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March 2008 Archives

NBC’s Olympian Challenge

March 28, 2008 2:21 PM

Sure, NBC has the bragging rights for securing coverage of the upcoming Summer Olympic Games.

Too bad, though, that the games are being held in strife-ridden Beijing this August.

With the bragging rights comes a nonstop public relations nightmare for the Peacock and advertisers in the games. Human rights activists are already threatening boycotts, but to date not a single advertiser has pulled out. But this late in the game; according to published reports the events are only 70 percent sold out.

As Business Week points out this week, as the torch-lighting ceremonies take place and the torch makes its trek around the world to Beijing, plenty more could go wrong. Why in the world the International Olympic Committee settled on Beijing in the first place is beyond my comprehension.

First there’s the air quality issue that one marathoner contended led to his decision to sit this one out. Steven Spielberg, resigned his role as artistic adviser in the face of China’s role in the genocide in Darfur.

U.S. President George W. Bush said that he would attend for day one, but France’s president is still on the fence about supporting the games.

So PR mavens, how would you put lipstick on this pig?

NBC’s Seismic, Shifting TV Economics

March 26, 2008 12:39 PM

I was more than surprised to see that NBC Universal chieftain Jeff Zucker told the Los Angeles Times that its USA Network is “probably the single most important entity within the entire portfolio.”

That’s a wow moment. According to this article, USA, cable’s highest-rated network, posted profits of $700 million last year, compared to NBC, which posted profits of about $300 million.

Who could have predicted a cable network would ever surpass a well-established broadcast network?

The economics of a cable network’s dual revenue streams—fees from distributors that carry their shows plus the additional pop of national advertising sales—are making a major impact. I wouldn’t be surprised to soon read that other popular cable nets are surpassing other broadcast networks.

That’s a stunning fact, especially when you toss in the fact that USA also has eclipsed The CW broadcast network in viewership for the first time this quarter.

More startling, perhaps, is that NBC is selling two of its owned-and-operated television stations, WTVJ-TV in Miami and WVIT-TV in Hartford, Conn.

Not that long ago, broadcast O&Os were the cash cows for large media companies, often spinning off profits margins of 50%.

More evidence, I say, that the mass-market broadcast model is officially dead.

Discovery Gambles on Green

March 21, 2008 10:55 AM

Discovery Communications chieftain Dave Zaslav had to love the splash of largely positive ink in today’s Wall Street Journal that featured a long article about his upcoming plans to morph the existing Discovery Home into Planet Green on June 4.

The article did point out potential pitfalls, with environmentalists raising concerns about some of the misleading claims that corporations make in their eco-friendly marketing efforts, known as “greenwashing.”

As Discovery plans the announcement next month of a programming roster that includes “Emeril Green,” hosted by Emeril Lagasse in conjunction with Whole Foods Market, the new net has a larger concern, in my mind.

For whatever reason, Nielsen does not rate Discovery Home’s viewers. Nor will Discovery Green be measured as the upfront buying season begins this spring.

That’s unusual. I recall cable networks buying Nielsen ratings even though they launched with far fewer than 50 million homes. In this age of media scrutiny, I have to wonder why.

Sound suicidal? Maybe not. According to the WSJ, Discovery Green already has signed up some advertisers for the new channel, including Clorox, Whirlpool, S.C. Johnson & Son, Waste Management and General Motors.

No ‘Shock and Awe’ Five Years Later

March 19, 2008 12:17 PM

Today marks the five-year anniversary of the start of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. TV coverage of the war then was nonstop and so were appearances from Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clark, who described it as a “shock and awe” attack.

Those of us in cable could not take our eyes off the screen, as we remembered her mostly as the former head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s communications department. And there she was standing at the side of then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, explaining the role of “embedded” journalists, another contribution to the language from spin-mistress Clark.

Five years have now elapsed and the war wages on. We no longer hear about “shock and awe” or “embedded” journalists. And Clark is out of the Pentagon, having returned to the corporate world, now consulting for the nation’s largest multiple system operator, Comcast Communications.

A lot has changed in five years, with the economy, not the war, now the No. 1 issue for Americans, with the war coming in second. And that’s showing up on TV news—even today, on the five-year anniversary of a war that was supposed to be over in one year.

Today, far more airtime was devoted today to the Fed’s 75-basis-point cut in the interest rate, its bailout of Bear Sterns, the shrinking dollar and high gas prices. And that’s a mistake on the part of newsgathering organizations. After all, the price tag for this war that has killed more than 3,900 Americans is at the root of America’s economic woes.

Prelim Bids Due for Weather Channel

March 14, 2008 12:20 PM

Today is the deadline for preliminary bids for Landmark Communications’ Weather Channel and its popular Web site, weather.com. The company expects to sell those properties for a cool $5 billion, a figure industry analysts think is too steep.

Given the economic climate, and the dearth of M&A activity, I’m voting with the analysts here. CBS President-CEO Les Moonves, speaking at the McGraw Hill Media Summit this week, expressed his interest in the Weather Channel, if the price were right.

Was he signaling just what the right price was when he told attendees that CBS had a couple of billion dollars and a “pristine” balance sheet?

If so, that would be less than half of what Landmark is looking to fetch.

I’m placing my bet on NBC emerging as the winner. Published reports said interested parties include CBS, NBC, the Walt Disney Co., Time Warner, Comcast and Liberty Media.

Cable News Nets Blanket Spitzer Resignation

March 12, 2008 12:41 PM

If Osama bin Laden were captured today, odds are that the cable news nets would have run it as a crawl as they all offered minute-by-minute coverage of the resignation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who admitted that he was linked to a prostitution ring.

Of course, bin Laden was not found today, so why do I bring this up? Remember the “shoe bomber,” the terrorist who got by security onto a flight from Paris to Miami and threatened the safety of that plane shortly after 9/11? That news first appeared on a crawl on CNN, while talking heads blathered about whatever was the story du jour. Only later did it become THE news of the week.

And did you know the Capitol was briefly shut down today as a plane strayed into restricted space? The incident turned out to be pilot error, not a terrorist attack.

Indeed, the Spitzer story, a real-life morality play, makes for great TV. Spitzer, who as New York’s attorney general was widely praised for cleaning up Wall Street, in the end proved that he was not cleaner than Caesar’s wife.

And you haven’t seen the last of Spitzer, now destined forever to be remembered as Client 9 at the Emperors Club. Today all of the cable news nets, even CNBC, promised wall-to-wall specials tonight about the rise and fall of the governor, who steps down on St. Patrick’s Day.

Is this overkill?

Fox Dangles Carrot at ‘24’ Junkies

March 6, 2008 1:18 PM

Fox’s latest news—that it’s offering a two-hour preview movie of “24” this fall to bridge the gap between season six and what would have been a full yearlong delay of season seven—really isn’t a carrot.

Heck, it’s more like giving heroin to a junkie. Remember, “24” fans are addicted to this show. If the two-hour movie ends with a cliffhanger, like most episodes do, Fox will have a public relations nightmare on its hands.

Season seven was postponed, with only eight episodes of the new season shot before the prolonged writers strike.

I still think Fox should have staggered the airing of those new episodes, while producing more, and run what it has in the summer when so many eyeballs return en masse to cable.

What is so sacred about a January venue for the show’s new season?

Bam! Lagasse Spreads His Wings

March 4, 2008 12:15 PM

Chef Emeril Lagasse, long a staple of the Food Network, is extending his reach. Last year Food Network said it was suspending production of “Emeril Live,” but continuing to work with the chef and restaurant owner and renewing “The Essence of Emeril.”

That didn’t sound like good news. Late last month, Lagasse signed a $50 million deal, which could grow to $70 million if certain terms are met, with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. That means Stewart’s company will have the rights to his television shows, Web site, cookbooks and other products sold under his name. The deal does not include his stable of restaurants.

At the time, executives from Food lauded the Lagasse/Stewart deal, saying it was a win-win situation.

But is it? I don’t think so. Sure, Food still has Lagasse, but he soon will start appearing on another cable network.

Come this summer, Lagasse will have a new show on Discovery’s eco-friendly Planet Green, the new moniker for Discovery Home.

Planet Green, in conjunction with Whole Foods, will give Lagasse a nightly show that will be shot on location at the Whole Foods store in the nation’s capital. The chef will do a show using products right from the shelves and aisles of Whole Foods.

That’s an ingenious marketing ploy, and I applaud Discovery, which morphs Discovery Home into Planet Green this summer, for its creativity in grabbing a big name for the channel’s launch.