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Mar 1, 2001  •  Post A Comment

And the injured ‘Survivor’ contestant is …

The mystery about what tragedy might have befallen one of the contestants on CBS’s “Survivor: The Australian Outback” was solved during Thursday night’s telecast when Kucha’s macho man Michael Skupin was badly burned after falling into the tribe’s campfire. A little more than halfway through the hour, Mike was choppered out by medics who found him trying to cool his badly blistered hands in the river while his horrified teammates looked on helplessly. The show’s scheduled immunity challenge was canceled due to the accident, and the two tribes will now merge next week with five contestants each. Mr. Skupin was scheduled to talk about the accident and his condition Friday on “The Early Show” and on a conference call with reporters from around the country later in the day.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus cast for NBC sitcom: NBC has made a “multi-episode” commitment to a fall 2001 sitcom, starring “Seinfeld” cast member Julia Louis-Dreyfus, from independent studio Carsey-Werner-Mandabach Co. The deal with Ms. Louis-Dreyfus represents a breakthrough, given published reports that she was demanding a minimum 13-episode workload and other production perks.

Spokesman for NBC and Carsey-Werner-Mandabach declined to comment on the number of episodes the Peacock Network committed to ordering, including whether Ms. Louis-Dreyfus was open to a larger episodic option and workload for the sitcom. The yet-to-be-titled sitcom, to be executive-produced by former standup comic Brad Hall (Ms. Louis-Dreyfus’ husband), would feature Ms. Louis-Dreyfus as a down-and-out lounge singer.

NBC’s leap with Ms. Dreyfus is also significant in light of its cancellation of “Seinfeld” alumnus Michael Richards’ sitcom earlier this season because of poor ratings. In an earlier sweeps conference call this week, NBC Entertainment President Jeffrey Zucker also confirmed that the network is not linked any longer with the development of a sitcom from “Seinfeld” co-star Jason Alexander.

Union demands ‘unrealistic,’ producers say: On the heels of the Writers Guild of America breaking off the six-month labor negotiations earlier Thursday with the Hollywood studios and networks, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said the union was being “unrealistic” in terms of its demands for residual increases and other economic issues.

After the talks collapsed, Nick Counter, AMPTP’s president and chief negotiator, said the studio-network alliance proposed a net income increase of $30 million over the next three years, with the new contract effective after the May 1 expiration of the current deal. He said instead that WGA negotiators proposed a net income increase of $112 million in residuals, or 40 percent, over three years.

“It is unrealistic, even in the best of years,” said Mr. Counter, in reference to the current downturn in the U.S. economy. “The talks have been conducted professionally, but we are so far apart on the economics to where the difference is almost $100 million on the table.”

The breakdown in talks, termed as a “brief breathing period” by a conciliatory-sounding Jeffrey Katzenberg, chairman of DreamWorks SKG, still is a potentially ominous sign in terms of writers going on a work stoppage in May against the broadcast networks and studios. He said it is still possible that AMPTP and WGA could meet again shortly, in advance of the May 1 contract deadline. If a deal can’t be struck, a work stoppage could either delay or severely cramp the start of the 2001-02 season in regards to scripted entertainment series.

But Mr. Katzenberg sought to emphasize the talks with WGA, which started nearly six weeks ago, had been “constructive” on other key issues, such as creative rights for writers. In particular, WGA has been seeking for writers a greater say in TV and film production, which had met with some initial objections from the Directors Guild of America.

“Every step along the way, the WGA has been prepared, thoughtful and articulate, both in the economics and creative rooms,” Mr. Katzenberg said. “The Directors Guild has also come to this negotiation in an extraordinary and responsive way.”

But Robert Iger, president and chief operating officer of The Walt Disney Co., said the specter of a work stoppage this summer by the WGA or the Screen Actors Guild (whose contract expires June 30) already has the broadcast networks ordering more nonscripted programming. “Ultimately, it could affect guild membership ranks” if the networks increase the ongoing trend toward nonscripted series, Mr. Iger said. “Reality trend aside, you are already seeing more of gravitation to news production and other forms of nonscripted specials programming.”

Talamantes exits Sinclair: Two days after the resignation of Sinclair Television CEO Barry Drake, Sinclair Chief Financial Officer Patrick Talamantes announced his resignation. He will become chief financial officer of the McClatchy Co. in Sacramento, Calif. Sinclair Executive Vice President David Amy, will take over Mr. Drake’s duties.

XM raises funds: XM Satellite raised $201.4 million Thursday in two public offerings: $125 million in convertible notes and the balance in common stock. Proceeds will be used primarily for marketing, systems and other general corporate purposes and are expected to fund company operations into 2002.

Analog spectrum fines loom: Senators today raised the specter of slapping broadcasters with fines if television stations retain their analog spectrum beyond 2006.

Under federal law, broadcasters must return their analog spectrum to the government by 2006 unless 85 percent of viewers in a market do not have access to digital signals. Most broadcasters don’t expect to meet the 85 percent threshold for many years.

At a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, industry witnesses reluctantly acknowledged that many stations will not be ready to return their analog spectrum in 2006. And they conceded that some commercial TV stations will not be meet a federal requirement to begin offering digital signals in 2002.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., panel chairman, accused the industry of a “bait and switch” by backing off earlier promises to use its digital spectrum to offer high-definition television. Some stations are exploring digital business plans that offer little or no HDTV.

“There’s a lot of experimentation going on with spectrum right now, and that was authorized [by federal law] as far as I know,” said Ben Tucker, an executive with Fisher Broadcasting and TV board chairman for the National Association of Broadcasters. Watchdog and think-tank witnesses called upon the government to auction broadcasters’ digital spectrum to the highest bidders, enabling it to potentially be used by wireless companies.

“We’re going to reach 85 percent of the homes in America by the year 2006? You’re going to comply with the [federal law]? There’s no one in America who believes that,” Sen. McCain said during a testy exchange with Mr. Tucker.

Thumbs up for ‘Invisible,’ down for ‘Cleopatra’: Although Studios USA is clearing out of “Cleopatra 2525”-as had been widely assumed by most insiders-the syndicator will remain in the action-hour business with the return of freshman series “The Invisible Man.” Many analysts had placed the program on the bubble, but Studios USA Domestic TV President Steve Rosenberg says the action hour is readying for a sophomore run.

“Because of the current environment, with newer broadcast networks expanding into the time slots that weekly hours once held and our shows being relegated to lower-rated weekend afternoon slots, ‘Cleopatra 2525’ will not be coming back,” he said. “That’s much of the same reason that a hugely successful show like ‘Xena’ won’t be returning. We cannot continue to do weekly hours in the form we have always done them and invest the kind of money we want into them.” In the future, we want to follow the production model we developed for ‘Invisible Man,’ which airs successfully on both stations and on Sci-Fi. It will be returning for another season.”

“Invisible Man” earned a 1.8 rating for the week ending Feb. 18,
and has hovered around a 2.0 average throughout the season.

Geocast’s datacasts nearly past: Geocast Network Systems is in the process of winding down its business of facilitating datacasting-the use of broadcasting signals to transmit data to PCs and other devices. According to an inside source, failure to get bridge financing for a pending $40 million deal with a marquee customer was the last straw.

“It’s a nascent industry,” Michael Lambert, CEO of rival datacast enabler iBlast, said about Geocast’s demise. “But we have plenty of money in the bank and are delivering a much different business model. We’re building vertical applications-eight different initiatives, including enabling local stations to deliver on-demand movies, much like hotels do now.” Mr. Lambert confirmed iBlast was recruiting Geocast engineering staff as well as trying to acquire some of its assets.

Two-year-old Geocast was backed by Hearst-Argyle Television, Belo and Allbritton Communications. It had been testing applications with KNTV, San Jose, Calif.; KBWB-TV, San Francisco; KCRA-TV, Sacramento, Calif.; and WJLA-TV, Washington. Its last deal was signed with EchoStar in October.

“We’re going to look at all available opportunities to move forward,” said Skip Cass, spokesman for Belo, one of the first investors in Geocast with a $10 million stake. “We believe that the ability to put your content out in as many different forms as possible is an important priority.””The agreement between Geocast and DISH Network was a carriage agreement, so by them closing their doors, we simply won’t be carrying any of their services,” said Mark Lumpkin, spokesman for EchoStar, which was a party to Geocast’s last published deal in October. “It won’t have any affect on DISH Network Services.”

‘Temptation,’ ‘Mole’ end with a bang: Last night-the end of the February sweeps-provided boffo finales for Fox’s “Temptation Island” and ABC’s “The Mole.” But it was NBC’s trio of regularly scheduled dramas-“Ed,” “The West Wing” and “Law & Order”-that kept it in shouting distance of Fox in the adults 18 to 49 ratings to likely seal the Peacock Network’s win for the sweeps in the key demographic.

At 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. (ET), “Temptation Island’s” finale, featuring all three couples reuniting-despite admitted flings-turned in an evening-best 9.4 rating/21 share average in adults 18 to 34, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. The key demo performance marked 31 percent week-to-week improvement for the Fox reality show, which had the supreme challenge of facing CBS’s Grammy Awards telecast the previous week. “Temptation Island’s” end marked 35 percent improvement in households (11.3/17) and 33 percent in total viewers (17.2 million).

NBC’s “West Wing” won the 9 p.m. hour in households (12.5/18) and total viewers (18.1 million) and moved up 19 percent in adults 18 to 49 (6.8/15) compared with last week’s Grammy juggernaut.

The 8 p.m. hour also represented a significant young-demo win for “The Mole,” which earned a 6.0/16. With undercover cop Steven Cowles winning the $500,000 grand price and lawyer Kathryn Price admitting she is the Mole, the show also won the hour in households (9.8/16) and total viewers (15.5 million).

Additionally, “The Mole” reached its highest ratings ever in adults 18 to 49, adults 18 to 34 (6.4/18), teens 12 to 17 and kids 2 to 11. “The Mole” completed its initial run qualifying as ABC’s top-ranked entertainment series among adults 18 to 34 (5.8/17) and women 18 to 34 (6.6/17) season-to-date.

New CBS midseason sitcom “Some of My Best Friends” debuted at 8 p.m. to modest fourth-ranked ratings in adults 18 to 49 (2.9/8) and households (5.2/9), and “Bette” continued to languish in the same categories (3.0/7; 5.3/8). Despite that, the Eye Network appears to be on brink of beating ABC by one-tenth of point or more in adults 18 to 49 for third place in the sweeps. Final national numbers will be out this afternoon.

Free of the Grammy train, NBC’s 8 p.m. drama “Ed” moved up 44 percent week-to-week in adults 18 to 49 (4.6/12) while 10 p.m. closer “Law & Order” mopped up in adults 18 to 49 (7.8/20) and households (12.9/21). However, Fox’s sitcoms, “That ’70s Show ” (5.5/15) and “Gounded for Life” (5.1/12) grabbed a close second-place in adults 18 to 49 for the 8 p.m. hour.

Fox won the night in adults 18 to 49 at a 7.4/18 score, up 25 percent week-to week. NBC came in second in adults 18 to 49 at a 6.4/15 (up 25 percent), followed by ABC’s 5.4/13 (up 46 percent) and CBS’s 2.6/6 (down 79 percent).

XFL announcer Lawler exits: The XFL casualty list is growing. A dispute with XFL co-owner World Wrestling Federation Entertainment has led to the loss of Jerry “The King” Lawler from the announcing team assigned to the secondary Saturday night game. Mr. Lawler, a wrestler-turned-announcer, stalked out before the taping of this week’s “WWF Smackdown!” for UPN after his wife, Stacy “The Kat” Carter, was fired. Mr. Lawler’s colorful side of the story is posted at Kinglawler.com. A WWF spokesman was unavailable for comment Thursday afternoon.

A permanent replacement for Mr. Lawler in the XFL booth is still to come. Filling the spot this Saturday, when the San Francisco Demons host the Birmingham Bolts, will be Dick Butkus, the NFL Hall of Famer who is now director of football competition for the XFL.

Also gone for what was described as “purely economic reasons” is the “XFL GameDay” pre-game show produced by NBC Sports for the network’s WNBC-TV in New York and picked up by network-owned stations KNBC-TV, Los Angeles and WMAQ-TV, Chicago.

Also gone effective with this weekend’s national telecasts: the “bump and run rule.” By penalizing contact between defensive players and offensive receivers beyond the first five yards from the line of scrimmage, the league hopes to boost scoring.

Miami, Cincinnati, Houston top streamers: Nielsen//NetRatings reported that Miami, Cincinnati and Houston had the highest percentage of streaming media consumption in December.

According to the service, Miami was No. 1, with 43 percent or 506,000 Web surfers accessing streaming media content from home. Cincinnati followed with 41 percent or 327,000 Internet users accessing streaming media.

Houston secured the No. 3 spot, Pittsburgh placed fourth, while Hartford, Conn., was fifth. In sheer size, streaming media usage in New York (2.6 million or 37.4 percent of Web surfers) and Los Angeles (1.9 million , or 36.9 percent) tallied the highest number of people accessing some form of rich media content.

Comcast invests in SeaChange: Multiple system operator Comcast Cable Communications has made a $10 million investment in interactive television technology company SeaChange, the companies said.

The announcement of the cash-for-stock deal comes just after Comcast ordered Seachange’s digital video management services. In the transaction, SeaChange traded 756,144 shares of its common stock plus a warrant allowing Comcast to purchase 100,000 additional shares at $13.23 a share for the $10 million cash investment.

Interactive video on demand is expected to become one of MSOs’ most popular offerings once cable operators complete digital upgrades.

NASCAR ratings still in high gear: Neither the death of Dale Earnhardt nor rain delay has stopped Fox’s new NASCAR package from laying ratings rubber. Two weeks into the Winston Cup circuit, Fox’s coverage is running 29 percent ahead of NASCAR ratings a year ago on CBS.

That’s despite the weather cutting short last weekend’s race at Rockingham and pushing it back to Monday, where it was seen on FX (scoring a 2.2 household rating, the equivalent of a 1.3 rating in the national universe) and was picked up by some 74 Fox broadcast affiliates, racking up an 8.2 national Nielsen rating.

In addition, NASCAR’s year-to-year growth in key male demographics starts at 45 percent for the season to date.

‘Today’ wins for 271st straight week: Fringe ratings for the week of Feb. 19-25 showed NBC’s “Today” extending its win streak to 271 straight weeks.

But, feeling flush with the help of “Survivor II,” CBS pointed out that “The Early Show
” was the only network morning program to be able to claim year-to-year improvements in household ratings, total viewers and key demographics.

“Today” was off 1 percent in households and 2 percent in total viewers, down to a league-of-its-own 6.1 million for the week of Feb. 19 but was flat or up slightly in the key demos.

ABC’s “Good Morning America,” meanwhile, registered year-to-year losses of 14 percent in total viewers (down to 4.4 million) and dropped 23 percent in women 18 to 49, 21 percent in women 25 to 54 and 11 percent in adults 25 to 54, while “The Early Show” grew 10 percent in total viewers, 20 percent in women 18 to 49, 27 percent in women 25 to 54 and 10 percent in adults 25 to 54.

NBC pointed out that with an average of 4.6 million viewers on Saturday and 4.7 million on Sunday, “Weekend Today” outdrew weekday “GMA.”

EchoStar pulls two stations’ signal: DBS operator EchoStar Communications pulled the signal of NBC affiliate KRON-TV, San Francisco, and ABC affiliate WKRN-TV, Nashville, Tenn., after retransmission consent renewal talks with the stations’ parent company Young Broadcasting fell apart. In its place of the two stations’ signals, EchoStar ran a video featuring EchoStar Chairman Charlie Ergen, who urged subscribers to call the stations to protest.

Speedvision concocts Formula 1 rights: Cable network Speedvision secured the exclusive broadcast rights to the Formula 1 racing series for the 2001 season. Race coverage premieres Friday with live coverage of the Australian Grand Prix at 9 p.m. (ET).

CNN rolls to quake-ratings win: CNN topped all cable networks in Wednesday’s coverage of the Seattle earthquake, posting a 1.5 rating between 2 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. (ET), according to Nielsen Media Research. MSNBC and Fox News Channel both trailed with 0.6 ratings.#