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Mar 19, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Viacom seeks relief from divestiture order

Viacom on Monday asked a U.S. appeals court in Washington to force the Federal Communications Commission to suspend its order that Viacom to divest itself of some TV stations by May 4 in order to comply with FCC rules prohibiting networks from reaching more than 35 percent of the country through stations they own. The 35 Viacom-controlled and CBS-controlled stations reach 41 percent of the country.

The FCC on Friday had rejected Viacom’s request to postpone the divestiture until the courts decide whether the station ownership cap is legal. Similar cable ownership caps were recently struck down by the appeals court.

Man sues ‘Will & Grace’: Jack Deamer, a Los Angeles-based interior designer, is suing NBC Studios and the producers of “Will & Grace,” claiming they based one of the sitcom’s characters on him without compensating him for use of his image. In a suit filed last Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Mr. Deamer alleges Max Mutchnick, creator and executive producer of “Will & Grace,” based the gay character of Jack McFarland (played by Emmy winner Sean Hayes) on him.

His suit also claims Mr. Mutchnick and David Kohan, also co-creator and executive producer, had allegedly promised to buy Mr. Deamer a house and a car in exchange for basing the character on him. According to the suit, Mr. Deamer had initially agreed to remain silent about his embarrassment at being portrayed as “flamboyantly gay,” in exchange for getting the new car and house, which his suit valued at more than $500,000.

An NBC spokesman declined comment, citing that the network does not talk about pending litigation and has yet to see the contents of the suit. Mr. Deamer claims he has known Mr. Mutchnick for more than a decade. At past Television Critics Association press tours, both Mr. Mutchnick and Mr. Kohan have openly said the Jack character is based on Mr. Deamer, according to various press interviews attached as exhibits in the suit.

Mr. Deamer has also claimed to have served as an occasional creative consultant on the show, but there is no listing of his name on show credits from the first three seasons, according to several database searches.

FCC suspends AT&T cable divestiture order: In a major victory for AT&T, the Federal Communications Commission late Friday evening indefinitely suspended the company’s MediaOne divestiture requirements, citing a recent appeals court decision that threw out the agency’s cable ownership caps.

Absent agency intervention, AT&T was supposed to ax its 25.5 percent interest in Time Warner Entertainment by May 19. But in a 3-1 vote, the FCC said a breather was warranted while the agency tries “to determine the relationship, if any, between the court’s decision on the ownership rules and the ownership conditions adopted in this proceeding.”

In a statement, FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the agency’s action “should not be read as eliminating the condition but only as suspending the established benchmarks for compliance pending further consideration.”

In a dissenting statement, FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani said the decision effectively eliminated the condition that AT&T divest the TWE interest: “The commission’s action once again sends the signal that it cares more about the interests of large corporations than it does about maintaining a vibrant and diverse marketplace of ideas.”

Jim Cicconi, AT&T general counsel, said the FCC action was reasonable. “We will work with the FCC as it continues to deal with the court ruling and its implications,” he said.

Microsoft launches online strategy: Microsoft formally kick-started its .NET strategy Monday with a brand of services code-named “HailStorm” that aims to help developers offer end-users the ability to better control their online experiences. HailStorm provides seamless extension across various applications, platforms, operating systems and network providers as well as providing security via a version of Microsoft’s Passport authentication technology, the company announced.

Five major partners-American Express, ClickCommerce, eBay, Expedia and Groove-showed prototypes and conceptual demos.

Cable draws men, bigger earners: Cable TV news draws viewers who make more money and are bigger Web users than broadcast TV news viewers, according to CNN’s analysis of Nielsen Media Research statistics for last year. Cable news also draws more male viewers than broadcast news.

Men make up more than half of the total composition-54 percent-of cable news viewers, compared with 38 percent for network broadcast news shows. Roughly 25 percent of cable TV news viewers make $50,000 or more in annual income compared with 15 percent of broadcast TV news viewers.

Second helping of ‘Puck’: Weller/Grossman Productions, a Los Angeles-based TV supplier of reality, informational, entertainment and documentary programming, has received an order to produce 26 more episodes of “Wolfgang Puck,” a half-hour cooking/entertainment series for the Food Network at 9 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (ET) Fridays.

The new order, which represents a second-season renewal of “Puck,” will trigger the start of production in June. Mr. Puck is the chef who redefined the restaurant experience by focusing on a celebrity clientele at his West Hollywood eatery Spago, spurring a bevy of other star-driven restaurants.

This year, Weller/Grossman, headed up by former “Entertainment Tonight” host Robb Weller and Gary Grossman, entered into an exclusive arrangement to develop and produce 300 hours of programming for the National Geographic Channel.

U.S. Open women’s final in prime time: The women’s championship of the U.S. Open tennis tournament will be broadcast for the first time in prime time, when the finalists face off at 8 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Sept. 8, in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., on CBS.

NBC exec: Sources should reflect diversity: Rod Prince, executive producer of the weekend “NBC Nightly News” editions, told his staff last week that he wants to make sure they are doing more than reporting on Census Bureau findings about the increasing diversity of the U.S. population. In a memo obtained by ELECTRONIC MEDIA, Mr. Prince reminded his staff, “It should be easy for our stories to include people of color. … Putting it another way,” read the e-mailed memo, “stories in which all the players are of the same complexion and gender should be the EXCEPTION, not the rule.”

XFL ratings sink again: The XFL on NBC Saturday night averaged a 2.1 rating/4 share in the overnights sampling of Nielsen’s 49 metered markets. That’s a week-to-week erosion of 25 percent. In New York, which got the B game featuring the hometown Hitmen nipping the Memphis Maniax at the end, the game earned a 1.3/2. If the pattern for the XFL season to date holds, the new football league will drop by 12 percent in the national ratings, which will be reported Tuesday-and which could produce an all-time low for a pro sports event on a network in prime time.

Digital copyright case heads to Supreme Court: Free-lancers will take their case for digital copyrights to the Supreme Court on March 28, after seven years of contradictory lower-court rulings.

Laurence Tribe, who took the Democratic National Committee’s Florida recount argument to the Supreme Court, will represent the defendants, which include The New York Times, Time and Newsday. Ex-special counsel Kenneth Starr is the counsel of record for the National Geographic Society, which has sided with the publishers.

Dan Sherrick, general counsel for the United Auto Workers, will represent the plaintiffs; Law firm Bredoff & Kaiser’s Lawrence Gold will present oral arguments for the free-lancers.

ABC wins Sunday: Largely going up against repeat programming and armed with classic TV stars as contestants on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” ABC pulled off rare Sunday wins in households and adults 18 to 49 Sunday night. Meanwhile, Fox’s “The Lone Gunmen” showed new signs of life in breaking two weeks of ratings erosion after temporarily debuting in “The X-Files'” 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) time slot March 4.

ABC started the evening well, with the “Wide Wo
rld of Disney” movie presentation of “Bailey’s Mistake” (3.9 rating/9 share) finishing second in adults 18 to 49 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. “Bailey’s Mistake” improved the time period by 26 percent in adults 18 to 49 and 33 percent in households (8.1/13) over last week’s “Wide World of Disney” presentation of “Princess of Thieves.”

From 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., ABC’s “Millionaire” earned a surprising win in adults 18 to 49 (6.4/14) in addition to its typical household victory (14.0/21), improving 33 percent and 16 percent, respectively, over its previous week’s performance. The first classic TV star edition of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” topped its hour by nearly 11 million total viewers (21.2 million vs. 10.3 million for the CBS telefilm “For the Love of Olivia”).

Fox’s “The Lone Gunmen” eked out a second-place finish in adults 18 to 49 (4.8/11) and came in first in adults 18 to 34 (4.9/13). “Gunmen” improved 12 percent in adults 18 to 49 and 9 percent in adults 18 to 34 over its previous week’s returns.

A typically strong top-ranked 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. close from “The Practice,” averaging 7.2/18 in adults 18 to 49 and 12.9/21 in households, sealed ABC’s wins in adults 18 to 49 (5.3/13) and households (10.8/17) for the evening. Despite airing repeat comedies from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Fox was down only 4 percent week to week in adults 18 to 49 (5.1/13) and 5 percent in households (6.0/9).

NBC, after suffering from a dismal 2.5/6 average March 11 because of the poorly received miniseries “The Lost Empire, Part 1,” jumped 64 percent in adults 18 to 49 (4.1/10) for the evening thanks to a repeat of the John Travolta-Nicolas Cage movie “Face/Off” (4.5/11). CBS, airing “For the Love of Olivia” for a 2.1/5 in adults 18 to 49, dropped 21 percent week to week to a bottom-ranked 2.9/7 in adults 18 to 49.

XM satellite in orbit: XM Satellite Radio on Sunday announced the successful launch of its first satellite, XM “Rock.”

The first signals from the satellite were captured by a ground station in Australia at 6:43 p.m. (ET), as planned. XM will create and package up to 100 channels of digital-quality sound and provide coast-to-coast coverage of music, news, sports, talk, comedy and children’s programming.

Investors include DirecTV, Clear Channel Communications, General Motors, American Honda Motor Co. and Motient Corp., its largest shareholder.

Blowouts hurt NCAA numbers: A weekend full of blowout games contributed to a 9 percent drop from last year’s record low in the overnights for the first four days of the NCAA college basketball tournament on CBS. A CBS Sports spokeswoman predicted that the four-day average of 5.2/12 would perk up when fast nationals were reported later Monday.

The NCAA coverage faced stiff competition Sunday from NASCAR on Fox, which averaged a 5.2/12 in the overnights opposite a 4.9/12 for head-to-head NCAA coverage, and Tiger Woods’ win at the Bay Hill Invitational on NBC, which peaked with a 7.9 rating in its last half-hour. (NCAA coverage that half-hour earned a 6.3.)

No sound of silence Wednesday on ‘Letterman’: Paul Simon, who was to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Monday night, is stepping into the hole created when fellow inductees Aerosmith, citing scheduling conflicts, pulled out of Wednesday’s “Late Show With David Letterman.” That night’s show will be headlined by Jerry Seinfeld, who is making his first stand-up appearance on TV since 1998.

NCTA to FCC: Interactive TV rules a mistake: The National Cable Television Association told the Federal Communications Commission Monday that interactive TV regulation would be a major mistake.

The NCTA filing noted that “ITV’s development is nowhere near as far along as cable modem services, which the commission has wisely refrained from regulating.” Studies by Harvard Law School professor Einer Elhauge and Georgetown University economics professor Marius Schwartz demonstrate that premature government regulation would forestall rather than promote interactive TV development.

The filing also pointed out jurisdictional challenges faced by FCC proposals to regulate the ITV marketplace. “Regulatory intervention is justified only when there is an identifiable failure in the marketplace,” the NCTA noted. “Here there is not even an identifiable market, let alone an identifiable failure in the market.”

More Benedek: NewsProNet.com has announced 12 more Benedek stations have been added to the eight Benedek stations that already receive the SweepsFeed service, which gives stations in-depth stories on various topics.

The stations will also receive the “Know More” brand, which is a Web site within a station’s Web site for viewers to look up additional information on the SweepsFeed pieces.

WRTV meteorologist to retire: Bob McLain, chief meteorologist at ABC affiliate WRTV, Indianapolis, will retire Tuesday after 30 years at the station. The station will air tributes to Mr. McLain on Tuesday’s 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts.

Charter buys Cable USA systems: Charter Communications is buying nearly all of Cable USA’s cable systems for $99.5 million. Charter, which will pay $45 million in cash and the remainder in converted preferred stock, gets 32,000 cable subscribers on systems in Nebraska, Minnesota and Colorado.

BET to show three original films: Black Entertainment Television will premiere the next three of its Arabesque Films original movies starting in April. The new titles are “Fire & Ice,” “Commitments” and “One Special Moment.” The films will run on Fridays at 8 p.m. (ET) on April 6, May 4 and June 1.#


ESPN2 reached the benchmark of 75 million cable and satellite homes in slightly less than 71/2 years.#


Jonathan Knopf to news director and general manager, News 12 New Jersey, Edison, N.J., from news director, WLFL-TV, Raleigh, N.C.#