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May 23, 2001  •  Post A Comment

‘Moral Court’ gets the ax

Despite 11th-hour attempts to save freshman court show “Moral Court,” Warner Bros. Domestic Television has opted to finally pull the plug on the series. Earlier this week, the studio notified the producers and crew that because of low ratings and a loss of several key stations, the series would not return for a second season. The strip, hosted by Larry Elder, has struggled at the bottom of the ratings ladder for much of the year, averaging less than a 1.0 for the season.

ABC to take hit over lack of diversity: A multicultural coalition that reached agreements with the networks to increase diversity is expected to take the ABC network to task at a press conference Thursday in Los Angeles.

The coalition held a similar press conference at the beginning of the programming season to give a report card on the networks’ schedules. It will deliver a dismal report on the networks Thursday, although NBC will still be recognized as the network with the best diversity record — and as an example other networks should follow.

Alex Nogales, a member of the coalition and president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, said networks can expect the coalition to take action Thursday. In the past, the coalition said it would give the networks time to diversify.

“This report card is not going to be good for anybody,” Mr. Nogales said. “They’ve had a whole year to remedy the situation. The steps that they have taken have been incremental. We didn’t do all this work so that a year later we are in the same position, or in some cases, a worse position. We have said to them, ‘We are going to hold our powder dry for an entire year, and the year is up.'”

Another source told Electronic Media,”We are just completely disappointed with ABC.”

NBC O&O job opens up for KXAS’s Doerr: Stephen Doerr, general manager at NBC-owned KXAS-TV, Dallas, was promoted to senior vice president of news, programming and creative development for the NBC owned and operated stations. He begins his new job June 4 at NBC in New York.

He will develop programming and negotiate syndication deals for NBC stations, as well as digitize the owned stations’ news and creative services. He will also create new research capabilities for the station operations and coordinate divisionwide news coverage.

He replaces Steve Cagle, who was vice president of news, programming and creative development. Mr. Cagle is now executive vice president and partner at SmithGeiger Research and Consulting.

“I’m looking forward to working closely with NBC Enterprises and looking for new ways to develop programming,” Mr. Doerr told Electronic Media. “I am going to look closely at the syndication business models. Right now syndication tends to be a very expensive business for television stations, and that’s something we have to look at closely in this new economy. I’m also very exited on working on news and developing marketing.”GOP defection portends broadcaster woes: An anticipated defection Thursday by GOP Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont from the Republican Party would shake up the Senate, shifting power to the Democrats and putting them in control of its committees, including Senate Commerce, which oversees the communications industry.

Sen. Fritz Hollings, ranking Democrat on Commerce, would replace Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., as chairman in a move that could spell trouble for broadcasters. Sen. Hollings opposes relaxing the newspaper-broadcast ownership rules, which the Federal Communications Commission is expected to do this summer. And he’s the author of so-called safe-harbor legislation that forces television stations to limit shows with gratuitous sex and violence to late-night hours, presumably when fewer children are watching.

Sen. Hollings is considered unfriendly to the Bell phone companies, good news for AT&T, which opposes House legislation that deregulates the Bells so they can better compete against cable companies in the broadband business. Sen. Hollings could easily stall the bill once it reaches the Senate by refusing to hold a vote on it.

Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, already an outspoken critic of TV smut, would have a bigger platform for his criticisms of Hollywood and broadcasters. The senator backs a code of conduct for TV stations and recently proposed legislation that would give the Federal Trade Commission authority to crack down on Hollywood studios, record companies and video game manufacturers that market violent content to kids.

Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., would replace Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., as Senate Majority Leader. Sen. Daschle is a strong voice on rural issues and could be a boon to rural broadcasters. He also might boost efforts by Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va., to pass a bill that provides tax credits to companies that roll out broadband in rural areas. The Senate is now evenly divided, 50-50, between both parties.

Speculation in Washington is that Sen. Jeffords may become an Independent, but even so, he’d vote with the Democrats, giving them control of the chamber. Republicans are urging Sen. Jeffords to stay in their party, at least until Congress completes work on the Bush administration’s tax cut and education bills. He’ll announce his decision Thursday in Vermont.

Marcus to head Williams newscast: The circle of show-runner changes at NBC News was completed Wednesday with the announcement that Bret Marcus is the new executive producer of MSNBC’s “The News With Brian Williams.”

Mr. Marcus, who since 2000 had been executive producer of CNBC prime-time programming, makes the switch immediately, succeeding Steve Capus, who this week became executive producer of “NBC Nightly News” as part of the shift that made Jonathan Wald executive producer of “Today.”

Since Mr. Williams has been generally presumed to be the eventual successor to Tom Brokaw as the face of NBC News, it’s worth noting that Mr. Marcus is most identified with the NBC news system, starting with his earliest days at WNBC-TV, New York, from 1975 to 1987, followed by three years at WRC-TV, Washington, and a return to WNBC in 1990. In 1993 he jumped to ABC News, where over the next four years he earned two Emmys and a Peabody as broadcast producer for “Turning Point” and another Emmy as executive producer of “Good Morning America Sunday.”

NBC takes Tuesday: NBC, widely anticipated to win the May sweeps and the season crown in adults 18 to 49, took Tuesday night in the key adults 18 to 49 demo, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data.

The Peacock Network, with a 6.0/16, ended with 22 percent margins over ABC and Fox (both at 4.9/13 averages) and improved its performance by 43 percent week to week. CBS came in with a fourth-ranked 3.7/10 on the evening in the demo but improved 19 percent from last week.

Leading off Tuesday for NBC was the hourlong series finale of “3rd Rock From the Sun” coming in with unexpectedly second-ranked 4.9 rating/14 share among adults 18 to 49, The finale posted 96 percent week-to-week growth over what NBC had averaged in the 8 p.m. hour (ET).

Meanwhile, Fox’s “That ’70s Show” (5.7/18) and “Titus” (4.8/13) maintained their holds on the 8 p.m. hour (5.3/15), inching down 2 percent week to week. CBS’s “JAG” (3.9/11) was also up 34 percent in adults 18 to 49, while ABC’s aging “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” (3.6/10) suffered a 20 percent drop from last week’s outing.

In the 9 p.m. hour, NBC’s hourlong season finale of “Frasier” (7.5/19) kicked it into high gear, with 17 percent growth from its previous week’s outing. ABC’s comedy tandem of “Dharma & Greg” (5.6/14) and “What About Joan” (4.1/10) were also up 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Fox’s “Dark Angel” (4.5/11) and CBS’s “60 Minutes II” (2.9/7) were up 13 percent and 26 percent, respectively, in adults 18 to 49.

NBC capped its night with its special celebrity edition of “The Weakest Link” (5.7/15) finishing a strong second in the 10 p.m. hour, improving 46 percent over what newsmagazine “Dateline NBC” (3.9/10) posted last week. ABC’s perennial 10 p.m. winner “NYPD Blue” (6.2/16) was up 15 percent week to week.

‘Buffy’
finale robust: The WB’s final original airing of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” Tuesday night, which left its heroine (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) dying in a season-ending cliffhanger before her move to UPN next season, turned in a robust 5.5 rating/8 share household average in Nielsen Media Research’s metered markets. “Buffy'”s 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) overnight score came in with a 244 percent advantage over UPN’s canceled “Seven Days” (1.6/2).

Things did not get much worse for UPN. Its soon-to-be-unbound “Chains of Love” posted a 2.2/3 household score — off 114 percent from The WB’s “Angel” (4.7/7) Tuesday night during the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. hour.

Trio readies relaunch: Trio, the “emerging” digital cable arts network owned by USA Networks, is relaunching on June 10 with a new promotional look and an ambitious plan for commissioning specials and original series programs, all aimed at cornering the “popular arts” audience, which is “wide open for the taking,” as Patrick Vien, president, emerging networks, USA Cable, put it.

Also coming to Trio will be the network premiere of “Elizabeth,” the critically acclaimed historical feature from USA’s feature film unit; all 70 hours of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In,” which has not been seen in its entirety since 1973; and a 10-hour Labor Day marathon of music from the New Orleans Jazz festival as well as a selection of new-to-the-U.S. documentaries and specials, including the Eurythmics Peace Tour.

But clearly, Trio’s promotional push is dependent on its original programming — 10 original specials this year and up to 26 in 2002. Specials will include “Walk Through,” featuring tours of private art collections, and “Art and Outrage,” a documentary about such controversial art as the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit and the so-called “dung madonna.”

Trio’s success also will be dependent on increasing its digital cable carriage, which now stands at approximately 11 million households, and on attracting advertisers looking for upscale demos and cross-platform deals.

USA Cable plans to offer USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel advertisers that fit the Trio demographic exclusive sponsorships on Trio programming of the “Texaco Theater strategy,” Mr. Vien said.

A year from now, Trio “will be able to have original series on — art-oriented, fiction and nonfiction,” said Bill Haber, the network’s new president and CEO. Mr. Haber, one of the founding partners of the Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles, shocked the Hollywood community in the mid-’90s by leaving the business to do charitable work with Save the Children, a Westport, Conn.-based nonprofit. He has since relaunched himself as well, this time as a successful producer for stage theatricals, including “Proof” and “Dirty Blonde,” while continuing his association with Save the Children.

Mr. Haber is drawing on his present and former lives in his new Trio position: His new theatrical company has a TV first-look deal with USA, and his Hollywood contacts are being offered opportunities to “do things [at Trio] that they are probably not able to do in other places.”

An example of what Trio will first present is an “hour of the most important American [theatrical] monologues done by great American actors, big stars,” said Mr. Haber. “Not the kind of thing they would do on regular TV.”

Trio also will film Broadway and off-Broadway plays for its service, aiming to have six shows on tape by the end of the year. One candidate for that treatment is “Madame Melville,” produced by Mr. Haber.

The arts channel will be investing aggressively in original programming, Mr. Vien added. “We are investing ahead of the distribution curve,” he said, predicting profitability within two or three years.

Donovan new MSTV president: The Association for Maximum Service Television in Washington last week named David Donovan its new president. Mr. Donovan, 47, is currently vice president, legal and legislative affairs, for the Association of Local Television Stations. At MSTV he will succeed Margita White, who is retiring. Mr. Donovan’s successor at ALTV is Robert Branson, who is currently vice president and chief legal counsel for Post-Newsweek Stations.

Be Here raises $6 million: Enhanced television technology developer Be Here has raised $6 million in equity financing from a group of investors led by Snider Capital. The company, which adds depth and motion to live television broadcasts via high-powered manipulation of camera angles, has now raised $23 million in financing since its inception in 1996. Be Here’s technology has been used to enable Internet and interactive television viewers to “zoom in” on a live broadcast by controlling the focus of a virtual online camera. Several professional sports leagues have allied themselves with Be Here, including the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League.

WJLA, Travelago in partnership: ABC affiliate WJLA-TV, Washington, will partner with Travelago to provide streaming travel videos on its Web site, WJLA.com. Visitors to the Web site will be able to watch thousands of videos about more than 850 destinations around the world. “This partnership gives WJLA the power to provide its site’s users with thousands of travel videos and extensive travel news and information,” said Jay Mitchell, vice-president and editor in chief of Travelago.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications