About

TelevisionWeek's Blink page is an industry must-read, taking a sardonic look at happenings across the television business. This wry coverage is extended online and updated throughout the week.

Blogroll

Blink


November 2004 Archives

Horror Net Scares Up Subs Online

November 29, 2004 12:00 AM

Few start-up cable networks have a Web site, much less a six-man team devoted to spreading their gospel online. Then again, most don't have the geek appeal of The Horror Channel, which is trying to raise money and find distribution for a programming service devoted to horror movies and TV shows. So far, raising capital has been a struggle, but the New Jersey-based start-up has been generating buzz online. "Our biggest imperative is to build a connection with the audience of hardcore horror enthusiasts," said Brian Nurenberg, the channel's president and chief operating officer, who was previously with the Burly Bear Network for college kids. "Because horror doesn't have a channel, that audience has resorted to the Internet for information and intelligence about the genre."

The founder is Nicholas Psaltos, former director of acquisition and program administration at Bravo, which is part of NBC Universal, owner of the Sci Fi Channel and potentially a big obstacle for The Horror Channel. NBC Universal is also considering launching a horror-themed channel, though there are no firm plans yet or a start date.

-JAMES HIBBERD

Brownback Is Back

While plans to raise the cap on fines for indecency on TV didn't fly in Congress this past year, conservative Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., isn't giving up. Earlier this month he tried to slip into a federal appropriations bill an increase in the FCC's maximum fine from $32,500 to $500,000 per incidence, but Senate Democrats managed to kill it. He may try again next week, but chances for quick passage are slim. Now he is plotting strategy for the next Congress. "It's much more likely that we'll take it up in January," said Brian Hart, a spokesman for the senator, who has gotten considerable political capital out of his anti-indecency efforts.

-DOUG HALONEN

Pre-Op in `ER'

NBC's "ER" has long been committed to promoting diversity in casting. Now an upcoming episode will break new ground when a transgendered actor plays a transgendered role. Chicago stage actress Alexandra Billings, who was born male but has identified as female since she was a child, plays a character in the Jan. 6 episode who comes into the County General ER with shortness of breath. When Dr. Ray Barnett (Shane West) gets test results showing she is pregnant, Ms. Billings' character reveals she's actually a pre-operative transgender, someone incapable of having a baby.

The surprised Dr. Barnett brings in veteran Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield), who ultimately diagnoses what's really wrong. Although "ER" wasn't specifically looking for a transgendered actress, Ms. Billings' manager, Billy Miller, saw an opportunity and had her send in a tape. Impressed, the show flew her out to the "ER" set at Warner Bros.

Studios in Burbank for the shoot. Mr. Miller said his client-who is back working in Chicago-had a great time, particularly with director Stephen Cragg, who helped refine her performance. "He knew what to tell her to get her where she needed to go," Mr. Miller said. "She had an amazing experience."

-CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA

Welcome Back or Goodbye?

November 22, 2004 12:00 AM

Although renominated by President Bush thanks to a deal made by his former boss, outgoing Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., it was unclear going into last weekend whether Democrat Jonathan Adelstein would win approval for another term on the Federal Communications Commission. His nomination was approved Friday morning by the Senate Commerce Committee but had yet to come to a vote before the full Senate. He was among almost 200 appointments for federal offices, including Bush administration judicial appointments, caught in a last-minute logjam as the lame-duck Congress rushed to finish. The potential snag for Mr. Adelstein, according to a key Senate source, is that all of the nominees in the massive package have to sink or swim together, and some lawmakers had holds on some of the candidates. The key question posed, said the Senate source: "Are we going for mutually assured destruction or not?" In the end, Mr. Adelstein's fate will depend on deals made in proverbial smoke-filled rooms among Washington insiders. If he isn't confirmed, his opportunity for another term will go up in smoke. He will have to step down immediately; his term is expired.

-DOUG HALONEN



Music Adver-Video

The video of the theme from "Gilligan's Island" by the band Bowling for Soup, in which band members are dressed as "Gilligan" characters, is more than a video. The clip, showing on MTV and VH1, is an ad for "The Real Gilligan's Island," a new reality show premiering Nov. 30 on TBS, which paid the Viacom networks an undisclosed sum to run it about two dozen times during the week of Nov. 8. It concludes with tune-in info including the time and date of the premiere. Most networks won't air spots for rival channels with specific tune-in times, but a spokesman said MTV does it sometimes. "It was a good deal for us," one Viacom staffer said. "We like the color of their money." TBS was also pleased. "Any network that will take ours, we'll take theirs," said TBS Executive VP and General Manager Steve Koonin. "There should be reciprocity between us, so if MTV called and asked, we would do the same for them." In addition to MTV and VH1, the video has been running in Regal Theaters, and the music has been sent to DJs at radio stations and will be heard on AOL Music and Shockwave. A CD of the song was included in a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly.

-JON LAFAYETTE



It's A Wrap You Can't Refuse

It's not TV. It's ho ho ho for HBO, which is supplying the wrapping paper for people who want to give "The Sopranos" for Christmas. The holiday ad campaign for DVD sets of its original series features a gift-wrap theme. An ad in Entertainment Weekly in December includes an actual sheet of wrapping paper big enough to cover a DVD. In "Sopranos" style, the paper features a snowman design, but one of the snowmen has lost his head, a la Ralph Cifaretto. The wrap for "Curb Your Enthusiasm" depicts stockings filled with lumps of coal. The bling-bling-inspired ad for "Da Ali G Show" says a DVD is "the perfect gift for Christmas and Harmonica." The ad for "Oz" notes that "Just like life on the inside, it's better to give than receive." "The beauty of this campaign for us is that it's a central idea that lets us advertise a broad range of product and kind of tie it all together," said Cynthia Rhea, HBO senior VP of marketing, "which in turn leverages what all these shows have in common, which is that they're from HBO."

-JON LAFAYETTE

MGM Will Likely Be a June Bride

November 15, 2004 12:00 AM

The antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice-not the Federal Trade Commission-will determine whether Metro Goldwyn Mayer can be acquired for about $5 billion by LOC Acquisition Co., according to sources. LOC is the Delaware corporation formed by Sony Co. of America, Comcast, Texas Pacific Group, DLJ Merchant Partners and Providence Equity Partners of Providence, R.I., which is the apparent leader of the group. Stockholder approval was never in doubt, since two front companies controlled by Kirk Kerkorian agreed in advance to vote their 69 percent interest in MGM for the deal. And regulatory approval will probably be fairly routine, especially with Justice on the case. That department tends to be more subject to political interests, and Mr. Kerkorian was a contributor to President Bush ($2,000 limit) and Republicans (close to $40,000 directly or through PACs) in the recently concluded election cycle. (He also donated to Sen. Kerry.) The deal is expected to close by next June. Meanwhile, Mr. Kerkorian has apparently kept busy. His big investment in MGM Mirage continues to grow, and not just because of the pending $4.8 billion acquisition of Mandalay Resort Group. MGM Mirage, which is holding on to MGM's roaring lion logo, announced last week that it plans to construct a multibillion-dollar "urban metropolis" on the Las Vegas Strip between the Bellagio and the Monte Carlo that the Las Vegas Review-Journal called "the most significant privately funded project in the U.S."

-ALEX BEN BLOCK



Pentagon TV

In an effort to get its own brand of military news to U.S. troops wherever they may be, the Department of Defense has launched an effort to recruit cable and satellite TV operators. Allison Barber, the deputy assistant secretary in charge, said the 24/7 military news and information service called Pentagon Channel currently reaches fewer than half of the 2.6 million members of the U.S. military in its target audience at military bases in the United States and abroad. Now the ad-free channel, which was launched earlier this year, is being offered free to cable and satellite TV distributors. Ms. Barber said that as of last week, those committed included Time Warner's Oceanic Cable in Hawaii, GCI Cable's system in Anchorage, Alaska, and Knology cable systems in Georgia, Alabama and Florida. "Our only mission is to get military news and information to our military community," Ms. Barber said. "It's a win-win for [cable operators] serving their customer base and helping their military members."

-DOUG HALONEN



Cable Contender

The inside-the-Washington-Beltway candidate to beat as chief executive at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association last week appeared to be Mitch Rose, 40, VP of government affairs for The Walt Disney Co. Mr. Rose's most obvious qualification is that he served as chief of staff and top telecom policy adviser to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, before joining Disney in 2000. Next year Sen. Stevens is expected to become chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, which is expected to do a major rewrite of the nation's telecommunications law. Torie Clarke, the former NCTA and Pentagon spokeswoman who has also been mentioned as a contender, told Blink last week that she's not interested in the job. "I'm very happy doing what I am doing," said Ms. Clarke, currently a senior adviser to Comcast. "I have a wonderful home with Comcast, and I'd like to stay there." An NCTA spokesman said the search process is still in its initial phases. The winner succeeds NCTA President Robert Sachs, who decided not to re-up after getting the cold shoulder from the NCTA board.

-DOUG HALONEN

Discovering All the News That Fits TV

November 8, 2004 12:00 AM

On Nov. 2, for the first time in its 153-year history, The New York Times allowed reporters covering the 2004 vote count, including Todd Purdum, to be interviewed on TV during the evening for a series of three-minute reports called "Page One." The reports aired on the Discovery Times Channel, which is jointly owned by The Times and Discovery Networks. The reporters and cameras shared with viewers not only news and analysis but also insights into the process of covering the election, including part of a meeting where stories are chosen for the front page.

The real significance of the breakthrough became clear the day after the election, when The Times announced it would shutter NYT Television, its Greenwich Village-based TV production unit, resulting in the loss of 24 jobs, including that of William "Bill" Abrams, the former ABC News exec and Wall Street Journal reporter who headed the operation that produced Times-branded shows for PBS, A&E, TLC and others. NYT Television was formed in 1995 after The Times acquired Video News International. "We are still commited to TV," said Times spokesman Toby Usnik, "but now our focus is on the Discovery Times Channel."

-ALEX BEN BLOCK



Fuse Makes a Crude Attempt at Teenspeak

Those wiseguys at Fuse are at it again. The upstart music network is launching a new programming block for late afternoon, just as its tech-savvy 12- to 17-year-old target viewers arrive home from school. It features elements on the TV screen, online and via cellphone, such as the new offering "Video IQ," in which selected images from music videos become clues to solve a puzzle. Other interactive shows are "Dedicate Live" and "Daily Download." Fuse calls the block After School Special, or A.S.S., and is running ads that declare "Our A.S.S. is jam-packed with music." Is that vulgarity really necessary? Yes, insisted Mary Corigliano, Fuse's VP of marketing: "We have prided ourselves on really owning that prankster chic, irreverent sensibility and really understanding and knowing how to talk to our audience and knowing about what they want to hear and what they're going to gravitate to."

-JON LAFAYETTE



Self-Service TV

Call it mail-order TV production. Troika Design Group-which has branded more than 20 television networks-has come up with some creative ideas, but nothing quite like its strategy for its foray into producing, Fine Living series "Around the World in 80 Homes." The half-hour show features tours of vacation homes around the world, though Troika never leaves Hollywood. Instead, it sends digital camera kits out to the locations directly, with the homeowners shooting the footage themselves. During post-production, the producers pan, scan, zoom and rotate the images to tell stories. Mark Bohman, Troika's creative director and co-founder, said Fine Living came up with the show idea but wanted a way to produce it economically. "With a standard technique and production company you would have to say we have to feature less properties," said Mr. Bohman, who doubled to 20 the number of camera kits sent out for the second season. "This way we were able to break down those barriers and provide ... a tremendous spectrum of locations."

-MELISSA GREGO

A Giant of the Industry Looks for Laughs

November 1, 2004 12:00 AM

One of the biggest movie stars in the world has entered into a development deal to do his first-ever sitcom. How big is Michael Clarke Duncan? About 6 feet 5 inches and built like a man mountain, as you may recall from his roles in such films as "The Green Mile," "The Scorpion King" and "Daredevil." He has teamed with producer Claude Brooks (UPN's "Second Time Around") for a project tentatively titled "Still the Champ." Mr. Duncan would star as a retired heavyweight champion fighter adjusting to domestic life with his wife and adopted daughters. While he looks as though he could be a bodyguard (which at one time he was), the Chicago native is known for his sweet temperament, which should provide an interesting contrast on a comedy. Mr. Brooks' C to the B Productions is shopping the half-hour show to networks this week. -JAMES HIBBERD



News Ethics

While the news business has been rocked by controversy recently-from CBS's Memogate to Sinclair's Kerry "news special"-one group has been teaching local news directors to make ethical decisions not just in an election season but year-round. The Carole Kneeland Project for Responsible Television Journalism, founded in 1998 in honor of Ms. Kneeland, a news VP at KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas, who died of breast cancer, presents twice-annual seminars for news directors with less than three years of experience. "We want them to get into the coverage of the issues themselves and not depend on official sources whose views are tainted," said Valerie Hyman, a seminar trainer and founder of the broadcast program at the Poynter Institute. Joey Parker, news director for KCWY-TV in Casper, Wyo., who attended last month, said the program "challenged our views on how we gather and present news and information, made us reconsider our roles as managers and caused us to evaluate our thought processes." The next seminar is in March (information: kneelandproject.org).

-JULIANA SHALLCROSS



Happy Hardballing

NBC Universal's syndicated weekend news program "The Chris Matthews Show" has benefited from viewers' increased interest in politics thanks to the presidential election. "Matthews" scored a 2.4 for the week ended Oct. 17-up 14 percent from the previous week-and saw modest growth in men and women 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research. But can the third-season show keep the momentum going once Bush-Kerry fever subsides? Nancy Nathan, the show's executive producer, said the show can because it is different from its main competition. "The [network] Sunday morning news shows that are in our environment will once again be back to having on senators debating policy," she said, noting that "Matthews"' stable of D.C. insiders, and not party flacks, gives it an edge. "We'll lose the horse race, but we can still do the same gaming-who's up, who's down-throughout [the year]," Ms. Nathan said. "It's the kind of thing that's very political, but it calls on Washington observers to give viewers the skinny."

-CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA