Moonves foresees Eye sweeps win
CBS Television Network President Leslie Moonves projected that Eye Network would come out with wide margins of victory in households, total viewers and the adults 25 to 54 demographic for the February sweeps. Most notably, Mr. Moonves predicted that CBS will finish the sweeps with a 9.4 rating in households over NBC’s 8.6 and ABC’s 8.4 averages as well as beat each network by “more than 1 million” in total viewers.
In addition to citing strong gains on Saturday through Monday nights, Mr. Moonves cited the obvious-that “Survivor: The Australian Outback” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” improved the once-languid Thursday night by 96 percent in total viewers and 226 percent in adults 18 to 49.
On the subject of “Survivor II,” Mr. Moonves played coy on the series’ finale date-though it is expected sometime in the May sweeps. He also suggested the momentum of “Survivor” and the network’s freshman crop of strong performers-including “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” “The District” and “Yes, Dear”-will have CBS similarly winning in households and total viewers in May.
Mr. Moonves also noted that the network had closed a two-year renewal (through the 2002-03 season) on Monday night comedy staple “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which is rumored by sources to be garnering $3 million per episode for the next two seasons.
Unrelated to the sweeps, Mr. Moonves issued a terse statement on rumors that former President Bill Clinton had successfully lobbied CBS to pay a $1 million penalty to series producer and friend Harry Thomason for canceling the short-lived 1994 sitcom “The Good Life.”
“I have had numerous chats with President Clinton, who has been a good friend for a long time,” Mr. Moonves said. “No business decisions were ever arrived out of our conversations. He said he is a friend [of Mr. Thomason] and to be nice to him, though.”
USA tied for first in cable ratings: USA Network tied for cable’s top-rated slot in prime time in February, posting a 2.0 rating, according to an analysis of Nielsen Media Research statistics provided by Discovery Networks. The bad news for USA-its viewership dropped 17 percent from last year. TBS Superstation, which also posted a 2.0 rating, boosted its viewership 18 percent. Lifetime Television grabbed third place with a 1.9 rating, up 27 percent.
Trail Blazers to launch HDTV channel: The Portland Trail Blazers announced plans for the summer launch of Action Sports Cable Network, a high-definition cable TV sports channel. As a commitment to HDTV, ASCN will build a 53-foot state-of-the-art HDTV truck, the only one of its kind west of the Mississippi River.
Carr heads to WFLA: NBC affiliate WFLA-TV, Tampa, Fla., has hired Forrest Carr as news director. He fills the NBC vacancy left by Dan Bradley, who was promoted to Media General vice president of news. Mr. Carr comes from ABC affiliate KGUN-TV, Tucson, Ariz., where he spearheaded the Viewer’s Bill of Rights, which the news department adheres to when covering stories.
Drake exits Sinclair: Barry Drake, CEO of Sinclair Television, resigned Tuesday. He will continue his duties until May 31. Mr. Drake has been CEO since June 1999. Sinclair Broadcast Group announced it is beginning the search for a successor. Sinclair has 62 television stations in 40 markets.
Tish takes post at WRWB: Tish Robinson has been named general manager of WRWB-TV, Rochester, N.Y. WRWB is jointly owned by The WB network and Time Warner Cable.
NBC stays with XFL game plan: During a February sweeps conference call, NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa reaffirmed that the network is sticking with its “two-year arrangement” to carry the XFL in Saturday prime time next season despite a 70 percent ratings decline during the past three weeks. Mr. Sassa and Jeff Zucker, NBC’s recently installed entertainment president, expressed continued support of NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol and World Wrestling Federation founder Vince McMahon’s efforts in “retooling” the nascent football league.
Mr. Zucker said the XFL programming partners are “concentrating on building personalities” around XFL players, coaches and announcers. He cited the on-field squabble Saturday between announcer (and Minnesota Gov.) Jesse Ventura and the head coach of the New York/New Jersey Hitmen as an example of the WWF-style sideline antics being implemented to potentially spike the XFL’s ratings.
As for the February sweeps (with two nights left), Mr. Sassa predicted NBC will win in adults 18 to 49 at a 5.4 rating, about 4 percent ahead of Fox’s 5.2 rating in the key demo. While also noting that “Friends” held up to CBS’s “Survivor: The Australian Outback” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” Mr. Zucker said the Peacock’s overall “Must-See TV” Thursday lineup came in with a 10.3 rating average among adults 18 to 49 compared with a 10.4 rating in the year-ago sweeps.
Mr. Sassa also expressed support for “Friends” star Matthew Perry, who entered a drug rehabilitation center Monday for treatment. Mr. Sassa said the “Friends” star had already planned to go on a two-week hiatus to finish filming a part in a movie and that production is not immediately expected to affect the hit Thursday show.
On midseason scheduling moves, Mr. Zucker said British game show import, “The Weakest Link,” will get an April 16 start in the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) time period as part of a Monday evening revamping that also includes new drama “First Years” going in the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. slot starting March 19. Also on the slate is the March 6 start of comedy “The Fighting Fitzgeralds” on Tuesdays. (It will start at 8:30 p.m., then move to an 8 p.m. after that.)
Fox predicts best February sweeps demo ever: Concurring with NBC estimates, Fox Television Entertainment Group Chairman Sandy Grushow expects that Fox posted a second-ranked 5.2 rating in adults 18 to 49 (only about 4 percent off NBC’s 5.4 rating) for its best February sweeps finish ever in the demo. In addition, Gail Berman, president of Fox Entertainment Group, said that on a season-to-date basis, the network’s 4.6 rating in adults 18 to 49 is just one-tenth of NBC’s lead (4.7 rating).
Moreover, with Fox expected to holding a commanding lead in adults 18 to 34 (5.5 rating) and teens (4.2 rating) for the February sweeps, Ms. Berman said Fox has added the “most scripted series hits”-including newcomers “Boston Public,” “Dark Angel” and “Grounded for Life”- to its schedules of any of the networks. She said the accomplishment came despite all the ratings and press coverage accorded to Wednesday reality hit “Temptation Island.”
In regard to “Temptation Island,” Ms. Berman and Mr. Grushow were coy on when and if a second installment of the reality series will air. Ms. Berman gave, however, an indication there is no immediate rush, and the network may wait until next fall before doing another version of the mate-swapping series.
Ms. Berman noted that on the immediate front burner, “The Lone Gunmen” will kick off in the 9 p.m. (ET) Sunday slot (temporarily in place of “The X-Files”) starting March 4. Reality series “Boot Camp” is set to begin March 8 in the 9 p.m. time slot, but Ms. Berman said no concrete date has been set on “Love Cruise,” which is still in post-production and is considered a possible May sweeps entry.
Disney pops up with new platform: The Walt Disney Co says it has a strong appetite for entertainment news. At a news conference in New York, officials announced Tuesday that to satisfy that hunger, the media giant is buying a 50 percent stake in Wenner Media’s US Weekly magazine, which will serve as an entertainment platform for a variety of Disney vehicles. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Disney Chairman Michael Eisner said US will serve as an entertainment news resource for several Disney on-air properties, including ABC’s daily morning talk show “Good Morning America” and women’s talk show “The View.” He said US may eventually be tapped to run segments on “The Regis Philbin Show.”
In addition, ABC will run an annual entertainment awards special under the “US” moniker. Mr. Eisner said US will also serve as
a resource for ABC’s owned TV and radio stations. Disney’s fledgling cable network SoapNet will run weekly US-branded interstitials featuring soap-opera-themed content.
“We have a voracious appetite for information on a national basis about what consumers are interested in,” Mr. Eisner said. Wenner Media also publishes Rolling Stone and Men’s Health magazines.
Friendly exits King World: Andy Friendly, president of first-run programming and development at King World Productions/CBS, said Tuesday he is leaving to pursue other interests, including teaching, consulting and possibly producing. He was in the post for 51/2 years. “Andy has been a valuable asset to the company, and with his guidance in the areas of development and production, he has helped to grow King World’s image for quality programming,” said King World Chairman Roger King.
Disney Web unit cuts 135 positions: The Walt Disney Internet Group has eliminated about 135 staff positions across its organization. Positions were eliminated primarily from the Internet group’s technology organization, ABCNews.com and ABC.com, and cover the areas of operations, technology, marketing, sales support, administration and human resources in the North Hollywood, Calif., Seattle and New York offices.
Showtime has new movies, new channels: Showtime Networks announced its next slate of original movies that have been greenlighted for production. Titles include “Adam Clayton Powell,” “10,000 Black Men Named George,” “The Judith Exner Story,” “Off Season,” “The Wilde Girls,” “Bobbie’s Girl” and “I Was a Teenage Faust.” Showtime also said its three newest digital channels-Showtime Next, Showtime Women and Showtime Family Zone-will launch March 1.
HGTV plans ‘Renovations’: Home & Garden Television has ordered “Renovations,” a new prime-time series to launch in the fall. Produced by Banyan Productions, “Renovations” is a road show that visits classic American homes across the United States to witness work done on the properties. HGTV also renewed orders for six of its existing series produced by Banyan, including “Birth Day” and “A Makeover Story.”
Murdoch: DirecTV talks move ahead: News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch said Tuesday that negotiations for the purchase of DirecTV are “moving slowly ahead” but, citing regulatory constraints, refused all prodding by Charlie Rose to address the deal specifically.
Mr. Murdoch spoke during a session at the day-long “Front Row” industry conference in Manhattan that would end with an appearance by former President Bill Clinton, whose growing pardon controversy had led Variety co-sponsor Credit Suisse First Boston to pull its signage from the conference premises.
Although Mr. Murdoch adroitly avoided direct comment on DirecTV talks, he did attempt to downplay the perception that the absence of a satellite delivery company in the United States, with its population of 260 million, would leave a critical hole in his company’s global multimedia platform.
“We can build a very great company outside this country,” he said, but nonetheless, “I think we’ve got to be using every medium we can,” he said, and at one point declared: “The future is broadband.”
On other subjects, he said:
–He’s not worried about competing with AOL Time Warner, because “I don’t really believe in their synergies,” because the Internet audience has lost interest in browsing, and AOL’s model is built on browsing.
–He thinks Microsoft will win a reversal of the court-ordered breakup because the government can’t prove that the public is hurt by its dominance.
–He thinks automakers will increase their advertising on TV in the second quarter, because they can’t “survive” without it.
–President George W. Bush “seems to be a man of humility and common sense.”
“I like him,” said Mr. Murdoch, who said he favors a tax cut that would help the middle class.
–The succession of power at News Corp. “is not totally set.”
Mediacom purchases systems: Cable operator Mediacom Communications is buying AT&T Broadband-owned cable systems in Georgia, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri for $2.2 billion in cash, which will double the size of Medicacom to 1.6 million subscribers.
WHO IS NEWS
Scott Barton to director, subscription video on demand, Starz!-Encore, Englewood, Colo., from director of national accounts for On Demand.
Kathy Quatrone to executive vice president and general manager, Discovery Health Channel, Bethesda, Md., from senior vice president of programming and production.
Ray Giacopelli to senior vice president, research, USA Cable, New York, from vice president of research.#