Backlash
March 24, 2014

Sharp criticism from media and civil rights groups over an explicitly racist plot has led ABC Family to drop its new teen drama, Alice in Arabia, before it has a chance to air.

Here's how the network billed the show:

Alice in Arabia is a high-stakes drama series about a rebellious American teenage girl who, after tragedy befalls her parents, is unknowingly kidnapped by her extended family, who are Saudi Arabian. Alice finds herself a stranger in a new world but is intrigued by its offerings and people, whom she finds surprisingly diverse in their views on the world and her situation. Now a virtual prisoner in her grandfather's royal compound, Alice must count on her independent spirit and wit to find a way to return home while surviving life behind the veil. [Deadline]

As Katie McDonough at Salon notes, this description alone promotes "tired racist tropes about Arab and Muslim cultures and its 'white savior'-driven plot." Rather than casting women of color in a primetime drama, ABC created a heroine in a white woman who struggles to "survive" life in another culture.

After the script for Alice in Arabia's pilot leaked online, the Council on American-Islamic Relations expressed disapproval with the series, and Twitter users employed the hashtag #AliceinArabia to further urge ABC to pull the show. ABC Family responded in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, confirming the network would "not move forward with this project."

Canceling Alice in Arabia was unquestionably a good movie for ABC's image. And really, how many Alice in Wonderland-inspired shows does ABC need? Meghan DeMaria

protests
1:34 a.m. ET
Mark Makela/Getty Images

The mayor of Baltimore said that people from outside of the city were behind the violence that marred a mostly peaceful protest on Saturday over the death of Freddie Gray.

"Last night we saw a small group of agitators turning what was otherwise a peaceful demonstration into violent disruptions," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference. "I will not let those individuals put their agendas ahead of our city's." Small groups of protesters broke off from the main group and threw bottles, metal barricades, and other objects at police officers and patrol cars, Reuters reports. Some also vandalized property downtown. Six officers sustained minor injuries, and 35 people were arrested, authorities said.

Gray died on April 19, a week after he suffered an unexplained spinal injury while in police custody. On Friday, the city's police commissioner said that officers did not get him medical attention quickly enough, but it is still not clear why Gray was arrested. Rawlings-Blake said she anticipates that an internal police investigation into Gray's arrest and death will be finished by the end of the week. Catherine Garcia

Watch this
1:24 a.m. ET

David Letterman's farewell celebration continued on Friday's Late Show. If some of the material in Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up routine below seems a little dated (people get weather from the TV, not their iPhones?), that's because it's based on Seinfeld's first stand-up gig on Letterman's Late Night, back in 1982. The audience doesn't know that, so it's something of a spoiler, but really, Seinfeld pulls it off. And awkward childhood stories age better than fat jokes.

Things get a bit more topical and personal when Letterman interviewed Seinfeld — well, Seinfeld interviewed Letterman — which you can watch here and here. For Jerry's old jokes, watch below. —Peter Weber

He wishes
12:43 a.m. ET

If you're impressed by Matt Lauer's body and talent with the tasseled pasties, well, you should probably save your applause for Ellen's video-editing skills. At least that's the premise of this opening skit from Sunday's Daytime Emmys: Lauer and DeGeneres are burying the hatchet for the sake of charity and the celebration of daytime TV, and Ellen has one more prank up her sleeve. It is vaguely NSFW, in that you may not want your coworkers to see you watching stripper Matt Lauer without knowing the joke. Also, you won't be able to unsee this.

This year's Daytime Emmys, hosted by Tyra Banks, was broadcast on the Pop cable channel, after streaming online last year. Highlights included Betty White's moving acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award, former Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson winning for best game show, and Melissa Rivers introducing an in memoriam tribute that included her mother, Joan Rivers. —Peter Weber

all apologies
12:30 a.m. ET
Scott Olson/Getty Images

One of the two gay hoteliers who hosted an event for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) last week in New York City said it was a "terrible mistake," and he has since educated himself on Cruz's stance against gay marriage.

On his Facebook page Sunday, Ian Reisner, who owns the OUT NYC hotel, said he was "ignorant, naive, and much too quick in accepting a request to co-host a dinner with Cruz at my home without taking the time to completely understand all of his positions on gay rights." He apologized to "the gay community and so many of our friends, family, allies, customers and employees," and pledged to "try my best to make up for my poor judgement." He made the apology one day before a planned march outside of OUT NYC, and after the Broadway Cares charity canceled its annual event at a nightclub Reisner co-owns.

Along with his business partner Mati Weiderpass, Reisner held the dinner reception for Cruz on Monday at the duplex they own on Manhattan's Central Park South. It was billed as a "fireside chat" for about 12 people, and was not a fundraiser, The New York Times reports. Reisner, Weiderpass, and Cruz are all staunch supporters of Israel, and after the event, Reisner told the Times, "Ted Cruz was on point on every issue that has to do with national security." Catherine Garcia

survival story
April 26, 2015

Girl Scout cookies save lives.

On Friday, a police helicopter spotted the reflection of a white Ford Explorer near the Crisp Point Lighthouse along Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Sisters Leslie Roy, 52, of Nebraska and Lee Marie Wright, 56, of Oklahoma, were trapped inside, two weeks after the SUV became stuck in the snow. The two were on their way to visit family, but were unable to call for help because they did not have cellphone reception. The car eventually lost power, and the sisters ended up surviving by wearing layers of clothes, eating the little bit of food they had in the car — Girl Scout cookies and a bag of cheese puffs — and drinking melted snow.

Roy and Wright said that while it was difficult, they never stopped believing they'd finally be rescued. "Through the days and nights while in the woods, we survived using love and hope in our families," they said in a statement to The Associated Press. "Our faith in God held our confidence that we would eventually be found. We took note of circling aircraft, available water resources, the supplies we had. These factors eased our mind and allowed us to stay alive for 13 long days." Catherine Garcia

ch-ch-ch-changes
April 26, 2015
Facebook.com/Pepsi

With sales slipping, PepsiCo announced that it will no longer sweeten Diet Pepsi with aspartame.

Starting in August, Diet Pepsi's new formula will use sucralose and ace-K instead of aspartame, which some people believe is linked to cancer. Seth Kaufman, senior vice president of Pepsi and flavors, told USA Today that the change wasn't due to questions about the safety of aspartame — he said it is perfectly safe for consumption — but what customers said they wanted. "To Diet Pepsi consumers, removing aspartame is their No. 1 concern," he said. "We're listening to consumers. It's what they want."

The new formula tastes exactly the same as the old one, PepsiCo said, and will be used to make all Diet Pepsi flavors, like Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi and Wild Cherry Diet Pepsi. When Diet Pepsi was introduced in 1964, saccharin was used as its sweetener, and in 1983 it was reformulated with aspartame. In 2013, the company began to use aspartame and ace-K. Don't get too excited about ace-K, though, Michael Jacobson, director of the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, warns. "Consumers should avoid [ace-K] as well," he said. "It is poorly tested, but the tests done by the manufacturer in the 1970s suggest that ace-K, too, might pose a cancer risk." Catherine Garcia

nepal earthquake
April 26, 2015

Helicopters rescuing severely injured climbers and sherpas at Mount Everest's base camp Sunday had to stop after a 6.7 aftershock triggered additional avalanches.

Dozens of climbers and their Nepali guides are still trapped on the side of the mountain at two camps above where the avalanche fell, The Washington Post reports. The ropes and equipment they left up to help them make their descent were swept away in Saturday's avalanche, caused by the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal.

The Indian army estimates that 19 people died at the Mount Everest base camp on Saturday, and 61 people were rescued, primarily foreign tourists. In a Facebook message to the Post, Danish climber Carsten Lillelund Pedersen said that climbers and sherpas stuck higher up on the mountain "are getting desperate," and American climber Jon Kedrowski wrote on his blog that there were "head injuries, broken legs, internal injuries, and impalements" as well as "contusions and lacerations from flying debris." No one has a solid number on how many people are trapped and how many died, but Eric Johnson, a physician on the board of Everest ER, said that during peak climbing season, more than 1,500 people, including climbers, sherpas, and porters, are at base camp. Catherine Garcia

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