The punchlines were all but beside the point as Wiig too Gifford’s slip-sloshery to the next-level.

The worst sketch could have been edgy in a good way, given a few more days. But alas–it was a miss. Hader played Charles Daniels, a sad-eyed old white guy walking through a dusty, impoverished African village in a commercial for a relief fund. But his repeated request for just 39 cents a day starts rubbing the villagers the wrong way, who gather and then heckle him. What kind of math even gives you that number? And what country does Charles Daniels think he’s in, anyway?

The weirdest sketch was the last of the night, as two bored, Seuss-like children summoned The Cat in the Hat to their house on a rainy day. Things took a turn when the Cat immediately recognized their mom (“Linda?”) from a prior relationship, and it was revealed that she’d cut him out of all of her pictures and hidden his daughter from him.

Other Things

SNL alumna Jan Hooks, who died at age 57 earlier this week, got a special tribute. Hader and Wiig introduced a clip of her “Love Is But a Dream” sketch with Phil Hartman, the two singing and dancing as a princess and her prince. Both Hooks and Hartman are dead now, making the moments they performed together all the sweeter and more sad. (For more Hooks, we have a round-up of her six best sketches.)

Weekend Update is showing real improvement, just on the level of chemistry between hosts Colin Jost and Michael Che, so maybe Lorne Michaels really is smarter than all of us. But beyond that, Update stood out this week due to the riotous return of Hader’s city correspondent, Stefon, touting his usual list of New York’s hottest new clubs like Whimsy, “condemned by GLAAD and the EPA from Ghostbusters, this old wet Band-Aid found in a Jacuzzi is the kind of place that makes you feel weird the next time you see your parents.” (Unfortunately, the clip isn’t available on Hulu, but you can find it elsewhere.)

Hozier, the night’s musical guest, never crossed over into any of the sketches. Though it was surprising during the “goodnight” closer to see much taller he is than everyone else.

Pete Davidson was very much all over last night’s episode, starring in the YA trailer, being battered by Hader’s old-man newscaster, and rolling up before Stefon on Update.

If You DVR’d It

Skip the cold open, starring Bobby Moynihan as Kim Jong-Un desperate to prove that he is not in fact crippled by disease.

Don’t skip Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney’s “Inside SoCal,” a sub-public access news show about bros, brahs, and baller art.

TIME Television

Guardians of the Galaxy is Headed to TV

Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Marvel

The animated show will air on Disney XD in 2015

The Marvel sci-fi film Guardians of the Galaxy is headed to the small screen after a blockbuster summer at the box office. Disney Channel XD will launch an animated version of the show in 2015, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The announcement came Friday at New York Comic Con.

Like its live action predecessor, the new show will feature Peter Quill as Star-Lord and document his efforts to save the universe.

“We’re looking forward to working with the great team at Marvel Television to deliver an engaging animated series that fans can enjoy each week,” said Marc Buhaj, a Disney XD executive.

Guardians of the Galaxy ruled the box office this summer, grossing more than $300 million.

[THR]

TIME Television

Everything You Need to Know Before Season 5 of The Walking Dead

"The Walking Dead" Panel At New York Comic Con
"The Walking Dead" Panel at New York Comic Con at Jacob Javits Center on October 12, 2013 in New York City. Laura Cavanaugh—Getty Images

There will be blood — a lot of it

The Walking Dead, AMC’s zombie-packed horror epic, returns for a fifth season on Sunday, Oct. 12. Unlike season four, which began in muted, bucolic tones, this installment promises to debut with total discord. Former police officer-turned-group leader Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his compatriots Glenn (Steven Yeun), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and others ended the season locked in a boxcar by a band of likely cannibals and definite sadists. If you missed anything leading up to those final moments, here’s a guide to what happened.

For an episode-by-episode refresher, check out our recaps below. If you don’t have time to watch or re-watch the entire fourth season in preparation, focus on the bolded episodes below for a speed run.

Season 4, Episode 1: 30 Days Without an Accident
Season 4, Episode 2: Infected
Season 4, Episode 3: Isolation
Season 4, Episode 4: Indifference
Season 4, Episode 5: Internment
Season 4, Episode 6: Live Bait
Season 4, Episode 7: Dead Weight
Season 4, Episode 8: Too Far Gone
Season 4, Episode 9: After
Season 4, Episode 10: Inmates
Season 4, Episode 11: Claimed
Season 4, Episode 12: Alone
Season 4, Episode 14: The Grove
Season 4, Episode 15: Us
Season 4, Episode 16: A

Synopsis
Last season, most of the show’s characters eventually made their way from the ruined prison they had been calling home and toward Terminus, a mysterious community at the end of the line (of train tracks, literally) that promised to offer sanctuary. Signs for Terminus suggested a safe haven. Rick and company found anything but. Here’s the official synopsis:

Season four of The Walking Dead ended with Rick and the group outgunned, outnumbered, and trapped in a train car awaiting a grim fate. Season five picks up shortly thereafter. What follows is a story that weaves the true motives of the people of Terminus with the hopeful prospect of a cure in Washington D.C., the fate of the group’s lost comrades, as well as new locales, new conflicts, and new obstacles in keeping the group together and staying alive. Stories will break apart and intersect. The characters will find love and hate. Peace and conflict. Contentment and terror…

In other words, prepare for Tolstoy with zombies.

Characters
Rick. See below.
Michonne. Still a badass. Her relationship with Carl still seems in the zone of “that cooler, older cousin who introduces you to Morrissey.”
Carl. Last season, he showed he couldn’t hang with the kids anymore. Expect a teenager with child soldier tendencies.
Glenn and Maggie. They’re reunited, but death will probably come for one of them.
Beth. Beth appeared to have been kidnapped toward the end of the season. Daryl will likely go on the hunt once he can.
Carol and Tyreese. On their way to Terminus, presumably. Their run as substitute parents last season was about as successful as Hera and Zeus’.
Daryl, Sasha, Bob, Tara, Eugene, Abraham and Rosita. All in the rail car at Terminus.

Themes
Human-on-human cruelty. As the show has progressed, the walkers have receded into the background. What was, in season one, essentially a story about surviving the horrors of the living dead has now become a story about how humans treat one another a few years on from the end of the world. (That is, not well.) As Andrew Lincoln told TIME this week:

You can chart the journey of the show, certainly, in Rick’s eyes. Initially, the walkers were an incredibly scary proposition, and such a shock. Season one and season two and sporadically throughout the rest of the seasons, they have huge shock factors. They’re scary! In the wrong circumstances, they can be a real life or death threat.

The thing I’m more interested in, certainly this season, is the human factor. We are moving into a much more terrifying and psychologically scary landscape because the people that inhabit this world now, after two years, are either very dangerous, very pragmatic, or very organized, or all three. That makes for very interesting drama.

Rick as a man on fire. Rick has been a lot of different men over the past four seasons: a cipher for the disoriented viewer, an ardent optimist, a blessed peacemaker, a grief-stricken depressive, a tribal elder, a gentleman farmer. This season, the show’s teasers suggest a more vengeful, Old Testament Rick. Rick’s summation of being locked up was: “They’re screwing with the wrong people.”

Promotional artwork for season five seems to show a grizzlier Rick than we’ve seen before and, thus, probably some payout on the cliff hanger ending. After exploring the various aspects (and difficulties) of being group leader, a lot of fans feel it’s high-time the show got back to this version of Rick.

Deaths
Everybody. Well, not exactly — but a lot of people will die. Currently, bets are being taken on when Glenn, the former pizza delivery boy-turned-group scout, will get the axe. He didn’t die until issue 100 or so of the comics, but when he did, it happened in the most spectacularly gruesome and devastating way possible. The teaser photos hinted this event might be moved up in the television version of the fiction. Characters we wouldn’t mind see getting eaten: Baby Judith (sorry, but a baby is annoying to cart around during the end times) and Bob Stookey.

The Walking Dead returns to AMC on Sunday, Oct. 12.

TIME remembrance

RIP, Jan Hooks: There’s No I in SNL

Saturday Night Live
Phil Hartman as Bill Clinton, Jan Hooks as Hillary Clinton during the 'Nightline' skit on September 26, 1992. NBC—NBC via Getty Images

Hooks didn't barrel into your consciousness with catchphrases.

From the beginning, Saturday Night Live has been a vehicle for launching stars—Radner, Belushi, Ferrell, Wiig—on the strength of outsized, memorable, repeatable characters. Jan Hooks, who died Thursday at age 57, wasn’t one of the stars who summons up half a dozen trademarked characters when her name comes to mind (though fans who watched her 1986-1991 run will remember her as one half of the Sweeney sisters).

But that’s really the measure of what Hooks did so well. She didn’t barrel into your consciousness with catchphrases. Instead, with one character role and spot-on celebrity impression after another, she was a team player who helped make SNL bigger than the sum of its cast list, by being week in and week out one of its best comic actresses ever.

I’ve been thinking, with SNL coming up on its 40th anniversary, that lately I’ve been much more interested in sketch shows like Key & Peele, Portlandia and Inside Amy Schumer—taped shows, focused on one or two performers, with a more specific point of view and range of themes. There feels more energy right now in these shows with particular aims, not trying to be everything for everyone.

Someone like Hooks, though, is a reminder of what SNL could be at its best—a live show capable of becoming and taking on anything, depending on what the week calls for. And for that, you need players like Hooks: versatile, game live performers who can disappear into a role. Performers like her are a kind of human special effect, creating the canvas on which the show replicates the world.

Hooks could turn herself into celebrities from Sinead O’Connor to Tammy Faye Bakker to Diane Sawyer. Born in Atlanta (where she had an early role on TBS’s Bill Tush Show), she had a special knack for channeling brassy Southern women. (Her late-era “Put That Down!” sketch is one that’s always stuck with me: “BOBBY IS SELLING HIS EL CAMINO, MOTHER!”) But her characters, even the celeb parodies, weren’t just caricatures. She could put a kind of pathos into her Tammy Wynette or even Kathy Lee Gifford serenading a monkey (“Both of us come from God / But I… don’t… come… from you!”).

Much of Hooks’ career involved being memorable in projects that showcased other people. (The best non-Pee-Wee line in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is her chipper, pitying “There’s no basement at the Alamo!”) Jan Hooks was a star, and a terrible premature loss. But if it took you a while when you heard the news to recollect all the roles you knew her from, that’s all right. It means she did her job. RIP.

TIME Business

Why You Can’t Find the Baseball Playoff Game on TV

Baseball Matt Carpenter
St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Carpenter hits an RBI single during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers in Milwaukee on Sept. 7, 2014. Morry Gash—AP

Big events, like the final games of the Major League season, are moving to harder-to-find cable networks. And cost of your cable bill is only getting biggger

At a Bay Area retirement community this past Monday, a group of elderly baseball fans gathered in a room to watch their San Francisco Giants take on the Washington Nationals in the National League playoffs. One problem: the game was nowhere to be found on the TV. The MLB Network, a league-owned cable outlet that requires a special subscription in many areas, was airing the game. The old folks were out of luck, until a worker called the cable company for a quick fix. “An associate and I were able to negotiate a deal (probably not such a good one) to get the game and the channel instantly,” a worker at the retirement community told the San Francisco Chronicle, “for an additional $18/month.”

These retirees weren’t alone: the Chronicle reported that its sports desk fielded over 150 calls from fans trying to find a playoff game on TV. The migration of sports programming away from free TV is nothing new. But now even the crown jewels are on cable. For the first time ever, the bulk of baseball’s two league championship series will air on cable channels. TBS will carry the American League Championship Series between the Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals, which starts Friday; Fox Sports 1, the network Rupert Murdoch launched in August 2013 to compete with ESPN, will handle Games 2-5, and Game 7, of the National Championship Series between the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals, which starts on Saturday. The Fox network will broadcast Game 1 and Game 6.

The baseball playoffs have moved way down the dial. I, for one, never thought I’d be watching a league championship series on Channel 99, home of Fox Sports 1 in my New York City neighborhood.

TBS broadcast the Final Four national semifinal games last season, will do so again this coming season, and will add the title game in 2016. The Super Bowl still rotates between CBS, NBC, and Fox: the Super Bowl of college football, the championship game of the new College Football Playoff, will be on ESPN. The sports cable boom isn’t going anywhere: on Monday, the NBA announced that it extended its rights deal with ESPN and TNT through the 2024-2025 season. These networks will pay the NBA a combined $2.66 billion a year, almost triple what they pay in the current contract.

Such lucrative agreements fatten the wallets of players and owners. But they do consumers no favors; they’re driving up the cost of cable. An FCC study shows that the average monthly cable bill for expanded basic service grew 30%, to $64.41 between 2008 and 2013. According to SNL Kagan, a media research firm, sports networks account for 40% of the fees that operators pay cable network to carry their programming.

Operators pass those costs along to consumers, while building in some margin for themselves. So if ESPN and TNT are tripling their investment in the NBA until 2025, they’re going to charge operators more to finance this investment, further spiking your bill. According to SNL Kagan data, ESPN and TNT are already the two most expensive national basic cable networks: operators pay an average of $6.04 per month per subscriber to carry ESPN, and $1.44 per month for TNT. That’s right: ESPN can command a price that’s three-times as high as the second most-expensive national basic cable channel. Four of the top-10 most expensive basic cable networks are sports channels (ESPN, NFL Network, ESPN2, Fox Sports 1). Two others — TNT and TBS — feature high-profile sports content like the NBA regular season and playoffs, the baseball playoffs, and March Madness. (Disney Channel, Fox News, USA, and Nickelodeon round out the Top 10, according to SNL Kagan).

In some areas, the regional sports networks are among the most expensive for operators to carry. For example Fox Sports North, which serves Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other states, costs $4.67 per subscriber per month. Comcast SportsNet Washington (DC) costs $4.60 per month. NESN, in New England, costs $4.22. The rates dwarf the top-tier, non-ESPN basic cable nets like TNT ($1.44), CNN ($0.61), MTV ($0.47) and AMC ($0.39). The network that shows Minnesota Twins games is nearly 12 times more expensive than the one that airs “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.”

Over the past five years, ESPN’s carriage fees have jumped 48%. NFL Network fees are up 100%. CNN’s have spiked 22%; fees for Lifetime Television are up 18%. Two forces have driven — and will continue to drive — the accelerated growth in sports cable prices.

First, sports remain DVR-proof. You can record a great TV show, and catch up to it later while fast-forwarding the commercials. (Just stay away from spoilers.) A great sporting event is perishable: going back three days later to watch a Super Bowl just doesn’t make much sense. “Sports is an anomaly,” says Derek Baine, research director at SNL Kagan. “People watch it live.” So ESPN and other sports networks can still attract advertisers, and this ad revenue allows these networks to keep upping the ante for sports rights.

Second, blame Murdoch. If the Fox chairman is going to mount a serious run at ESPN, Fox Sports 1 needs big events. This year’s NLCS, in many respects, is a dress rehearsal. Murdoch’s presence alone made ESPN and TNT pay a premium for the NBA; the networks knew that if they didn’t ante up, Fox would likely swoop in. Fox Sports 1 and other new outlets like NBCSN (NBC Sports Network) increase competition for rights, which create bidding wars that drive up cable bills.

The more expensive monthly bills may not be a bad deal for avid sports fans. For less than $10.00 per month, ESPN comes out to pennies on the hour. But if you don’t want sports, you’re getting rooked. Since cable companies bundle channel packages, you have to pay premiums for ESPN and other sports networks in order to get the stuff you want. Sen. John McCain has pushed for “a la carte” cable — just pay for the channels you know you’ll watch. He won’t get his way any time soon though. The cable industry is fine with their bundled revenues, thank you. The sports boom is just too good. No matter how it costs you.

 

 

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