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March 2005 Archives

Martin's Rules of Order

March 28, 2005 12:00 AM

In one of his first actions as the Federal Communications Commission's new chairman, Kevin Martin directed agency personnel to refrain from doing any speaking for the FCC pending further notice. At least one high-level official pulled the plug on a long-planned speech. Agency sources said the directive was intended to give Mr. Martin and his new team an opportunity to establish their priorities. "The chairman and his staff are taking a few days to get their arms around all the proceedings, items and issues pending at the FCC, as has been done in prior transitions," an FCC spokesman said. In a move that was greeted more warmly, Mr. Martin's office also convened a meeting of the top advisers to all of the FCC commissioners to seek ways to improve agency communications. "They're looking for processes to make the agency work more collegially," an FCC source said. Mr. Martin is said to have promoted Dan Gonzales, his senior legal adviser, to chief of staff. Catherine Bohigian will continue to serve as Mr. Martin's adviser on media issues, sources said. The speaking prohibition will not stop Mr. Martin from appearing at the NCTA convention in San Francisco. ---DOUG HALONEN

TV Shootout

Now that veteran producer and former Sony Pictures chief Peter Guber and Variety's Peter Bart have established a format with "Sunday Morning Shootout" on AMC, they're finalizing a deal with E! Entertainment Television to do a spinoff. The new talkfest will focus on the television industry, just as the original covers the movie biz. Peter and Peter are not expected to host, but will executive produce along with "Shootout" showrunner Scott Sternberg. Sources said Variety writer Brian Lowry may fill one of the hosting slots. E! declined comment. --JAMES HIBBERD

Road Trip

Turner South, the Time Warner regional network seen in six Southern states, is going on the road again in its home territory between April and late October. Folks who show up for "My South on Tour" as it visits five Southern cities can win a weekend trip to enjoy more of the South. The road show is designed to promote the network and provide local tie-ins for cable operators. At each stop, Turner South personalities will be on hand, including former Miss Georgia Erin Haney, host of "3 Day Weekend." Fans will take a screen test to win the trip and may appear on the show. For those who can't make it to the tour, the network has a promotion in which viewers can audition for "3 Day Weekend" by creating a three-minute video with the person they would like to take on their three-day weekend. Contestants are encouraged to pass the camera back and forth as they explain why they simply must have the vacation trip. For details and tour stops, go to www.turnersouth.com. --JON LAFAYETTE

Steve Susskind Took a Big Bite Out of Life

March 21, 2005 12:00 AM

He was thrilled that it might be a recurring role. Instead, veteran character actor Steve Susskind's appearance in the "Stand by Your Man" episode of ABC's new comedy "Jake in Progress" marked his final TV performance. Mr. Susskind died Jan. 21 at age 62 in an auto accident in L.A. Last week more than 450 of his friends joined his widow, actress Ann Walker, for a memorial in Beverly Hills. Voice-over actor Thom Sharp introduced pals, who told colorful stories that traced Mr. Susskind's life growing up in Forest Hills, N.Y., to his start in showbiz as part of a popular '60s singing group The Roomates ("Glory of Love"). He moved to L.A. in 1980 and became a master at doing ethnic voices, especially a Greek accent, in more than 1,000 TV and radio commercials and movie trailers. He had recurring roles on shows such as "NewsRadio" and "Married ... With Children," did numerous guest shots on shows like "Will & Grace" and "Frasier," and assayed a cult role as Harold Hatcher in "Friday the 13th Part III." "He was just a lovable, wonderful guy who enjoyed a good cigar and a drink," recalled his wife, who is taking over his seats on the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists national and local boards. --ALEX BEN BLOCK

'The Grist and the Glitz'

That's the crew of the KTLA-TV "Morning News" on the L.A. station's new high-tech news set, which was unveiled last week as part of the station's rebranding. The indie now wants to be known as KTLA WB, without mention of its position at Channel 5 on the VHF dial. "Today we're competing with many channels, on broadcast and cable," explained Vinnie Malcolm, the Tribune station's VP and general manager. "ESPN doesn't say 'ESPN 4', '5' or '6.'" The news set was built from the ground up at a cost of just under $400,000. Asked whether it would help ratings, Mr. Malcolm said, "Hopefully, it will help, but more importantly, it is about getting up to speed with the latest equipment, look and feel, and to help motivate our employees to produce better products." The new mark over the name, which looks a bit like the Nike swoosh, symbolizes a halo over the City of Angels. It is broken to represent L.A. as a "city of curves and contours, from the beaches to the mountains," said Mr. Malcolm. And it is broken because "a full circle graphically won't project well on-air and in print," explained KTLA's Director of Creative Services Jymm Adams, who oversaw the project. "There are no palm trees or shots of the beach," added Mr. Malcolm, "because we aren't tourists. We wanted to project the grist and the glitz, the whole thing. It's for people who live here every day." --ALEX BEN BLOCK

Indecent Wait

If you've been waiting for the National Association of Broadcasters to unveil its voluntary industry guidelines to deal with government concerns about indecency, plan to wait even longer. It was expected that the plan would be announced at the NAB convention in Las Vegas next month. Instead, it has been put on hold to give the NAB board additional time to weigh in on the subject. An NAB task force has been studying the concept since last April, in response to a request from former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell and others to adopt a formal programming code. But industry sources said the NAB task force has been focusing instead on the development of a set of less rigid "best practices" principles. Gary Chapman, co-chairman of the NAB task force and chairman and CEO of LIN Television, said the task force wants the entire industry to sign on to the voluntary compliance initiative-including the Big 4 TV networks, which are not NAB members. The hope among boosters of the initiative is that it will pre-empt the perceived need for beefed-up indecency legislation. "We believe it's in the best interests of both the radio and TV industries to have self-regulation instead of government regulation," Mr. Chapman said. An NAB spokesman declined comment. --DOUG HALONEN

'Idol' Magnet

Last week must have been a busy one for Fox. "American Idol" contestant Mario Vazquez, the judges' and audience favorite, shocked his growing number of fans when he abruptly left the No. 1-rated musical reality show with little explanation. Was it because he has a record coming out, which would disqualify him? Was it because he wanted out of the mandatory management contract all contestants sign? Whatever it was, Mr. Vazquez should keep in mind that even the most talented singers can easily be replaced. Take the magnetized tracking board Fox handed out at an "Idol" finalists party two weeks ago, which featured playing pieces of each contestant that viewers at home can use to track their progress. Just days after Mr. Vazquez split, Fox sent out a replacement magnetized playing piece featuring Nikko Smith, who was restored to the finals competition in Mr. Vazquez's place. Be warned, Mr. Vazquez-Blink thinks falling out of favor with your fans is as easy as falling off a magnetized chart board. --CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA

Is Disney Doing a Mickey Mouse Search for CEO?

March 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Disney dissidents Stanley Gold and Roy Disney have gone public with complaints that the process of finding a new chief executive is "a mockery" because outgoing CEO Michael Eisner is expected to sit in on interviews with candidates. But some believe the whole thing is just a big show in any case. Sources told Blink few of the high-profile names mentioned for the job, such as Viacom's Leslie Moonves and News Corp.'s Peter Chernin, have even been contacted. This is interpreted to mean Disney's board is just going through the motions and the job will go in June to the lone internal candidate, Robert Iger, currently Disney's president. And while he awaits a decision, those sources say, Mr. Iger, his image already smeared in the book "DisneyWar," is being extremely cautious. Sources said that is why there will be no decision on an expensive new NFL contract for ABC and ESPN, or any other big deals that might cause waves, until after the new CEO is crowned. A Disney spokeswoman said the exec search is private, and she wouldn't comment on speculation that some decisions are on hold. Last Friday Disney issued a statement in response to Mr. Disney's and Mr. Gold's allegations: "They have been consistently wrong in the past and this is nothing more than a perpetuation of a campaign of distortions aimed at advancing their own personal agenda." --JAY SHERMAN and ALEX BEN BLOCK

Host Finds Maximum Insecurity

Before Lisa Ling spent an intense month inside the maximum-security men's California State Prison in Sacramento, taping a special for National Geographic's "Explorer," which she hosts, she was warned that inmates might harass her and throw things at her. Instead, she was welcomed with shouts that they had seen her on "The View" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" as well as on "Explorer." They spend a lot of time watching TV. What she found, however, wasn't as reassuring. "There are an estimated 2 million people in American prisons," Ms. Ling said. "What people don't realize is that inside these prisons there are cultures within the culture. [Inmates] have to abide by a different set of rules when they are there." Inmates group mostly by race or ethnicity. Ms. Ling said violence and even murder are daily occurrences, and the gangs run organized crime operations that extend beyond the walls of the prison. "These are human beings," said Ms. Ling, "but they are put in an environment that creates and fosters violence. They have to become that way to survive." Her Nat Geo special runs April 10. --ALEX BEN BLOCK

Get-Well Wishes

Blink's heart goes out to Mariska Hargitay and her father, the legendary Mikló "Mickey" Hargitay, who is said to have suffered a heart attack and is recovering in a Los Angeles hospital. We were truly touched when Ms. Hargitay paid tribute to her dad, who was in the audience, during the 2005 Golden Globes, where she was honored as best actress in a TV drama for her role on "Law & Order: SVU." (They are shown together in this photo from that evening.) Ms. Hargitay's mother was the late actress Jayne Mansfield. Mr. Hargitay immigrated to the United States from Budapest, Hungary, and became a champion bodybuilder, winning the title of Mr. Universe in 1955. He entered showbiz as part of the "Mae West Revue," an early Chippendales-type act. That's where Ms. Mansfield spotted him. According to legend, a waiter asked what Ms. Mansfield would like, and she replied, "I'll have a steak and the man on the left!" They married in 1958 and appeared together in several B-movies, including "The Loves of Hercules" in 1960. Ms. Mansfield died in an auto accident in 1967. --ALEX BEN BLOCK

Putting Brakes on Cycling

Outdoor Life Network made a name for itself in part because of the feats of Lance Armstrong, who has pushed up ratings for the network's Tour de France coverage. But he hasn't done much for the rest of OLN's cycling programming. Now OLN is dropping daily programming of its lesser-known races, such as the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) and Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain) because of microscopic ratings yielding around 20,000 to 30,000 viewers. John Carter, senior VP of production at OLN, said this is a consequence of a growing network: OLN can't afford to run programming that loses money and offers up only narrow viewership. Instead, OLN has condensed its cycling coverage to the weekends, with a new series called "Cyclysm Sundays," which recaps major races. It is also starting up a video-on-demand effort for cycling. OLN's extensive Tour de France coverage-some 340 hours in the month of July-will remain intact. --WAYNE FRIEDMAN

Playboy Celebrity Publicist Wants to Woo You

March 7, 2005 12:00 AM

He's still too old for the Olsen Twins, but former "Full House" co-star John Stamos is looking for a date. Actually, he hopes millions of women will make a date with him. Mr. Stamos plays Jake Phillips, a playboy and celebrity publicist, on ABC's upcoming hour-long series "Jake in Progress." In the series, Jake is looking to meet the perfect girl. Who better to play matchmaker than guerrilla marketers? That's why ABC is sending a street team of 300 people March 16 to New York's commuting and gathering hot spots, including Pennsylvania Station, Grand Central Station, Columbus Circle, Rockefeller Center and the Port Authority Bus Terminal, with 7-foot poles holding big posters of Mr. Stamos with the tagline, "Single and Searching? Me Too." Street team members will give flowers to women and make an offer-of sorts: "Here's a flower from Jake. Meet him for a date tomorrow at 8 p.m." The show will sneak preview Sunday, March 13, at 10 p.m., after "Desperate Housewives." Then it will premiere in its regular time slot March 17 at 8 p.m. --WAYNE FRIEDMAN

Daytime Emmy Race is On

That's Julie Chen of CBS's "Early Show" revealing nominations for the 32nd Annual Daytime Emmy Awards on the "Guiding Light" stage March 2 in New York. Behind her, from left, are Cameron Mathison of "All My Children," Bree Williamson of "One Life to Live," talk show host Maury Povich, Judi Evans of "Days of Our Lives" (partly obscured), Jon Hensley of "As the World Turns" and Crystal Chappell of "Guiding Light." ABC's "All My Children" gathered the most nominations (18), making it the early front-runner. ABC's "General Hospital," CBS's "Guiding Light" and PBS's "Sesame Street" got 13 noms each. Among talk shows, "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and ABC's "The View" tied with 11 noms each. Martha Stewart, who was released early Friday after serving five months in prison, was nominated for her hosting of "Martha Stewart Living." TelevisionWeek will publish a special report March 14 previewing the May 20 awards presentation at New York's Radio City Music Hall, which will air live on CBS. A complete list of nominations can be found at www.emmyonline.tv. --ALEX BEN BLOCK

Fuse Integrated

Most product placements on "The Apprentice" cost big bucks, but the feisty Fuse network, owned by Cablevision's Rainbow Media, is getting millions in exposure because it is so cool. Fuse is playing a role this week's on the NBC reality show, with The Donald himself promoting the upstart music channel. The contestants in the episode, taped several months ago, have to raise money for a charity and must get music stars to donate "experiences" for an auction. The auction was held last fall during the Fuse show "The Daily Download." Lil' Kim, Lil Jon, Fat Joe, Jadakiss, Gene Simmons, Simple Plan, New Found Glory, Barenaked Ladies and Moby all participated. A Fuse spokesperson expects the NBC appearance to bring new attention to the network, and its own reality series, "Ultimate Fuse Gig: The VJ Search," launching immediately after "The Apprentice" airs. "The Donald made us an offer we couldn't refuse," the Fuse spokesperson said. Donald Trump is also expected to show up at a Fuse viewing party for the episode.


Sound Branding

The Independent Film Channel regularly offers distinctive programming. Now it also has its own signature sound. IFC, part of Cablevision's Rainbow Media, has cut a deal with the Grammy-winning band Green Day to use the song "Jesus of Suburbia" as its anthem. The song's three-chord theme will be for IFC what the familiar three-note chime is for NBC, said Evan Shapiro, general manager and executive VP of IFC. The song will be used in promos, bumpers and credit rolls on the network. Mr. Shapiro said the band's independent spirit in creating a nine-minute song unlikely to be played on most commercial radio stations echos the new "TV Uncut" theme at IFC, which runs its movies uncensored and without commercial interruption. He also thinks Green Day and the station have the same punk rock sensibility. Green Day must have agreed: "The bill for the song right wasn't very big," Mr. Shapiro said. Does Mr. Shapiro have a punk rock sensibility? "I love all kinds of music," he said, admitting, "I like Barry Manilow too."