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September 2004 Archives

Tax Bill Wasn't a Surprise to the Lucky 276

September 27, 2004 12:00 AM

If you read news stories last week in Chicago and Denver papers, you would think the 276 "Oprah Winfrey Show" audience members who were offered new Pontiacs at General Motors' expense had no idea they would be hit with a hefty income tax bill if they accepted the $28,000 gift. In fact, the winners were told there would be a tax bill, with the amount depending on their personal situation. Each recipient signed a paper that made clear the tax consequences. They were given the choice to decline the prize, accept and pay the tax or sell the car immediately and pocket the difference-about $20,000, according to a spokesman for Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions in Chicago. It will take at least six weeks before any cars are delivered. The lucky 276 can wait until February 2005 to pick up the car, customized to their taste, from their local dealer, so taxes can also be postponed for a year. "The Chicago Sun-Times reporter never called us or GM for comment, so we called the reporter and said it was unfortunate they had made this story seem negative," said the spokesman, who added that Ms. Winfrey at some point will do a follow-up show.


BET originals

The BET Network is looking to amp up its original programming by creating a new bi-coastal development department. BET's Senior VP of Programming and Production Gina Holland said the African American-targeted entertainment channel, owned by Viacom, is searching for one or two execs to head development in New York and L.A. "We want to continue to grow and be competitive in the marketplace," Ms. Holland said. "Our focus will be on developing our prime-time block to complement our acquisitions." They hope to add more comedy and reality programming to a lineup largely dominated by music videos. BET's profile has been on the rise this summer, with the "BET Awards" setting an all-time ratings record for the cable net, a successful upfront and the upcoming "BET Comedy Awards." With its 25th birthday next year, Ms. Holland said, an anniversary special and a new look are in the works. "I don't think you'll see a drastic change," she said, "but it's going to feel good."


Singing Forever

During Advertising Week in New York City last week, Coca-Cola and its ad agency, McCann Erickson Worldwide, held a brief memorial for songwriter Billy Davis, who died Sept. 20, and introduced the first ad they have ever restored in high definition. It's a version of Mr. Davis' memorable "Hilltop" Coke ad featuring the song "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." It also aired on some New York stations. The ad shows young people from all over the world singing "in perfect harmony" and ends with the message, "In memory of Billy Davis, for teaching us all to sing, your friends at The Coca-Cola Co." After the ad airs nationally this week it is being donated to the Library of Congress.


The Hunt for Michael Moore's TV Window

September 20, 2004 12:00 AM

A year after he won an Oscar for best documentary ("Bowling For Columbine"), filmmaker Michael Moore chose not to enter his record-breaking documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" in that category because, he wrote Sept. 6 on his Web site, "I have decided it is more important to take that risk and hope against hope that I can persuade someone to put it on TV, even if it's the night before the election." Once a project appears on TV, it becomes ineligible for Oscar consideration. The big hindrance to a TV airing before Nov. 2, Mr. Moore explained, was his home video deal. "Our contract with our DVD distributor says no, it cannot [be shown on broadcast TV before the election]," he wrote. "I have asked them to show it just once, perhaps the night before the election. So far, no deal. But I haven't given up trying." That made us Blink, so we asked his reps for an update. His agent referred us to his PR rep, Sunshine Consultants in New York, who declined to return five phone calls. So we did our own research, which appears to contradict Mr. Moore on several counts. It isn't the DVD distributor, Columbia/TriStar, that's preventing a broadcast; its only concern is that the many extras on the DVD not be aired. Then we made a round of calls to network executives and studio and pay-cable sources. It quickly became clear that in the present political environment, no broadcast or cable network would show it before the vote because of concerns about news balance and advertiser and affiliate fallout. The only possibility would be Showtime, which owns the pay-TV broadcast window starting in 2005. One possibility, Showtime spokesperson Joan Ziff said, is a one-time pay-per-view airing before the election, with Showtime perhaps sharing in the profits. But so far, this has not been negotiated. And according to Ms. Ziff, Mr. Moore had not even contacted Showtime as of late last week.

-John Motavalli

Death Screen

During a panel discussion last week at the Writers Guild of America, West, featuring Emmy-nominated writers, "The Sopranos" scribe Terence Winter enthralled the audience with his account of being a desperate Brooklyn transplant trying to break into TV by impersonating both a messenger (to drop off his sitcom specs) and an agent (by creating letterhead, a mailbox and a phone service). His semi-shady efforts paid off when one of his specs landed him a shot at writing an episode of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." That led to writing stints on "Xena: Warrior Princess," "The PJs," "The Cosby Mysteries" and others. He joined "The Sopranos" during its second season. When he had to kill off longtime series character Adriana (Drea de Matteo), Mr. Winter could hardly bear it. "When it came time to write the scene I had her death occur off-screen," he said. "She's an actress, but she's also a real person that we all got to know. I just didn't want to see it."

-James Hibberd

Pink Slip-Up

Journalism is a profession with perpetual downsizing, so imagine how some reporters felt last week when they received an authentic-looking pink slip in the mail. The terse "Termination Notice" told recipients they were fired, ordered them to return any company property and warned them not to reveal any "trade secrets, computer lists or other confidential or proprietary information." The stunt was a promotion for "Beat the Boss," a courtroom reality show being offered for syndication in 2005. If reporters were startled by the stunt, spokesperson Sarah Znerold said, that was exactly the point. "We really wanted to come up with a creative hook so people would feel what it's like to be in the shoes of somebody who's fired," Ms. Znerold said.

-James Hibberd

Reopening the Door to Product Placement

September 13, 2004 12:00 AM

For the first time, Sony Pictures Television is going to re-edit an existing series episode to add a product placement that will air only in syndication, not during the regular network run. The new scene for "The King of Queens," which enters its second year of syndication this week, will incorporate a plug for Dr. Scholl's Massaging Gel Insoles. It is part of a sponsorship deal between SPT and Dr. Scholl's parent Schering-Plough that involves a sweepstakes offering as a prize: a behind-the-scenes tour of Sony Pictures Studios in Los Angeles. Schering will back the promotion with "millions of dollars" in advertising, including television, radio and print. Of course, what made us Blink was the idea that any current or past series where the actors are still alive could in theory be re-edited to add other placements in the future. How about some new Jockey shorts for "Raymond" or a Trojan condom placement in "Will & Grace," or maybe they can go back and have Halliburton sell lunch to the patients as they come off the battlefield on "M*A*S*H."


Secret Celeb Sib

One of the new houseguests on "Starting Over," the syndie show from Bunim-Murray Productions and NBCU, which starts its second season Sept. 13, has a celebrity sibling. However, a spokesman for the show would not reveal to whom the guest is related, for what reason her sibling is famous or even which of the houseguests pictured here is the sister of a celeb. You'll have to watch to find out. We do know that during her stay at the Hollywood Hills, Calif., home, the sibling will work with the show's psychologist Dr. Stan Katz and life coaches Iyanla Vanzant and Rhonda Britten to decide whether and how to follow in her famous sibling's footsteps.


Selling Soaps and Series

In a day-for-night promo twist, stars of ABC's prime-time fall lineup will appear on ABC daytime to plug their shows in 30-second spots. Entrepreneur Mark Cuban starts it off by touting the Sept. 13 debut of "The Benefactor." "His wife watches the ABC soaps, so he was very enthusiastic about the whole thing," said ABC Daytime President Brian Frons, who noted that when they tried this idea last May with Kelly Ripa hosting on the day of the season finale of her show "Hope & Faith," the sitcom outperformed its season average by some 26 percent. "Primetime Hosting Daytime" begins in earnest Monday, Sept. 20. Other stars participating include George Lopez and his "George Lopez" show co-star Constance Marie, newbies from the deliriously sudsy "Desperate Housewives" and Kelly Osbourne of "Life as We Know It. "It's not just another 30-second spot that looked like all the other 30-second spots that are on other people's lineups," Mr. Frons said. "This is a person doing a more intimate, personal pitch."


Producer With a Purpose

September 6, 2004 12:00 AM

Actor and producer Drew Barrymore is best known for her work in feature films, but this political season, Ms. Barrymore feels so strongly about the need for young people to vote that she is taking her new documentary to cable television. MTV has bought the 43-minute film, "The Best Place to Start" (working title), an unscripted look at the current political system. In the documentary, Ms. Barrymore interviews people ranging from former Democratic presidential hopeful Gen. Wesley Clark to Sen. Hillary Clinton to "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart. Made with her own money outside the auspices of her feature production company Flower Films, "Best Place" was shot over several months at the beginning of 2004. The film, which MTV plans to air Sept. 21, is designed to encourage young voters to get involved in politics and, most of all, to vote. Imagine the action on Election Day if everyone who went to see "Charlie's Angels" went to the polls.

-Christopher Lisotta

Not a Fine Day

Who is championing the sternest crackdown on indecency at the Federal Communications Commission? Some Republican ultraconservative? No, this week's winner is Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who thinks $550,000 in fines for Janet Jackson's Super Bowl breast flash (TelevisionWeek, Aug. 23) isn't hefty enough. The Republican-dominated FCC is expected to announce as soon as this week fines of $27,500 for each of the network's 20 owned-and-operated TV stations. Mr. Adelstein, according to a well-placed agency source, thinks penalties should be extended to all of CBS's 219 affiliates to establish a credible deterrent. He believes "It would be totally inadequate to levy a fine [$550,000] that comes to only a few seconds of Super Bowl ad time," said the source, who added that Mr. Adelstein will officially register his views with a partial dissent from the majority's decision. CBS, meanwhile, is still expected to appeal the fines, which it contends are unfair, since the network didn't plan or want the "wardrobe malfunction."

-Doug Halonen

Advertisers 'Fired' Up

DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group reportedly declined to renew its sponsorship of NBC's hit reality show "The Apprentice" for a second season after being asked to buy a product placement and ad package worth $25 million. Now a number of major brands have made buys but not at the level the network and producer Mark Burnett initially sought. Media executives said P&G and Visa USA will spend $10 million to $12 million each. For that, advertisers get one or two spots in each hour-long episode. PepsiCo is spending far less, some $3 million to $4 million, according to sources. Companies doing placements in the first of two editions of "The Apprentice" scheduled to run in the 2004-05 broadcast season, starting with the premiere Sept. 9, include Procter & Gamble's Crest brand, Mattel, PepsiCo, Visa USA, Levi Strauss & Co., Cunard Line Ltd., Mars and Delta Air Lines. Spokesmen for Visa USA and Pepsi declined comment. Calls to P&G and Mr. Burnett's company were not returned by press time. An NBC spokeswoman would not confirm ad buy details.

-Wayne Friedman

Next: Spitballs at 20 Paces?

Talk about playing "Hardball." MSNBC talk host Chris Matthews' coverage of the Republican National Convention began with a physical attack and ended with a U.S. senator challenging him to a duel. It made us Blink, but Mr. Matthews seemed bemused by it all late last week. It started Aug. 31, during a live TV interview in a public park in New York, when a man in a black hood (like those U.S. forces used on Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison) flung himself on Mr. Matthews, chanting, "Remember Abu Ghraib." Security quickly pulled the man away, and Mr. Matthews recovered in time to invite viewers back after a break to MSNBC, "Where all the action is." "Who knows what danger that guy posed?" Mr. Matthews said later. "He was definitely looking for a quick `Shock and Awe' of his own." Then on Sept. 1, Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), following his keynote speech at the GOP gathering, took offense when Mr. Matthews questioned some of his comments about Sen. John Kerry's record on defense. "I challenged him [about his comment]," said Mr. Matthews, "that Sen. Kerry was offering to build all of the U.S. defense posture with spitballs." The senator became so angry he retorted: "I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel." Mr. Matthews later called Sen. Miller's behavior "bizarre," then noted that the next day the senator said he had planned the confrontation. "He said things on [the Don Imus radio show] the next morning that he's been planning to do this, or get me, because of something I had done in an earlier interview I had with somebody. He had been planning this. Kind of odd to admit it." A call to Sen. Miller's office for comment wasn't returned by press time.

-Alex Ben Block