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Mar 20, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Ancier lands key post at Turner

Jamie Kellner doesn’t waste time. In the second major move in as many weeks, the newly installed chairman of Turner Broadcasting Systems appointed Garth Ancier to the new position of executive vice president, programming, for the Turner Networks. Mr. Kellner made the announcement Tuesday during The WB’s advertising pre-upfront at the network’s Burbank, Calif., headquarters.

The two executives said this marks the first time a media management team will have direct oversight over both broadcast and cable properties. Mr. Kellner likened Turner’s new network structure to USA Networks’ arrangement under Barry Diller. “It’s a Barry Diller-like process, but it’s going to be a quiet Barry Diller-like process,” Mr. Kellner said.

Mr. Ancier, who was most recently entertainment president at NBC, will be in charge of creating the overall corporate program strategies for Turner networks, which include TBS Superstation, Turner Network Television, the Cartoon Network, Turner South, CNN and CNN Headline News. Division heads at both The WB and Turner Networks will continue to report to Mr. Kellner.

The appointment reunites Mr. Ancier and Mr. Kellner. They first worked together at Fox Broadcasting, where Mr. Kellner was Fox’s first network president and chief operating officer. In one of his first moves Mr. Kellner recruited Mr. Ancier, then an NBC program executive, as Fox’s first president of entertainment. Mr. Ancier and Mr Kellner collaborated again at The WB network in the mid-’90s, with Mr. Ancier overseeing The WB’s program development slate. Mr. Kellner said one of the first synergistic initiatives between Turner and The WB will be combining the sales forces of Kids’ WB and Cartoon Network when they meet with advertisers during the kids upfront.

WWF has ‘serious’ interest in WCW: With its last airing on TNT Monday, the troubled World Championship Wrestling is once again without an owner. Despite drawing ratings of 2 or 3 at TNT and TBS, Fusient Media Ventures has officially pulled out as the buyer of the company. Sources at both WCW and the World Wrestling Federation have confirmed that the country’s top wrestling league is once again a “serious” suitor to acquire the league.

A Fusient statement said “Fusient Media Ventures has terminated its efforts to purchase the WCW as a result of the decision by Turner Broadcasting Systems to no longer carry wrestling programming on its networks.”

MTV, VH1 to air Madonna music video late: Viacom music networks MTV and VH1 are running Madonna’s controversial new music video “What It Feels Like for a Girl,” one time only after 11 p.m. (ET), citing the violent content of the video as the reason for the ban. VH1 and MTV planned to run the video at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday as part of a news program.

Madonna’s video, which was featured Tuesday morning on a news segment of NBC’s “Today Show,” features Madonna driving around in a car accompanied by her grandmother, running into objects and people-mostly men.

Turner South subscribers near 5.5 million: Turner Broadcasting System’s Southeast regional network Turner South is closing on the 5.5 million subscriber mark, signing a deal with Charter Communications that will give it 500,000 new subscribers on Charter systems in Greenville, S.C., Birmingham, Ala., and Clarksville, Tenn.

Rainbow inks deal with Johnson & Johnson: Rainbow Media’s Women’s Entertainment has signed Johnson & Johnson as its sole exclusive sponsor for the next 18 months. The agreement includes sponsorship of the network’s original series, on-air events and short-form programming.

In addition, Johnson & Johnson will promote Women’s Entertainment through product marketing including merchandising displays. Formerly named Romance Classics, Women’s Entertainment reaches 37 million TV homes.

NBC plans Sunday night dramas: Looking to build on NBC’s reputation for smart, upscale dramas and sitcoms, Jeff Zucker announced Tuesday that he is going to revamp the Sunday 7 p.m.-to-11 p.m. (ET) lineup with possibly three dramas (largely axing the Sunday movie showcase), selectively planting sitcoms on some nights and reformatting NBC’s Saturday lineup.

Mr. Zucker, installed as president of NBC Entertainment in December, held his first pre-upfront meeting with advertisers Tuesday on the set of “The West Wing” as he discussed his programming agenda for the 2001-02 season. He told advertisers assembled at the Warner Bros. soundstage in Burbank, Calif., that NBC can’t remain “closed for business” on Sundays and Saturdays, the latter of which has been interpreted as growing disappointment with the free-falling ratings for the nascent XFL. Preferring to stay away from directly citing the XFL’s performance, Mr. Zucker did hint that a revamping of NBC’s Saturday night movie franchise could be in order.

After naming Jeff Gaspin as NBC’s executive vice president of alternative programming two weeks ago, Mr. Zucker revealed that a “behind the scenes” special and interstitial wraparound programming similar to VH1’s “Behind the Music” (a program that Mr. Gaspin helped develop while an executive at VH1) could showcase classic movies such as “Animal House.”

Among the few clips of new shows Mr. Zucker screened for advertisers, Dick Wolf’s newest spinoff series, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (starring Vincent D’Onofrio) heads up a handful of dramas in development, some of which he expects to insert into the Sunday rotation. After the presentation, a couple of advertising sources said they think “Criminal Intent” could be a strong bet for the Sunday 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. time slot, to join 11-year granddaddy “Law & Order’s” Wednesday airings and frosh “Law & Order: SVU,” which already planted on Friday.

In that vein, Mr. Zucker also announced that a five-part, five-hour miniseries incorporating all three “Law & Order” series will be offered for the May 2002 sweeps period. Mr. Zucker also suggested that the “L&O” miniseries will start on a Sunday evening and carry through on four successive nights, largely in time periods in which the three franchises will already air. Mr. Wolf said the five-hour “L&O” mini will center on a terrorist threat summoning the deductive powers of New York City’s elite criminal investigation units, which he hinted could include the return of several former cast members to crack the case.

On the comedy front, Mr. Zucker admitted that planting comedies-among the Peacock Network’s 15 comedies in development-has become increasingly difficult, though he cited Tuesday’s 9:30 p.m. midseason sitcom, “Three Sisters,” as an unmitigated “ratings success” for the network this season. He also said “The Fighting Fitzgeralds” has “gotten off to a promising start” at 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

Among the new sitcoms he described to advertisers, Mr. Zucker seems to be highest on a new Chuck Lorre-created series with the working title “Last Dance,” which he said already has a 13-episode order for next season. Other comedies he highlighted included an untitled Drew Carey “live comedy-part improv, part scripted,” the untitled Sisqo/Bob Newhart sitcom (described as “‘The Odd Couple’ for the new millennium”), “Leap of Faith,” “True Love,” “What Are You Thinking” and the untitled Julia Louis-Dreyfus project, which Mr. Zucker said might not be inserted until midseason, presumably after the Winter Olympics from Salt Lake City in February.

Perhaps gaining the strongest reaction from advertisers was a brief tape presentation of the alternative series “The Weakest Link,” which debuts in the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Monday time slot April 16 for a 13-episode run. In particular, British host Anne Robinson came across as an acerbic and no-nonsense quiz master, whom one advertiser described as “Judge Judy meets Regis Philbin.”

Mr. Zucker and Scott Sassa, president of NBC West Coast, noted that the Peacock has a number of alternative/reality series and scripted series already produced to cover for potential strikes by the writers and actors unions this summer. Other alternative/reality series expected to be ready this summer and fall are “Fear Factor,” “Spy-TV” and “Trial & Error” (an hour-lo
ng, real-life criminal justice series from Dick Wolf). Mr. Zucker also noted that Mr. Wolf has accelerated production of eight episodes of “Law & Order,” 13 episodes of “L&O: SVU” and 10 episodes of “L&O: Criminal Intent” to be ready to air next fall.

Mr. Zucker emphasized, in light of the “L&O” mini order, the network is not entirely abandoning long-form programming, though it will significantly reduce its lineup of made-for-TV movies next season. On that subject, he said Jon Avnet is producing a four-hour miniseries, “Uprising,” centering on a Jewish uprising against the Germans in occupied Poland during World War II. Two other telefilms on the slate are “The Matthew Shepard Story,” revolving around the efforts of the parents of the slain 21-year-old gay student to keep awareness of the crime alive, and “Ground Zero,” about a pair of overachieving students who build a nuclear bomb only to have it stolen by a terrorist group.

XFL reaches record low: The final national ratings for NBC’s Saturday night XFL game plumbed unexpected depths: a 1.6 rating/3 share, which not only qualifies as a season low for the XFL and the lowest rating for any sports event ever in prime time on a network, but also constitutes the lowest in-season household rating of any prime-time show on a major network since at least the 1996-97 season.

In addition to the household ratings taking a 33 percent dive from the previous week, the XFL broadcast showed week-to-week losses of 70 percent among men 18 to 24 (down to a 0.6 rating), 62 percent in men 18 to 34 (to a 0.8), 57 percent in men 18 to 49 (1.0) and 48 percent in men 25 to 54 (1.2).

UPN’s Sunday night game fell to a season household low-a 1.0/2, down 9 percent from the previous week-although UPN showed week-to-week growth of half a ratings point in both men 18 to 34 and men 18 to 49.

On TNN Sunday, the XFL game also showed week-to-week improvement, averaging a 0.9/2 in households (up from the previous 0.5) and across-the-board gains in demos.

With two more weekends of competition from NCAA basketball championship coverage on CBS, the question many now ask is how low can the XFL go?

WHLT plans 15 layoffs: WHLT-TV, the CBS affiliate in Hattiesburg-Laurel, Miss., will air its last newscast March 30 and lay off 15 staffers. WHLT General Manager Todd Buccelli said the newscast, which the Media General-owned station launched in 1999, did not have high enough ratings.

AOL wary of new Microsoft technologies: In the wake of Monday’s announcement of Microsoft’s new Hailstorm technology, AOL confirmed reports that it met with the Association of (state) Attorneys General on Friday to discuss the “potentially tremendous competitive threat” presented by Microsoft’s new online-oriented technologies-Passport, XP and .NET. These claims dovetail with similar issues raised in a suit by states and the Justice Department that is under appeal in Washington.

Particularly irksome to AOL, said one official, is Microsoft’s bundling of a music player, photo shop and-most of all-instant messaging into the operating system itself, which, said AOL, would hurt players like RealNetworks, Kodak, Yahoo! and AOL. The company also objected to perceived tactics that would force everyone to convert to Microsoft protocols to write software code and produce Internet applications (i.e., claims that the system would work better on a Windows platform). Finally, AOL claims Microsoft is positioning itself as the interface for all consumer access to the Internet.

AtomShockwave gets financing: AtomShockwave, the company formed by the merger of independent film producer and distributor AtomFilms and interactive gaming destination Shockwave, has lined up $22.9 million in financing.

AtomFilms and Shockwave are cross-promoting each other on their respective Web sites. However, AtomShockwave spokeswoman Diana Adair said the companies’ two brands plan to distinguish themselves more sharply going forward. “Shockwave will be much more about interactive content and AtomFilms will be much more about linear content, [such as] films that you can just sit back and watch,” Ms. Adair said.

Golf drives to strong ratings: Even on tape, the final round of coverage of the Bay Hill Invitational on NBC produced the golf tournament’s biggest Sunday rating since 1989. During the 31/2 hours that ended with a Tiger Woods win, the tournament averaged a 5.5 rating/13 share. The rating in 1989 was a 5.7.

In the final 90 minutes, NBC Sports’ golf coverage had a 14 percent bigger audience (7.5/17) than its NCAA competition on CBS.

WTTG tops Murrow awards: The Radio-Television News Directors Association’s list of regional winners of the Edward R. Murrow Awards for excellence in electronic journalism is led by WTTG-TV in Washington, which won seven awards. KVUE-TV in Austin, Texas, and WNDU-TV in South Bend, Ind., each earned six awards.

Seserman exits AT&T Broadband: AT&T Broadband is losing its top marketing executive. Doug Seserman, senior vice president of marketing, is leaving the end of this month, AT&T officials said. Mr. Seserman’s position will be filled on an interim basis by Nancy McGee, most recently vice president of telephony marketing and sales for AT&T Broadband.

Viacom wins Massachusetts lottery rights: Viacom’s properties in Boston have been awarded the new contract to air the Massachusetts State Lottery drawings exclusively for three years. Beginning in May, the Massachusetts State Lottery’s daily drawings will air live on UPN affiliate WSBK-TV just before 8 p.m. and again on CBS-owned sister station WBZ-TV between 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Minutes later, the numbers will again be broadcast on all five Boston Infinity radio stations.#

BRIEFLY NOTED

CNN Headline News political analyst Michele Mitchell will host “Fired Up,” a new daily column segment on pop culture, politics and societal issues. … The Sci-Fi Channel passed the 70 million subscriber mark this month. … Discovery’s digital channel Discovery Science is adding a weekend edition of its “Science Daily” newsmagazine starting at 9 p.m. (ET) April 1. … FX’s Sunday night premiere of its original movie “A Glimpse of Hell” earned a 3.3 rating in its cable universe, representing 2 million TV homes, making it the network’s highest-rated original program in FX’s seven-year history. … Charter Communications signed an affiliation agreement with Fox Cable Networks Group to carry digital sports networks Fox Sports World and Fox Sports Digital Gold.#

WHO IS NEWS

Douglas Depriest to vice president of production and development, the Travel Channel, Bethesda, Md., from director of production.#