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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