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February 2006 Archives

Is 'Fear Factor' Finished?

February 27, 2006 12:00 AM

After six seasons of bug consumption, rat cages and multistory freefalls, "Fear Factor" may have wrapped up its last gross-though-profitable challenge. Staffers on NBC's longest-running reality series are said to have moved on to their next jobs, which means newlyweds and Playboy Bunnies interested in having their heads buried in frogs for the chance to win 50 grand will have to look elsewhere. An NBC spokeswoman said production for the current season has been completed and the network has not decided whether to bring "Fear Factor" back for 2006-07. But fear not, "Factor" fans: NBC still has original, unaired episodes that will run during the summer. -Christopher Lisotta

Casting a Wide Net

During his first quarterly CBS earnings call since the network's parent company was split into CBS Corp. and Viacom, CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves slipped in a pitch for The CW, a joint venture that will result from the merger of CBS-owned UPN and Warner Bros. Television-controlled The WB. Although many local TV executives have flinched at the thought of paying reverse compensation to be affiliated with The CW, "We already have offers in many, many markets to pay reverse comp, but it is only one of the factors [in deciding who gets the nod]," Mr. Moonves said last week. "The other factor is having a very strong affiliate base." This week is expected to bring announcements of some of the stations-beyond the CBS-owned UPN-affiliated stations and the Tribune-owned WB-affiliated stations that were guaranteed affiliate status from the get-go-that will be the building blocks of that base. "That's announcements, plural," said a source close to The CW about what to expect. -Michele Greppi And Jay Sherman

Dialing for Dollars

With legislation pending to reform the nation's local TV franchising system, AT&T appeared to be winning the battle for the hearts and minds of key lawmakers last week-or at least for their wallets. According to the watchdog Center for Responsive Politics, the telephone giant has emerged as the top contributor to the campaign war chests of several legislators, including Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House telecommunications subcommittee ($12,000); Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the subcommittee's ranking minority member ($10,000); and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the House Energy and Commerce Committee's ranking minority member ($10,000). But Comcast, according to the center, gave $25,000 to score as the top contributor to Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The top contributor to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, according to the center, was News Corp., with $43,250, and AT&T was ranked third on the senator's top donor list, with contributions of $26,000. Getting honorable mentions for the cable TV industry was the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, which donated $10,000 apiece to Reps. Upton and Barton. AT&T, meanwhile, chipped in $11,000 for Rep. Barton, while Comcast donated $10,000 to Rep. Upton-enough to win the cable giant ranking as the subcommittee chairman's third-highest contributor. Said Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy: "They're buying access-not the broadband kind."-Doug Halonen

FSN: It's Just the Ticket

Fox Sports has decided that when it comes to names, nostalgia works better than numbers. The sports network is rebranding its Los Angeles-based Fox Sports West 2 as FSN Prime Ticket-a name recalling the Liberty Media-owned Prime Ticket network that covered Western regional sports from 1985 until 1996, when it was purchased by Fox parent News Corp. FSN West 2 will officially switch to its new name April 3, the Los Angeles Dodgers' opening day. "There's been some thought about it for some time about whether the '2' creates a stigma in the viewer's mind," said Steve Simpson, VP and general manager of FSN West and FSN West 2. "We did some focus groups, and there's been some confusion about whether the channel has leftovers or secondary programming that confirmed what we've suspected." FSN West will carry games of national interest, such as those involving the Los Angeles Lakers, Kings and Angels and others. Prime Ticket will be a "hyper-local channel," covering the Dodgers, Los Angeles Clippers and Anaheim Ducks as well as several college teams. Along with the renaming, West and West 2 each will be branded to closer align with their respective teams. The Los Angeles market has been a particular challenge for Fox Sports since it's the only area with two regional networks. FSN West and FSN West 2 serve Southern California, Hawaii and Nevada and are two of Fox's 18 locally managed regional sports networks. -James Hibberd

Probst the Producer

"Survivor" host Jeff Probst is one of the best-known on-air reality talents in television, but for his next adventure he is going to try to survive the tough world of producing reality programming. Mr. Probst, who wrote and directed the independent feature "Finder's Fee" in 2001, is developing a reality show for CBS with Boston-based Scout Productions ("Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"), which is making its first foray into producing for broadcast TV. The project is being described as a spiritual "Extreme Makeover," a format that is proving to be popular-ABC and reality producer Endemol Entertainment USA are developing a similar project. ABC,CBS and Scout had no comment, while Endemol did not respond by press time. As for Mr. Probst, he had no comment either. But surely he realizes there are no immunity idols in the competitive world of reality TV development. -Christopher Lisotta

G4's Daily Download

February 20, 2006 12:00 AM

Comcast-owned tech-targeted network G4 embraced podcasting early on by stocking iTunes with its flagship video-game news program "Attack of the Show," which managed to become one of the service's most-downloaded titles last year. In January G4 had more than 3.5 million downloads of video and audio podcasts, making it the top podcasting cable network. Now G4 is launching a whole daily series via podcasting-"The Daily Nut," which will highlight the Internet's latest viral videos and interesting Web sites. "We recognize the importance of nonlinear content in establishing a relationship with viewers," said G4 President Neal Tiles. -James Hibberd

ESPN Hopes Dominoes Delivers

ESPN has picked up the broadcast rights to telecast another niche sport: the World Domino Tournament, which was held last November in Las Vegas. Though it's not quite the draw of its other annual Vegas-based franchise, the World Series of Poker, ESPN hopes the competition will attract fans to its Spanish-language network, ESPN Deportes, which will debut the event in six one-hour episodes beginning next month. Then, in July, an English-language version of the tournament will run on ESPN2. "This is another milestone in our effort to provide culturally relevant programming to our Latino audience," said Traug Keller, senior VP of ESPN Deportes. "Our goal is to bring this already-made-for-TV phenomenon to light, in a similar fashion to ESPN's successful coverage of poker."-James Hibberd

Bravo's Blogging Bloke

Self-deprecating, funny, candid-all terms that do not apply to most television executives. But Bravo's Andy Cohen is not just any programming executive, he's the blogging exec, and that's key. The VP of production and programming started chronicling his thoughts on pop culture on Bravo's Web site last month. As one might expect, his take on Bravo's programming is optimistic, but he also praises plenty of non-Bravo programming and occasionally provides witty backstage Hollywood anecdotes-a particularly worthy read is his recent confessional about experiencing James Frey-like terror the time Oprah Winfrey caught him lying while he was working as a producer for "CBS This Morning." "What I don't want to be is this shill for Bravo programming, because ultimately that's going to get boring," Mr. Cohen said. "In a funny way, it's allowing us to speak directly to our viewers in an ancillary way about the programming. It's just a lot of fun."-James Hibberd

Game Without Comment

When the Houston Rockets visit the Orlando Magic on Feb. 26, the only sounds NBA TV viewers will hear are sneakers squeaking, referees' whistles blowing, balls bouncing, rims snapping and an organist entertaining the crowd. Taking a page from NBC's "Silent Game" in 1980, NBA TV is planning its first telecast without announcers. Steve Herbst, VP of programming for NBA TV, said the network will use extra enhanced microphones so viewers will be able to hear "all the stuff you hear when you're lucky enough to be that close to the game." (Viewers will hear the regular announcers in Houston and Orlando, Fla., where NBA TV will be blacked out.) The game is part of the league's Hardwood Classic games, and the Magic will wear uniforms from the 1989-90 season. "We wanted to have a little fun with that and capture the in-arena feel for the audience," Mr. Herbst said. Fun is fun, but Mr. Herbst said that if things get heated, and bad language is likely, "We'll have the ability to lower the mikes when necessary" to avoid a Super Bowl-style "audio malfunction."-Jon Lafayette

The Trouble With Q

February 13, 2006 12:00 AM

The gay-and-lesbian-themed cable channel Q Television Network is suffering financial challenges, at least in the short term. Checks to freelancers started bouncing in January, and this month most staffers were let go. New production has been halted, with Q running repeats on its entire schedule. The troubles come just months after Q nailed distribution deals in Houston and San Diego and weeks after signing a carriage agreement with Verizon's FiOS TV, the cellphone company's fiber-optic TV service, not to mention Q's prominent event sponsorship at the Sundance Film Festival. Q had no comment, but one insider said the network hoped to have new funding in place this week to meet its Feb. 15 payroll. These days things at Q are very queer indeed. -Christopher Lisotta

Speaking of Gay Programming ...

Last week Bravo announced it is partnering with PlanetOut to launch Outzone.com-the first broadband channel for gay and lesbian online viewers. Which raises the question: Is Bravo coming out of the closet? Though its executives have always denied the channel has a gay theme, the network stocks nearly as much gay-friendly content as Logo. How much hairdressing, fashion designing, making over, "Boy Meets Boy," Cirque du Soleil, Cher and Kathy Griffin can one network have and still be playing it, well, straight? "If that was the case, then [the broadband channel] would be the Bravo brand, not Outzone," said Jeff Gaspin, president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment. "Bravo has a strong gay following, and this is a way for us to super-serve that following by feeding it some of our content." Presumably the Bravo content that won't fit the PlanetOut brand will include ... um ... er ... well, we'll get back to you on that. -James Hibberd

'Speed-Dating' for Broadband

Cox executives will be shooting the arrows this Valentine's Day, when the cable operator hosts the second annual U.S.-Israel Broadband Business Exchange, an event it has billed as "speed dating" for broadband businesses. The two-day matchmaking affair, being held today and Tuesday, will pair 30-plus Israeli and Southeast U.S.-based emerging broadband technology firms with established companies such as Cox, Comcast, Charter, Concurrent, Tandberg and Turner as well as venture capitalists. Each newbie will have nine or 10 quick dates, sitting across a table from the prospective partner a la the traditional speed-dating setup, to see whether there is common ground for business partnerships or at least a second date, said Guy Cherp, manager of strategy and development for Cox. This year's event should include 600 meetings between possible mates, up from 300 last year-giving Cupid's arrow more chances to strike.-Daisy Whitney

'Star Trek': Still Dead

With UPN and The WB dissolving into The CW, some in the online message board universe are wondering if Paramount might choose this moment to resurrect the still-warm "Star Trek" franchise. A year ago UPN canceled the abysmally rated "Star Trek: Enterprise," ceasing production of any new "Trek" episodes for the first time in 19 years. Internet howling ensued. With The CW announcement, might Paramount not bring back "Trek," just like when the fantastically mediocre "Star Trek: Voyager" launched UPN in 1995? Yeah, right, like they're going to make that mistake again. "With the Paramount split, 'Star Trek' is under control of Leslie Moonves, and he's not a big 'Star Trek' fan," said one insider. "So it will still be a few years before it comes back." -James Hibberd

Hey, Hey, It's the Monkeys

Readers of TVWeek and TVWeek.com were asked to submit their choices for best Super Bowl commercial. The overwhelming top selection was CareerBuilder.com's "Monkey Party," featuring an out-of-control simian sales force. Next was the Federal Express special-effects-driven "Caveman" spot. Budweiser's (cloying to some) "Clydesdale American Dream," starring a colt who aspires to pull a beer wagon, came in third. Other mentions: the two Ameriquest ads, Budweiser's "Magic Fridge" and the Aleve spot featuring Leonard Nimoy. -Tom Gilbert

'Allie' Star Makes a Curtin Call on 'Crumbs'

February 6, 2006 12:00 AM

It pays to be nice to your subordinates. Back in the early 1980s Marco Pennette dropped out of New York University to become a production assistant on the CBS sitcom "Kate & Allie," where his duties included getting lunch for star Jane Curtin. From there, Mr. Pennette moved up in the business, eventually creating and writing comedies of his own, including ABC's current midseason sitcom, the semi-autobiographical "Crumbs," which draws from his mother's institutionalization. ABC suggested Ms. Curtin play Mr. Pennette's mother, creating a professional role reversal. "I was the one freaked out by it," he said. "She was terrific. She treated me like her boss." It has also made Mr. Pennette thoughtful of his own underlings. "I'm going to be working for them one day," he said. -Christopher Lisotta

KTLA Shares the Stealth

The video of a San Bernardino County, Calif., sheriff's deputy opening fire Jan. 29 on unarmed 21-year-old U.S. Air Force security officer Elio Carrion in Chino, Calif., following a high-speed chase has been described as "startling" and "graphic"-but it can no longer be labeled "exclusive" after a decision by KTLA-TV news director Jeff Wald. "The act was so heinous it needed to be circulated," said Mr. Wald, who obtained the tape Jan. 30 but released it to the public after exclusive airings that night and the next morning. The grainy video shows the deputy shooting Senior Airman Carrion three times from point-blank range as Mr. Carrion stands up from a crouched position following what some believe are the deputy's verbal instructions to "Get up, get up." Local resident Jose Luis Valdez shot the tape of the incident, which took place outside of his home. Police were given the original tape, but Mr. Valdez sold a copy to KTLA for an undisclosed amount. Despite criticism that repeated airings paint a bad picture of Los Angeles-area police, Mr. Wald said he felt it necessary to get the truth to the public and plans to continue showing the tape as developments in the ongoing case arise. KTLA was also the first station to air footage of Rodney King being beaten by police in 1991. -Danielle Lee

Nat Geo Channel Goes To School

In conjunction with National Geographic Channel's "The World's Most Dangerous Gang," in which "Explorer" investigates the international gang MS-13, the network is visiting one of the most dangerous places of all: high school. The network is embarking on a high school tour in several cities, where the special will be screened for ninth-graders, followed by a Q&A session with reporter Lisa Ling and local anti-gang experts. "Schools have determined that it's an important subject to meet head-on," said NGC President Laureen Ong. Naturally, cable systems are also getting in on the act, with local operators sponsoring each stop. After all, at-risk youth make up a key young male demo. -James Hibberd

The Name Game

Last week, TelevisionWeek challenged its readers to come up with a better moniker for the new CBS-Warner Bros. joint network, whose name, The CW, landed with a thud in the minds of many. The most frequent suggestions: XYZ, NOW and The WBC. One reader went for the retro name Dumont Network, while the most colorful submissions were WUP ("The WassUP Network"), NOP ("No Old People") and PWUN ("Please Watch Us Network"). The most curious submission: OBC ("Ocean Broadcasting Company"). Of course there were plenty of FM radio-style names utilizing the "The" word: The Mix, The Zone, The Choice, The Prime-and Blink's favorite, The Blend. Our thanks to all who responded. -Tom Gilbert