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TelevisionWeek is teaming up with TV industry veteran Marianne Paskowski. The blog will give Marianne a forum to convey her deep knowledge of the industry and pass along some of the juicy morsels she's hearing on the grapevine. Marianne has covered the TV industry from the inside out and top to bottom, and TVWeek's readers are bound to benefit from her sharp eyes, ears and wit. TVWeek.com invites readers to jump online, chime in and pick Marianne's brain on the latest industry news.

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October 2006 Archives

Cable Can’t Shed Darth Vader Image

October 31, 2006 4:46 PM

After spending millions to improve customer service, cable still has a long way to go. In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal’s special report on customer service cable TV, satellite TV and newspapers scored at the bottom of the heap, with consumers ranking all three equally with only 63 percent levels of satisfaction. The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business conducted the survey to rank customer satisfaction scores among different industries. There are some shockers here.

Perhaps 63 percent in 2006 is an improvement for cable, an industry which has always been singled out for shoddy customer service. Back in the early '90s, TCI's then president John Malone truly earned the moniker "Darth Vader." Years later there was the Jim Carey flick "The Cable Guy," which took potshots at cable's shoddy customer service. And then there was the recent infamous story about a real Comcast installer who fell asleep on the job, only to be recorded by the upset customer who posted the video online.

Even the airline industry, and this is the shocker, ranked higher than cable, satellite and newspapers, albeit by not much, scoring a 65 percent level of satisfaction. Given everyone’s near universal hate of the commercial air carriers that have consistently cut service and upped prices, a 63 percent satsfaction for cable, satellite and newspapers is downright awful.

Advice to Limbaugh: Zip It

October 25, 2006 1:42 PM

Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh is a spiteful zealot, attacking Michael J. Fox, who now appears in a political TV ad supporting urging viewers to support stem cell research by voting for Democratic candidates in Maryland, Missouri and Wisconsin.

The ad is spellbinding, showing the ravages that Parkinson’s disease has taken on Fox and how infirm he really is, unable to control movement of his body. Limbaugh told his radio listeners that Fox was “acting or didn’t take his medication.”

Preposterous. I saw the actor in New York just several years ago, where he was attending a dinner to accept an industry award onstage for his role in the popular series “Family Ties.”
Sitting at a table beside him, I saw the difficulties he had handling silverware and noticed that his speech was labored as well. And it was with great difficulty that he got to the stage to address the public. That, Mr. Limbaugh, I assure you was not “acting.”

The actor should be applauded for his activism. He formed the Michael J. Fox Foundation to advance stem cell research, especially for Parkinson’s disease, for which there is no cure yet, and has lobbied in Washington to support his cause.

Limbaugh later gave a half-baked apology, saying the actor is being exploited and is “shilling” for a Democrat. Limbaugh is the real shill here, using the public airwaves to pander to the right wing.

An Event Planner's Worst Nightmare

October 24, 2006 1:11 PM

Imagine the angst at the Center for Communications, which back in July announced that it would be roasting Tom Freston—who was then Viacom’s president and CEO—at an Oct. 25 lunch in New York bestowing its annual Frank Stanton Award.

But Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone threw a bit of monkey wrench into the plan by firing Freston right after Labor Day. “We couldn’t even try to sell tables for several weeks because we didn’t know if he [Freston] was going to accept the award,” says Catherine Williams who handled details for the lunch.

But tomorrow the roast will go on at the Pierre Hotel in New York. While it’s starting to look like an SRO affair, Williams assures there are still some seats left for the tune of $1,000 apiece.

And what does $1,000 get you besides a plateful of rubber chicken?

Well Comedy Central’s on-air wagster Stephen Colbert will be among the roasters, sharing the stage with Time Warner’s major-domo Jeff Bewkes and MTV President Judy McGrath, among other media luminaries.

Gee, given the cost of admission, Freston, who walked away from Viacom with nearly $80 million in severance and stock options, can afford to buy up those remaining seats for a few of his pals, don’t you think?

So Where’s the 12-Step Program?

October 18, 2006 1:47 PM

A new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine that hit the Internet this week finds than more than one in eight American adults cannot stay away from the Internet for several days, and may be addicted.

Days? Try hours.

At least in the case of those of you who are creating viral video and other new digital content to expand your brand online, or bloggers like me who feed the voraciously hungry Internet beast too.

So take the first step today and admit, “I am an Internet addict.” Researchers at Stanford warn that signs of Internet addiction include a disregard for health or appearance—yikes, I forgot to floss after lunch today. Internet addiction results in less physical activity—yep, I’ve already decided to blow off the gym today because I’m staring down the double-loaded barrel of two deadlines.

Internet addiction can also decrease social interaction with others—hmm, do you think that includes spending time on social networking sites like MySpace? I’ll ponder that while I take step two to the cure and floss.

But first, a quick e-mail check.

Fox News Scores Victory With Cablevision

October 17, 2006 3:49 PM

The Fox News Channel, which just turned 10 years old, has reason to celebrate, having just cut a hefty carriage renewal deal with multiple-system operator Cablevision Systems for more than 75 cents per subscriber, according to published reports.

That’s far more than what industry speculators were wagering just weeks earlier because Fox, which was getting 25 cents per subscriber when it first launched, is now seeking a hefty $1 per subscriber. Most mavens had bet that Fox would get 55 cents to 60 cents per subscriber, reasoning that because the lower-rated CNN gets about 50 cents per subscriber, Fox should do a little better. All pointed to how Cablevision could play hardball during negotiations and expected a prolonged battle with Fox.

Well, that turned out to be a short-term battle of the wills. While that is a significant and well-deserved victory for Fox given its rapid growth from nowhere, remember Cablevision is relatively small potatoes. The MSO only serves 3 million subscribers and might not be a harbinger of what lies ahead. Coming up will be more protracted negotiations, I would gamble, when Fox deals with the nation’s largest MSO, Comcast Cable Communications, with its some 23 million subscribers, and Time Warner Cable, the second-largest MSO, with its 14.4 million subscribers. Any other wagerers out there?

Condi Rice to Dog’s Rescue?

October 12, 2006 4:44 PM

I’m starting to feel like a terrier with a bone, still reporting on the perils of Duane Chapman, who stars in A&E’s red-hot series, “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” It’s a good thing the show is reality-based, because when it comes to his life, you just can’t make this stuff up.

Today, according to published reports, 29 members of the House of Representatives wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging that she deny a request from the Mexican government that seeking to extradite Dog to face charges of illegal detention. Dog got in a legal scrape in that country when he went there to apprehend Andrew Luster, heir to the Max Factor fortune; bounty hunting is illegal in Mexico.

I’m sure the suits at A&E are rabidly happy over this latest development and I’m sure they’ll make hay with it and we’ll soon see another episode of this reality-based show documenting his latest brush with the dog catchers, if you will. As they say in the south, “That dog can sure hunt.” And I’m also sure his many fans will be posting their delight here on this blog over the latest twist and turn in this ongoing tale.

New Two You: Ted Turner & Catherine Crier

October 10, 2006 3:09 PM

Former Time Warner CEO Ted Turner, aka “The Mouth of the South,” did not fail to disappoint at a speech he gave at the National Press Club in Washington yesterday. He uttered the usual “Turnerisms” about news reporting, nuclear policy and what happened to him when he was fired by Time Warner.

But reporters couldn’t miss who was noticeably perched on his arm: Court TV anchor Catherine Crier. Turner, 67, steered her around the room with a guiding hand, introducing her to attendees. Crier, 51, reportedly was beaming at his witty remarks, according to published reports.

This was not the first public sighting of the two together. Last month Crier accompanied him to the opening of his new bison restaurant in New York. Pictures posted on various Web sites show the two arm in arm at that event. This morning my spies at Court TV confirmed Turner and Crier have been seeing each other for about a month now.

What an interesting pairing. Both are liberal in their politics; both have long, strong roots in the cable news biz; and both have an affinity for animals. Crier is passionate about horses, but not for the purpose of supplying animal by-products for Purina Dog Chow. Turner brought back the near extinct bison to this country, now having raised a herd of 45,000, some of which become menu selections in his restaurants.

Could that potentially become a sticking point in this seemingly budding relationship? My sources doubt it because Turner raised them for environmental issues, not just to supply fresh meat for his restaurants, which came later.

Versus What?

October 5, 2006 2:58 PM

Sorry, but I’m still having trouble with the new name for OLN, formerly the Outdoor Life Network, which again changed its name, this time to Versus. When I first saw the kiosk ads for Versus at CTAM in Boston last July, I thought how odd it was that AT&T is advertising its competing U-verse video service at a cable confab.

Looking more closely, I learned Versus was the new name for OLN, a cable sports channel owned by Comcast. So I guess the new name reflects that the channel is no longer just about outdoor pastimes, but will now carry Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and America’s Cup. So Versus is now spending $10 million for a rebranding campaign using the slogan “The Competition is On.”

This new name, I predict, is going to take some time to sink in. For I just had the same reaction all over again when the company recently took out giant ads in the TV trades announcing Versus, thinking how odd is was for AT&T to promote its U-verse video service in publications read by cable and satellite services.

Am I the only one here having a problem with this new moniker?

Court TV to Cover McCowen Murder Trial

October 4, 2006 1:32 PM

Court TV’s daytime ratings are likely to see a healthy hike when jury selection begins Oct. 16 for Christopher McCowen, who has been charged with the Jan. 5, 2002, murder and rape of Christa Worthington, a prominent fashion writer. The murder of the single mother has captured national attention, given that it took four years to obtain the DNA sample from McCowen, which was a match.
Worthington was killed in her Truro home. Truro, on Cape Cod, is an isolated town, especially during the dead of winter. The small community is so remote that some homes still cannot receive cable TV.
Court TV enjoyed huge ratings spikes from its coverage of the Scott Peterson and Michael Jackson trials, but has not had a prominent trial since then. Court TV News Executive VP Marlene Dann expects this trial will be widely viewed, given the intrigue and tragedy surrounding the case.
Worthington’s body was discovered by a neighbor. Most tragically, her 2-year-old daughter Ava was found by her side, clutching her dead mother’s body. Court TV will air the trial live from Barnstable Superior Court, on the Cape, and serve as the news pool. Ms. Dann’s best estimate is that the trial could run for a month. And so far, and this could change on a dime, she warned, there are no gag orders or other coverage restrictions.