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May 2005 Archives

AOL Has High-Tech Plans for Live Aid Sequel

May 30, 2005 12:00 AM

America Online, looking to boost its standing in the world of broadband video, is close to acquiring rights to the sequel to the 1985 Live Aid concert, expected to be announced this week and held in early July in London. The anti-poverty concert, to be held on the 20th anniversary of Bob Geldof's original Live Aid, has sparked rumors that acts ranging from Pink Floyd to the Spice Girls would participate. Other possible performers include Annie Lennox, Joss Stone, Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and U2. The concert-sometimes referred to as Live 8 because it's being held at the same time as the G8 economic conference-would apparently be shown on AOL's site, with some parts available only to AOL subscribers. Portions are also expected to be sold to television outlets. AOL, which has already webcast a number of concerts, is developing several new channels, including one called "live" that will specialize in music and comedy performances. Others might feature entertainment, sports and news. AOL is in negotiations to operate "live" as a joint venture with theater and arena owner Philip Anschutz. An AOL spokesman had no comment. Mr. Geldof's organization did not return calls. --JON LAFAYETTE



Keep On Truckin'

MTV Networks is the only major basic cable group without an HD channel, but that may be about to change. The network wouldn't comment, but there is a first sign that MTV is finally getting on the HD bandwagon (or in this case, truck). MTV is building a high-definition production truck for shooting on-location events in HD, sources said. The truck is similar to mobile production facilities used by networks such as ESPN HD. With Discovery HD, TNT HD and Universal HD on the air, it seems inevitable MTV won't be far behind. The real question is: Does anybody really want to see Bam Margera in hi-def? --JAMES HIBBERD



'Idol' Ringing

By the time Carrie Underwood became the fourth "American Idol," more than half a billion total votes had been cast by phone or text messaging. "Idol" sponsor Cingular got plenty of promotion, with shots of fans texting away at the end of competition episodes. But when Blink went to last week's live finale at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, a "no cellphones" warning was given on a memo handed out with the show's tickets. A Fox spokesman said cellphones were banned because they tend to go off during performances. So were the Cingular phones shown on the show fake? Fox isn't talking, but "Idol" is shot live in Los Angeles at 5 p.m. (PT) for its East Coast airing, hours before voting is allowed from the West Coast. So anyone texting during the show is, like Ms. Underwood, performing for the cameras. A Cingular spokeswoman said it must have been a "demonstration." Blink is shocked, shocked to learn the top reality show is partially scripted. --CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA

How Moguls Meet-It Suits Them to a T

May 23, 2005 12:00 AM

When News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch made his presentation of the Steven J. Ross Humanitarian Award to Viacom's Sumner Redstone at the UJA-Federation of New York dinner last week in New York, he began by explaining how the two moguls met: "Sumner says the way to get to know someone and to make a lifelong friend is to sue him. Ask many of those here tonight. I can vouch for this." In his acceptance speech, Mr. Redstone, chairman of Viacom, said that anyone who reads the news would think Mr. Murdoch "is my nemesis." The fact is, he said, "We are engaged in take-no-prisoners conflicts at times … but let me set the record straight. We may have filed a few [lawsuits] with his name on it, [but] I respect his truthfulness and his competitive spirit. … I can now say it: Rupert is my friend." Mr. Murdoch noted that Mr. Redstone has mellowed over the years: "Sumner is now so relaxed he allows his driver to stop at yellow lights." --ALEX BEN BLOCK



Quiet Time for the Chairman

It's been more than eight weeks since Kevin Martin was promoted to chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, but he has yet to brief the media on his agenda. The agency, once a virtual publicity machine, has all but disappeared from newspaper headlines. Industry insiders say that it's not that Mr. Martin is lacking in ambition or backbone; he's just lacking a Republican majority. With the agency currently split with two Republicans and two Democrats, he can't do much of anything except contain the Democrats-and pray that the White House will soon give him his majority. "He is avoiding the press for a good reason," said Jim Quello, a former FCC chairman and commissioner. "If he can't bring anything up, he doesn't have anything to say." Sources also attribute the skinniness of the agency's action calendar in part to Mr. Martin's insistence on personally reviewing items that might generate unexpected controversy-audits he won't have to do once he gets his own staff in place. --DOUG HALONEN



Nonstory

On the Friday before the start of the upfronts, ABC hastily scheduled a last-minute press conference call for the following Monday morning, a mere hour before NBC was slated to unveil its fall lineup. No one knew what was up, particularly not NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly, who called his friend ABC Entertainment President Stephen McPherson to find out. (There was no word on whether colorful language ensued.) Someone familiar with the conversation said Mr. McPherson "seemed unclear about details" of the conference call but soon realized the scheduling was unmanageable for the press. So within a couple of hours the ABC call was canceled "due to scheduling conflicts." Days later there was still no answer to what it was to have been about. Conspiracy theorists suggested that ABC, feeling its prime-time oats this season, just wanted to jerk once-dominant NBC's chain, but that scenario was dismissed as not being ABC's kind of game. When ABC gathered the press last Tuesday morning to unveil its lineup Mr. McPherson said ABC had "jumped the gun" on a deal having nothing to do with the upfront and explained that the deal would be announced in a "week or two." Talk about your anticlimax: It turns out, according to a source, the call was supposed to reveal that the Country Music Association Awards is ending its 23-year relationship with CBS and moving to ABC in November 2006-a story reported by Daily Variety a week earlier. --MICHELE GREPPI

Reid May Still Have Some 'Wild' in Her

May 16, 2005 12:00 AM

E! Entertainment Television is in negotiations with actress Tara Reid to host the next season of "Wild On," the network's 8-year-old narrative-free travelogue series that has become girls-gone-pixilated for the basic cable set. If signed, Ms. Reid would join the ranks of perky "Wild On" hostesses Jules Asner, Brooke Burke and Cindy Taylor, who travel the world looking for the best beaches, nightclubs, parties and party people. Ms. Reid seems like a natural. She rose to fame starring in the sex comedy "American Pie" and its sequels, but has since become better known for her tabloid exploits: drinking, dancing on tables, accidentally baring her breast during a red carpet arrival and feuding with gossip columnists. Recently she has been trying to rehabilitate her image with roles such as playing a bespectacled anthropologist in the horror film "Alone in the Dark." Just last February she told the Associated Press: "You can't be a party girl forever. I'm getting older. I'm getting more mature. I've been there, done that, and now I'm ready for the next chapter of my life." Looks as though Tara will be packing her bikini for that next chapter. --JAMES HIBBERD





Family-Friendly Programming in the Pipeline

Few groups have a bigger rooting interest in which pilots the major nets pick up this week than the Family Friendly Programming Forum, set up by 40 top TV advertisers to promote shows for the whole family. For the first time all six broadcast networks participated in the program, which provides partial funding for appropriate pilots. The group had two pilots, CBS's "Clubhouse" and ABC's "Complete Savages," become series last year and has a record seven in play this year: ABC's "Commander-in-Chief" and "Soccer Moms"; CBS's "Old Christine" and "Washington Street"; UPN's "Everybody Hates Chris"; and The WB's "Halley's Comet" and the untitled Camryn Manheim project. "It's definitely going to be more than two going to series this year," said Dawn Jacobs, the forum's co-chair and VP of advertising for Johnson & Johnson. "Everybody had a much better understanding of what we were looking for." The forum will also be rooting for the return of the three shows it currently has on the air: The WB's "Gilmore Girls," ABC's "8 Simple Rules" and NBC's "American Dreams." --WAYNE FRIEDMAN



Software Hardball

Marketron, which provides sales, traffic and business intelligence tools, used to have the broadcast station market mostly to itself. Then in 2003 some former employees founded OneDomain and offered a competitive line of products. That brought several lawsuits against OneDomain and the former Marketron employees. In a press release, Marketron CEO Mike Jackson said: "We now know that OneDomain has copied substantial amounts of the source code for our products." In the most recent suit, filed last week, Marketron sued on behalf of its Tapscan subsidiary, alleging the theft of computer codes. Through its attorney and OneDomain President Ed Salgado, the company denies it stole anything or is infringing on copyrights. Two years ago Marketron reported it served more than 900 stations. OneDomain now serves more than 150 stations, virtually all taken away from Marketron. --DAISY WHITNEY

Click Those Gold Clogs for Luck, Martha!

May 9, 2005 12:00 AM

No, Martha Stewart is not showing off the electronic-monitoring ankle bracelet she has to wear for five months as a condition of her probation following a conviction for lying about a stock trade. She was showing off her footwear during a press conference May 2 in New York with producer Mark Burnett and others to announce details about "Martha," her syndie strip that launches Sept. 12. Ms. Stewart teased the audience of advertisers and press by hiking a pant leg to show off her shiny gold clogs, which she called "my lucky shoes." That made Blink wonder why they were lucky, so we put in a call to Ms. Stewart and her reps ... and another call ... or three. Finally, we got a cryptic response. The shoes are lucky, we were told, because they were a gift from a colleague. But why does that make them lucky? No other info was available, Blink was told. So we will wait for September and hope that Ms. Stewart wears her gold clogs again and that someone happens to ask why they are so lucky. Maybe the answer is simply "They are not prison issue"-but we're only speculating. --ALEX BEN BLOCK and MICHELE GREPPI



Pilot Prevention



Normally at this time of year, despite the major networks' effort to control circulation, there is an informal pipeline among agents, managers and executives for video tapes of pilots under consideration for the fall. This year, however, sources say the exchange has virtually halted. CBS, under Leslie Moonves, has long been like Fort Knox, keeping a tight lid on any leaks. Now other networks are keeping pilot tapes under tight controls as well. They're concerned about negative buzz harming their projects. Post-production staffers have been warned illicit copying can carry legal ramifications, while talent agents, eager to see their clients' work, have been given limited access or have been told to attend private, network-approved screenings. The secrecy has some industry insiders fuming. "It all gets out anyway," said one exec, noting that by mid-May the pilots will be seen industrywide. "If it's a good pilot," fumed the exec, "it doesn't really matter." --CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA



Lightning Rod



Last week a group called the New Millennium Research Council, founded in 1999, issued a study that made a case for media ownership deregulation. "Overly restrictive federal ownership guidelines seeking to remedy ... misplaced concerns about media ownership and content are now dysfunctional fixes for a phantom problem," a press release quoted the author, Benjamin Compaine, as saying. What the release didn't say is that the council is an arm of Capitol veteran Sam Simon's for-profit political consulting group, Issue Dynamics, whose list of "past and present" clients includes, according to its Web site, Verizon, Comcast and SBC Communications.

Mr. Simon, who began his career as a consumer watchdog, is a lightning rod because he continues to operate on both sides of the fence, heading a watchdog group, the Telecommunications Research & Action Center, while also working on behalf of big corporations. As for this study, Mr. Simon would say only that it was sponsored by a client whose identity is confidential. "I hope it will promote close scrutiny," said Mr. Simon, "and will provoke robust discussion among those who agree and disagree with it." That isn't the way it appears to some watchdog groups battling media concentration and deregulation. As Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, put it: "Such industry-sponsored studies must be dismissed as pure propaganda." --DOUG HALONEN

Veteran Broadcaster Slams Cable as Fable

May 2, 2005 12:00 AM

Hearst-Argyle Television President David Barrett, a veteran of both radio and TV broadcasting, is known as a strong advocate for viewers and the public interest, but last week he took on an added role: cable basher. During a call to discuss Hearst-Argyle's quarterly earnings, Mr. Barrett took a swipe at cable programmers, Turner Broadcasting in particular. He said cable's ratings data misleads advertisers into thinking that cable dominates broadcasters. "One of the great anomalies right now in the industry is all of the disinformation that's being propagated by the cable operators, and Turner in particular, about what the ratings look like," fumed Mr. Barrett, calling it an "absolute distortion" and "intellectually misleading." Mr. Barrett charged that "the myth about cable supremacy in prime-time ratings is outrageous," and said cable networks are "pulling the wool over the eyes" of advertisers. He singled out Turner as having boasted after the release of the February ratings book that cable programming delivered a 49 share during prime time, while broadcast garnered a 45. "But get this, Turner doesn't include any of the Spanish-language networks … and any independents," he said. "They include 300 cable networks, including every half-baked regional cable network and local cable channel, and it's just a totally dishonest presentation of ratings data." Mr. Barrett added that Turner also discounts data from Fox, UPN and The WB because their prime time is an hour shorter than that of the Big 3. "Advertisers don't buy the monolith of broadcast television," he said, "or the monolith of cable. They buy shows." By deadline, Turner execs did not respond to calls for comment. --JAY SHERMAN



Cheeky Pilots?

This time of year in Hollywood, pilot tapes are quietly passed around town so TV insiders can get a sense of what the competition has been up to. Scenes in two pilots made us Blink. Fox's recently picked-up "Prison Break" and NBC's period cop drama "NY-70"both included male nudity, making us wonder if those scenes will ever make it to air. NBC had no comment on a scene that briefly features the backside of star Donnie Wahlberg. "Prison Break," in production for a late summer/early fall launch, shows naked prisoners, shot from behind, lined up for a shower. A Fox spokesman said alternate scenes were shot, and that nudity on Fox is a tough sell since there is no 10 p.m. scheduling. Brief nudity is nothing new on broadcast TV (think "NYPD Blue" circa 1994), but in the wake of the Janet Jackson "wardrobe malfunction," Blink wonders if the networks will risk getting caught with their pants down. --CHRISTOPHER LISOTTA



Underpowered

The Federal Communications Commission could be deadlocked in a 2-2 vote on critical issues for months while the Senate squabbles over judicial appointments and other matters. "If they go nuclear up there [over judicial nominations in the Senate], this could take a while," said one TV veteran. "It doesn't appear that FCC commissioners are a priority of the White House," added another. With two Democrats and two Republicans-one Republican being new FCC Chairman Kevin Martin-the GOP lacks a majority. One Republican seat is vacant now. The other is occupied by lame duck Kathleen Abernathy, who is eager to move on. The incumbent Democratic is Michael Copps, whose term expires in June. He is likely to be renominated. The leading Republican candidate is Christine Kurth, deputy staff director for the Senate Commerce Committee who has the backing of Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. A new GOP favorite for the second seat is Howard Waltzman, chief counsel for the House Energy and Commerce Committee who is backed by Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. Last week Mr. Martin said he had no idea when Congress might act. "I'm excited to work with the commission colleagues I have now," he said. "I'm confident we can get through what we need to." --DOUG HALONEN