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Feb 20, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Twentieth puts ‘Texas Justice’ on docket

Having gone two for two with a pair of courtroom strips in the past two years, Twentieth Television is picking up the gavel once again with “Texas Justice.”

After a quiet National Association of Television Program Executives conference last month, the distributor, as expected, will shift toward a slow rollout beginning with the new court show.

“Texas Justice” will roll out in late March on six Fox owned-and-operated stations: Dallas’ KDFW-TV, Atlanta’s WAGA-TV, Houston’s KRIV-TV, Birmingham, Ala.’s WBRC-TV, Memphis, Tenn.’s WHBQ-TV and Greensboro, N.C.’s WGHP-TV. The strip will be taped at KRIV-TV in Houston. Houston lawman Larry Joe Doherty will preside over the half-hour program.

Former “Forgive or Forget” Executive Producer Kathryn Levine has been tapped as executive producer of “Texas Justice,” which will be produced by Schrodinger’s Cat Productions in association with Twentieth Television. Other regional shows are also in the development pipeline as the syndicator moves forward in testing regional rollouts.

Court won’t consider challenge to ownership cap: The U.S. Supreme Court declined Tuesday to consider Time Warner’s challenge of the Federal Communications Commission’s cable ownership rules, which bar cable operators from reaching more than 30 percent of the nation’s video service subscribers.

The court’s decision lets stand a lower court ruling that upheld the constitutionality of the FCC restrictions. Time Warner has argued that the rules, part of the 1992 Cable Act, violate the First Amendment rights of cable companies by restricting their ability to reach all consumers. The company has drawn an analogy to newspapers, emphasizing that the courts would never limit the amount of newspaper subscribers nationwide.The Supreme Court did not explain why it won’t take the case. In a separate case, AT&T and Time Warner have a pending challenge against the FCC’s cable ownership rules in the U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, and that body is expected to issue a decision soon.

In addition to challenging the ownership cap, the parties want the court to vacate the FCC’s cable attribution rule. That rule requires cable companies to count toward their ownership caps all investments in which they own 5 percent or more of the voting equity even if they don’t control how the systems are run.

Digital TV hearing set for March 1: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has announced a hearing March 1 to review the progress the industry is making in its transition to digital television. At deadline, no witness list was available, and a source close to the lawmaker said the focus for the hearing has yet to be set in stone.

“It’s just time for us to get a status report on how the transition is going or not going,” said Pia Pialorsi, a spokeswoman for the Senate Commerce Committee. But among the issues that could be aired is whether recent industry tests were a sham stacked in favor of the existing U.S. DTV standard. “I would be surprised if it doesn’t come up in one form or another,” an industry source said.

NASCAR ratings speed up: Taking a back seat to the news of the death of racing superstar Dale Earnhardt at the end of the Daytona 500 on Sunday was the news that the overnight ratings for the debut of the fabled NASCAR race on Fox were the highest since at least 1986. The four-hour broadcast averaged an 8.4 rating/19 share in Nielsen’s 49 metered markets. That’s up 11 percent from a year ago, when the Daytona 500 was on CBS and scored a 7.6/18 in the overnights.

The fast nationals ordered up by Fox held even better news. True to pattern, the race performed better than it did in the metered markets, averaging a 10.0 /24, up 19 percent from the weekend’s overnights and 19 percent from last year’s 8.4/22 national average to notch the biggest audience for the race since a 10.5/29 in 1979.

In demos, the year-to-year improvement was even more striking. Sunday’s race scored a 9.0 among men 18-35 (up 50 percent from last year), a 10.6 in men 18-49 (up 20 percent) and an 11.4 in men 25-54 (up 30 percent).

Fox’s NASCAR team, many of whom had been close to Mr. Earnhardt, was mourning his death even as it had to plan for this weekend at Rockingham, the focal point of 81/2 hours of programming for Fox Sports Net, FX and Fox.

FSN to air Earnhardt services: Fox Sports Net has scheduled a live telecast from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday to incorporate a private memorial in Charlotte, N.C., for NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, who was killed in a crash during the final moments of Sunday’s Daytona 500. Fox NASCAR announcers Mike Joy and Ken Squier will host the commercial-free program.

McTavish top writer for ‘General Hospital’: ABC has added Emmy-winning Megan McTavish as a head writer of “General Hospital,” effective March 5. Current head writer Michele Val Jean is expected to remain in that role and Elizabeth Korte is to continue as “GH” writer. Succeeding Ms. McTavish as head writer at “One Life to Live” are Lorraine Broderick (“Port Charles”) and Chris Whitesell (“Sunset Beach”).

XFL ratings drop again: The XFL continues to be sacked in the Nielsen Media Research ratings. Overnights from Nielsen’s 49 metered markets show the XFL on UPN Sunday night averaged a 2.0/3, down 29 percent from the previous Sunday.

That performance, on top of a 25 percent week-to-week drop in the overnights for Saturday’s XFL broadcast on NBC-which averaged only a 3.8/7 in the overnights-had TV sports circles buzzing with dark predictions about the outlook for the league. There was also concern about the impact on NBC-which co-owns the XFL with World Wrestling Federation Entertainment-of back-to-back steep ratings drops.

Last weekend’s NBC game finished mere minutes before 11 p.m. (ET) Saturday, thus assuring that “Saturday Night Live” would start on time.

Although some observers predict the ratings will now level out, that would leave NBC about 1 rating point below its Saturday night projections and force the network to decide whether to tweak the World Wrestling Federation-style aspects or the “smash-mouth” football elements. Because the level of play has been roundly criticized as being unable to hold football fans’ interest, some onlookers say NBC’s only option is to pander to the wrestling audience to halt further ratings erosion.

Even though preliminary nationals show NBC finished fourth for the night in the 18 to 49 demo, the network still expects to claim the demo crown for the February sweeps.

No spring Fox meeting: Another spring affiliates convention has bitten the dust. Fox Network Distribution President Robert Quicksilver notified affiliates last week that instead of a daylong gathering in Los Angeles in June, they’ll be invited to tune in to a satellite videoconference. Slumping attendance at “stand-alone” affiliates meetings the past two years was the main reason for the decision, a Fox Broadcasting spokesman said.

“This way, all the affiliates can attend the affiliates meeting without incurring additional expense,” a Fox spokesman said.

All affiliates will get a live closed-circuit feed of Fox’s 2001-02 upfront presentation to advertisers in mid-May, and the affiliate board of governors will meet with network executives in New York that week. The next full-fledged affiliates gathering is set for next January at the National Association of Television Program Executive conference. A similar meeting was held in Las Vegas last month on the eve of NATPE and was judged a success.

Cullie Tarleton, senior vice president/television and cable, Bahakel Communications and the chairman of the Fox board, said Tuesday he’d much prefer Fox invest in sports and entertainment programming than spend “unnecessary dollars” to put on a big spring show for affiliates. “How much razzle dazzle does one need?” he asked.

NBC two weeks ago canceled the annual affiliates convention that had been scheduled for New York the week of the network’s upfront and said it instead would meet at the National Broadcaster Association convention in Las Vegas in April and would schedule regional meetings with stations later in the year.

TNN to close Thunder Stores: Unable to find a suitable buyer, TNN: The National Network within the next 45 days will close all 11 NASCAR Thunder Stores the cable channel has operated throughout the country since May 1996. “Branded entertainment retailing is a depressed marketplace, and closing these stores presented the best results for us,” Bob Bakish, executive vice president, MTV Networks, said Tuesday in the announcement that acknowledged, “Retailing is not a core business for MTV Networks.”Gemstar inks deal with Charter: Gemstar-TV Guide signed a long-term interactive program guide agreement with Charter Communications. Terms of the deal provide that Charter will continue to deploy Gemstar’s patented TV Guide Interactive in additional cable markets.#

BRIEFLY NOTED

A&E Television Networks acquired Genealogy.com, a developer of software for genealogy research on the Internet Court TV projects it will reach the 55-million-subscriber mark by mid-March, adding that recent cable carriage deals with Adelphia and Charter Communications will push it over the mark Bravo has signed Mercedes-Benz USA and Worldcom as sponsors for Bravo’s annual IFP/West Spirits Awards Film Festival, which premieres March 24.#