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Apr 20, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Buffy to slay on UPN

UPN won the bidding over the incumbent WB Network Friday evening for the 2001-03 broadcast rights to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” reportedly agreeing to pay $2.3 million to $2.35 million per episode in each of the two years of the licensing deal with 20th Century Fox Television.

The deal comes on the heels of the FCC ruling Thursday allowing Viacom to own both CBS and UPN, also leaving it open for Fox parent News Corp. to take a financial interest in UPN. Sources at The WB, who said the network bid up to $1.8 million on “Buffy” and offered to share an off-network cable window between AOL Time Warner’s Turner Networks and News Corp.’s FX, claim they were rebuffed in favor of a “self-dealing” maneuver with UPN.

It could be said 20th Century Fox has a vested interest in UPN’s future well-being, with News Corp.’s pending $5.4 billion acquisition of Chris-Craft/United Television’s eight major-market UPN affiliates soon to be in the fold.

“The deal for ‘Buffy’ totally smacks of self-dealing,” said a senior level WB source, who also noted Chris-Craft’s top four network affiliates alone account for almost 15 percent of UPN’s national broadcast coverage. “I think that Fox is just beginning to exert its influence at UPN–and what better way to prop up a struggling network than giving [it] one of [the] premium young adult dramas.”

Now that the FCC has decided favorably on Viacom’s ownership of UPN, it also frees up the Sumner Redstone- and Mel Karmazin-led media conglomerate to offer Fox and News Corp. media baron Rupert Murdoch a participatory ownership stake in UPN.

In fact, The WB Network’s only official statement on the loss of “Buffy” strongly hints at the emerging 20th Century Fox Television connection with UPN.

“20th Television has made an inauspicious decision for the television industry by taking one of their own programs off of a non-affiliated network and placing it on a network in which they have a large vested interest, through their acquisition of Chris-Craft and public comments that Fox and UPN are discussing ways to merge,” the statement said.

Senior executives at 20th Century Fox Television, speaking on background, labeled the charges ridiculous in light of UPN agreeing to pay about 30 percent more than the $1.8 million per episode The WB was most recently offering.

“This just came down to the studio looking to cover its deficits and UPN being willing to pay Joss Whedon [creator and executive producer of “Buffy] what WB was not willing to realistically pony up for a five-year hit series,” said the 20th Century Fox executive. “Frankly, I think [The WB] has a laughable position [on self-dealing allegations], because when those kind of charges come up it has to do with a series getting less money, not more money.”

The WB’s loss of “Buffy,” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, begs the question of whether 20th Century Fox’s companion drama, “Angel,” will stay with the Frog Network. With two to three years left on its licensing deal with The WB, the Frog may let “Angel” jump from the pond early because of its eroding relationship with 20th Century Fox and so it wouldn’t have to risk cross-promoting UPN’s run of “Buffy.” Sources at WB said UPN reportedly agreed to a contractual clause forcing it to pick up the remaining two years of “Angel’s” deal if The WB elects not to renew the show, which is currently earning $1.1 million per episode.

20th Century Fox representatives, including Fox Entertainment Group Chairman Sandy Grushow, were unreachable for comment. Mr. Whedon, an executive producer who originally developed “Buffy” with WB executives and former Sandollar Television head Gail Berman (who is now president of Fox Broadcasting Co.), was also unreachable for comment early Friday evening.

UPN CEO Dean Valentine said in a statement that the acquisition of “Buffy” will represent a “new era in UPN’s life and direction” as it attempts to broaden out from being known as the male-driven “testosterone” network.

However, sources at The WB say UPN’s 44-episode deal for “Buffy,” representing a total cost of $102.3 million over two years, will make it a loss leader for the debt-laden network. In typically paying around $800,000 to $900,000 per episode for a drama, UPN could be paying $60 million more over the two years of the “Buffy” deal.

Furthermore, with UPN widely estimated to lose $160 million during the 1999-2000 season, the additional license fee burden of carrying “Buffy” could increase those losses to over $225 million for the 2001-02 season. With current prime-time cost-per-thousand advertising rates of $12 in prime time, UPN’s ad rates are about half of The WB’s CPM rates. However, if The WB surrendered “Angel,” UPN could have two evening springboards or companion pieces to potentially broaden the latter’s appeal with female viewers.

As for The WB, it could look to several young-skewing dramas in development for next season or move “Charmed” (produced by Aaron Spelling Television) from Thursday into “Buffy’s” soon-to-be vacated 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Tuesday (ET) time slot. A promotion of “Roswell” into “Buffy’s” old slot may be more problematic since the former is also produced by 20th Century Fox Television, which might also be amenable to selling the alien series to UPN if The WB retaliates by canceling the series.

“The WB will continue to develop successful, innovative programming that delivers a high concentration of young adults and teens,” the Frog network’s statement added. “We wish Sarah, Joss and [executive producer] David Greenwalt well.”

‘Survivor II’ continues to dominate Thursday: CBS’s “Survivor: The Australian Outback,” airing its third-to-last broadcast, scored its widest margin of young-adult-demo victories Thursday night over NBC’s original episodes of “Friends” and “The Weber Show.”

“Survivor II’s” 10.3 rating/30 share during the 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. frame (ET) Thursday held a 37 percent victory margin over “Friends'” 7.5/22 in the adults 18 to 49 category, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate returns. The CBS reality hit also held a 32 percent margin over “Friends” in adults 18 to 34 (10.2/31 vs. 7.7/23).

In the closing 8:30 p.m.-to-9 p.m. frame, “Survivor II” gained 21 percent over the previous half-hour in peaking at a 12.5/33 in adults 18 to 49, beating the struggling “Weber Show” (5.1/13) by a whopping 145 percent cushion. For the entire 8 p.m. hour, “Survivor’s 11.4/31 in adults 18 to 49 marked a 3 percent week-to-week improvement (11.1/33) in comparable fast affiliate measures.

“Friends” did increase 47 percent in adults 18 to 49 after registering a 5.1/16 with a repeat last week. However, “The Weber Show” managed only a slight 9 percent increase over what a rerun of “Will & Grace” (4.7/13) averaged in the time period the previous week.

Coming out of “Survivor,” the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. run of an original “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” episode scored a 9.3/23 in adults 18 to 49, marking 77 percent demo retention. “CSI” also beat NBC’s fresh comedy combo of “Will & Grace” (7.5/19) and “Just Shoot Me” (7.1/17) by a 27 percent margin in the demo for the hour (7.3/18).

But NBC’s top-rated 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. stalwart, “ER,” improved 56 percent on the lead-in hour to score an 11.6/31 in adults 18 to 49, beating CBS’s second-ranked “48 Hours” (3.9/10) by a whopping 197 percent margin. “ER” also tied “Survivor” in households for the night (at identical 16.3/27 marks) although the latter held the edge in total viewers (27.9 million vs. 23.8 million).

In one of the tightest Thursday races, NBC’s top-ranked 8.4/22 in adults 18 to 49 held only a 2 percent margin over CBS’s second-ranked 8.2/22. NBC’s 7.8/22 in adults 18 to 34 held a 7 percent victory margin over CBS’s 7.3/21 for the evening. However, CBS’s top-ranked 12.5/20 in households and 20.2 million in total viewers prevailed over NBC in both categories (11.8/19, 17.1 million total viewers).

Russert, Hearst-Argyle top Annenberg winners: Recipients of the USC Annenberg Walter Cronkite Awards for broadcast political journalism were announced Friday.

The network award went to “Meet t
he Press” for moderator Tim Russert’s “exemplary use of quotes and preparation” in his hour-long interviews with the two presidential candidates.

The station group award went to Hearst-Argyle Television for its “early commitment to candidate-centered discourse by airing five minutes per day of coverage in the 30 days before the election.”

The other winners were KTRV-TV, Boise, Idaho, for a series of 26 candidate debates; WGME-TV, Portland, Maine, for a series on six state referendums; WFLA-TV, Tampa, Fla., for mini-debates, free airtime for candidates and fact-checking segments; KNXV-TV, Phoenix, for candidate-centered discourse; WCVB-TV, Boston, for candidate interviews and WNBC-TV, New York, for in-depth issue pieces; Michael Geeser of KTNV-TV, Las Vegas, for his examination of political ads (and what his station stood to make off them); and Robert Mak and Mike Cate of KING-TV, Seattle, for in-depth ad-watch segments.

NBA coverage on NBC at record low: Though it ended on a season-high single-game average of a 4.0 household rating, the regular-season NBA coverage on NBC goes into the books with a record low average of 3.0, down 12 percent from the previous year.

CBS to air Backstreet Boys special: Reflecting its ownership by Viacom, the hip music TV purveyor, CBS is scheduling “Backstreet Boys: Larger Than Life” for the band’s first network television special, which will be broadcast at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) Wednesday, May 30. The new entertainment special will show the Backstreet Boys performing in concert at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and will include exclusive footage from their “Around the World in 100 Hours” tour.

The special is being produced by Ken Ehrlich Productions, with Ken Ehrlich executive producing, Al Masocco producing and Bruce Gowers directing.

Second youth hurt copying ‘Jackass’ stunt: Another child has injured himself imitating a stunt he first saw on MTV’s “Jackass” show.

Jose Serrano, an 11-year-old Hartford, Conn., boy suffered second-degree burns when he lit a cloth soaked in a flammable liquid that he had wrapped around his leg. The boy, who was treated in a local hospital for burns on his leg and released the same day, said he and his friends had been imitating a stunt they had seen on “Jackass,” according to reports.

In January, a 13-year-old Connecticut boy set himself afire after watching an episode of “Jackass” in which host Johnny Knoxville, wearing a flame-retardant suit hung with slabs of meat, stretched out on a burning outdoor grill. Though Mr. Knoxville was unharmed, the 13-year-old who imitated the stunt in front of friends spent more than a month in a Boston hospital recuperating from second- and third-degree burns to his hands and legs.

The January incident drew the ire of Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman-the Democrat’s vice-presidential standard-bearer in the 2000 election-who is well-known for his criticisms of the coarsening affects of sexual and violent depictions in television and movies on children and society at large. After his criticisms of the show, MTV moved “Jackass” to a later time period and enlarged and toughened the language of the written disclaimer that precedes each episode.

The show’s written warning now reads: “The following show features stunts preformed by professionals under very strict control and supervision. MTV and the producers insist that neither you or anyone else attempt to re-create or perform anything you have seen on this show.”

Following the latest incident, MTV issued a statement deploring the youngster’s injury and disclaiming any responsibility. The MTV statement, in part, reads: “While we don’t accept responsibility, obviously we feel horrible when a young person does something to hurt [themself]. Like other programmers, we take great care to air our shows responsibly. ‘Jackass’ airs with a TV-MA rating, with written and verbal warnings throughout the show, clearly stating that the stunts should not be imitated.”

Promotional nightmare: NBC has to find a way to promote having six contestants from rival CBS’s “Survivor” on its new show “The Weakest Link” without using the word “survivor” once in advertising, Reuters has reported.

NBC thought it had scored a coup when it lined up six contestants from the original “Survivor” series to appear on a special celebrity version of its new game show.

But the network is prohibited by CBS from using the “Survivor” name to promote the show, which is set to air May 10, a week after the two-hour finale of the current “Survivor: The Australian Outback.”

Burns has surgery: Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., is recovering at his home in suburban Washington after surgery for colon cancer two weeks ago at a naval hospital in Bethesda, Md. The lawmaker, who heads the Senate communications subcommittee and is a strong supporter of rural broadcasters, also had his gall bladder removed in a separate, unrelated operation. A staffer said the senator is expected to make a full recovery and hopes to return to his job this week when the upper chamber reconvenes from its April recess.

‘Honey’ postponed: Fox has delayed “Honey Vicaro,” the Jenny McCarthy-led sitcom pilot, which was in development for fall 2001, to midseason 2001-02. The “heavy production values” of producing a “retro 1960s” sitcom spoof, said a Fox spokesman, led the network to decide to give “Honey Vicaro’s” series producers (20th Century Fox Television and Regency Television) more time to develop the show. In “Honey,” Ms. McCarthy plays the star of a 1960s-era crime-busters series, whose “lost episodes” are only now being dug out of the studio vaults.

Studio creates CWM Ventures: Independent Hollywood studio Carsey Werner Mandabach has announced the creation of CWM Ventures, a new business unit to focus on overall strategic direction and new business opportunities. Hired to lead the new unit is Michele DiLorenzo, who previously worked for billionaire Paul Allen’s cable/new media holding company, Vulcan Ventures, to develop CWM’s overall business strategies for traditional and new media ventures.

Ms. DiLorenzo has a long history with Viacom, where she held such positions as president of Viacom New Media and chief operating officer of Virgin Interactive.

CWM is best known for producing such hit sitcoms as “The Cosby Show” and “Roseanne” as well as current Fox comedies “That ’70s Show” and “Grounded for Life.”

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications