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Jun 8, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Disney handing out 1,000 pink slips

Having secured a little more than 3,000 job cuts through voluntary severance packages, The Walt Disney Co. is preparing to send out pink slip notices to just under 1,000 employees from now through late July or early August.

With a current workforce of more than 120,000 employees, Disney had laid out plans two months ago to trim 4,000 jobs, or 3 percent, from its global payroll, which is facing a streamlining due to the overall economic decline in advertising and discretionary entertainment/tourism spending. At the time, Disney said it expected to save as much as $350 million to $400 million and originally hoped to have the job cuts completed by mid-summer, near the end of the third quarter on June 30.

A corporate Disney spokesman said the remaining involuntary job cuts will continue across all divisions, such as television broadcasting (ABC), production (Touchstone Television), new media (Walt Disney Internet Group) and the motion picture and theme park units. The Disney rep also noted that the cuts would be “across-the-board,” including the corporate offices.

The representative said the Burbank, Calif.-based media conglomerate has not devised a formula to make certain percentage cuts within the operating units, nor has yet to identify or disclose other senior executives to receive pink slips. He also confirmed that the involuntary layoff packages will not be as “generous” as the severance packages handed out to employees voluntarily leaving the company.

Late Friday, Reuters reported that Walt Disney World in Florida will reportedly feel the brunt of the losses, with some 1,200 people expected to leave its operations, including those who opted for the voluntary package. It also reported that roughly 200 staff positions will be trimmed at the Disneyland theme park in Southern California, which also includes the new $1 billion-plus California Adventure amusement attraction.

Disney shares were off 38 cents, or 1.2 percent, at $31.78 Friday afternoon. The stock’s loss came amid a broad decline that saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average off 146 points, or 1.3 percent, at roughly 10,944.

McGillis taking on TV role: Kelly McGillis, who was Tom Cruise’s love interest in the 1986 film “Top Gun,” is reportedly set to take an assignment at the CIA in CBS’s fall 2001 drama, “The Agency.” According to a Fox News Channel report on Friday, Ms. McGillis, who co-starred with Harrison Ford in the 1984 film “Witness,” is filling “The Agency” role played by Andrea Roth (formerly of CBS’s “Diagnosis, Murder” and “Nash Bridges”) in the original pilot episode filmed last April.

There was no immediate word as to whether the entire pilot or some individual scenes will be reshot to incorporate Ms. McGillis into the cast. She joins the current cast of Gil Bellows (“Ally McBeal”), Rocky Carroll (“Chicago Hope”), “Paige Turco” (“Party of Five”), Ronny Cox (“Family Law,” “Apple’s Way”), David Clennon (“thirtysomething”) and Will Patton (“VR.5,” “Remember the Titans).

“The Agency” would mark Ms. McGillis first TV series role in front of the camera; she previously provided a voice in ABC’s Saturday morning cartoon “Buzz Lightyear of Star Command.” She also starred in such pay cable telefilms as “The Settlement” (for the Starz! Channel) in 2000 and “Perfect Prey” (HBO) in 1998.

A spokesman for Studios USA, which co-produces the show with CBS Productions, referred all questions on “The Agency” to a CBS representative, who did not return a call by press time late Friday. Ms. McGillis’ agents at the Gersh Agency in Los Angeles referred all questions to her publicist, who was also unable to confirm her joining the CBS drama, which is being executive-produced by noted filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen (“The Perfect Storm,” “Air Force One”).

New series make creative, executive changes: Typical of post-upfront tweaks to previously announced 2001-02 prime-time network series, there have been changes in the creative ranks of a handful of shows. Word filtered out last week that creative differences, often a fissure that widens on incoming freshman shows, has Tim Doyle leaving as one of the executive producers on ABC’s Jason Alexander-led “Bob Patterson” sitcom about a motivational speaker.

Caroline Finger, a partner in TVtracker.com, an Internet-based database tracking TV series in development, suggested several veteran executive producers are being considered, with “Patterson” executive producers Mr. Alexander and Ira Behr expected to announce a replacement in a couple of weeks. A spokeswoman for 20th Century Fox Television, which co-produces “Patterson” with Touchstone Television, confirmed Mr. Doyle’s departure but said rumors about “King of Queens” show runner David Litt’s joining the show were not true.

“They have kept quiet [on internal producer shifts], but we’ve heard there are some growing creative differences over the direction ‘Bob Patterson’ is taking,” Ms. Finger said.

“But that happens on almost any new pilot, where retooling can go on almost immediately after it’s shot,” added Mark Hoebich, president and owner of TVtracker.com.

In other musical chairs, Paul Feig, a co-creator and executive producer with Judd Apatow, is no longer attached to the upcoming Fox sitcom “Undeclared” (from DreamWorks Television).

Ms. Finger also cited some other forms of major tinkering: NBC’s upcoming “Emeril” sitcom (from NBC Studios) is actively looking to make some cast additions to support Food Network chef Emeril Legasse, whose new show did not score well with ad buyers at last month’s upfront presentations in New York; some scenes for ABC’s midseason Supreme Court drama “The Court” (Touchstone) are being reshot because they were considered “too talky, not enough action”; and the title for The WB’s “Maybe I’m Adopted” (by producers Warner Bros. and Touchstone) is expected to be changed ,because of some complaints from adoption groups.

“Maybe they are going to come up with ‘Maybe They’re Not My Birth Parents’ as a more palatable title,” Ms. Finger ventured.

Levin takes on role as ‘Felicity’ executive producer: Jennifer Levin, a co-executive producer of The WB Network’s 3-year-old “Felicity” drama, has signed a new two-year production and development deal with series producer Touchstone Television. As part of the deal, sealed by Touchstone Television Executive Vice President Stephen McPherson, Ms. Levin is being promoted to executive producer of “Felicity” in addition to developing new shows with J.J. Abrams, the co-creator and executive producer of “Felicity and “Alias” (the latter a fall 2001 drama for ABC).

“We are enormously pleased to have secured Jennifer’s deal here at Touchstone Television,” Mr. McPherson said in a statement. “Her talents are a great complement to the team on the show, and we look forward to her development success.”

Matt Reeves, co-creator and executive producer of “Felicity” said, “Jennifer has been an invaluable part of the ‘Felicity’ production team from the very beginning, and it’s fantastic to see her take on this crucial role on the series.”

Ms. Levin has been with “Felicity” since the first season, starting as co-producer and working her way to co-executive producer on the show this season. Before “Felicity,” Ms. Levin was a story editor on the CBS hospital drama “Chicago Hope” for three seasons.

A licensed physician, Ms. Levin has a degree in medicine from UCLA and trained at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Before her jump into entertainment, she worked as an internist, helping the underprivileged at the South Central Family Health Center in Los Angeles.

Ms. Levin is represented by Richard Weitz at Endeavor and attorney Don Wallerstein from Rohner & Wallerstein.

“Felicity” is produced by Imagine Television in association with Touchstone Television and is set to begin its fourth season this fall on The WB.

‘Iron Chef’ specials to premiere this summer: “Iron Chef USA: Showdown in Las Vegas,” the first of two all-new, American-style specials based on the format of the Japanese culinary show “Iron Chef,” will premiere at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) Friday, Aug. 31 on UP
N. William Shatner, formerly Capt. Kirk on the original “Star Trek” series, will serve as “Chairman” when the top chefs in the U.S. battle the “Iron Chefs” for culinary supremacy.

A pair of hour-long “Iron Chef USA” specials will be taped in front of an audience in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on June 27 and 28. Producers are in the process of booking culinary masters and celebrity judges for the savory showdowns.

Based on format rights of Fuji TV, “Iron Chef USA” is produced by the Larry Thompson Organization in association with Lions Gate Entertainment, which will distribute the specials worldwide. Larry Thompson (“And the Beat Goes On: The Sonny and Cher Story,” “Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter”) is executive producer.

Barker signs on for more ‘Price Is Right’ years: Emmy Award winner Bob Barker begins his 30th season as host of “The Price Is Right” and has agreed to a new multiyear contract with the show, which is produced by Pearson Television and airs on CBS.

Mr. Barker also announced two models, Heather Kozar and Claudia Jordan, will join Nikki Ziering on the “Barker’s Beauties” modeling team for the coming season. Auditions and tryouts for the new model slots had been ongoing for several months.

Ms. Kozar, an Akron, Ohio, native, appeared in the medical emergency series “Rescue 77” and was Playboy Playmate of the Year in 1999. Ms. Jordan, hailing from Providence, R.I., studied journalism before representing her state in the Miss Teen USA and Miss USA pageants, both broadcast on CBS.

The longest-running game show in television history, “Price Is Right” premiered with Mr. Barker as host in September 1972 and is the second-highest-rated daytime TV program. Mr. Barker has won a total of 14 Emmy Awards for the show, including a record-breaking 11 awards for best host, one for Lifetime Achievement and two as executive producer.

Mr. Barker’s deal was announced by Lucy Johnson, CBS’s senior vice president of daytime/children’s programs and special programs, and Syd Vinnedge, a senior executive with U.K.-based Pearson Television. It came following a taping of the season’s premiere episode in the Bob Barker Studio at CBS Television City, Los Angeles. The stage, once home to “The Red Skelton Show” and “The Carol Burnett Show” was named the Bob Barker Studio in 1998, in recognition of Barker’s 5,000th episode of “The Price is Right.”

Viewers pencil In PBS’s fall 2001 schedule: In the first major prime-time restructuring in more than a quarter of a century, PBS is announcing a new fall 2001 lineup based on a successful Pilot Schedule Project aimed at creating a more viewer-friendly program schedule.

Among the major changes, “Exxon Mobil Masterpiece Theatre,” which for 30 years has brought the best of British drama to American television audiences, moves from Sunday to 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. Monday. “American Masters,” acclaimed for its in-depth portraits of important figures in America’s artistic and cultural life, will begin airing as a weekly series in the 9 p.m. Sunday time slot from October through December. Also, “American Experience” returns to a 9 p.m. Sunday berth in Jan. 2002 with its menu of biographies and historical documentaries.

PBS is adding two new continuing weekly series to the fall schedule. “Life 360,” a 13-part series that each week tells real stories centered on a single theme through documentary, performances and personal narrative. “Life 360,” a co-production of Oregon Public Broadcasting and ABC News “Nightline,” and hosted by “Nightline” correspondent Michel Martin, will air 9 p.m. Friday nights. “Antiques Road Show UK,” featuring 20 new episodes from the British version of the series, will be expanded to hour length by WGBH-TV in Boston and get double runs in PBS’s 8 p.m. Monday and Thursday time slots.

The Pilot Schedule Project, initiated by PBS President and CEO Pat Mitchell, was launched last October in seven markets across the country.

“We hope this new schedule will bring more people to our terrific fall lineup, increase audience flow from program to program and attract new viewers and members,” Ms. Mitchell said in a statement. “These changes, which were developed in collaboration with our stations and after looking at the results of the Pilot Schedule, exemplify our strategy of keeping the best and reinventing the rest.”

The Pilot Schedule Project, funded in part by PBS member stations and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, included the following participating PBS stations: WMFE-TV in Orlando; WQED-TV in Pittsburgh; WHYY-TV in Philadelphia; GPTV in Atlanta; KUED-TV in Salt Lake City; WVIZ-TV in Cleveland; and KPBS-TV San Diego.

Additionally, two new limited-run series, “Africa” and “Evolution,” billed as documentaries illustrating the dynamic relationship between the country’s environment, its human history and Darwin’s theory of evolution, will air in September.

The fall 2001 schedule PBS follows (Saturdays are programmed locally by PBS affiliates):


8 p.m. “Nature” (pre-empted for eight-weeks beginning September 9 by “Africa”; “Nature” returns in November.)

9 p.m. “American Masters” and “American Experience”


8 p.m. “Antiques Roadshow”

9 p.m. “Exxon Mobil Masterpiece Theatre”


8 p.m. “Nova”

9 p.m. Science programming (e.g., “Scientific American Frontiers” and “National Geographic” specials)

10 p.m. Reality programming (including local news)


8 p.m. Limited series and specials featuring a mix of performance programming and long-form documentaries (e.g., “Great Performers,” Mark Russell comedy specials and other new programming)


8 p.m. “Antiques Roadshow UK” (new continuing series)

9 p.m. “Frontline”

10 p.m. “Mystery!”


8 p.m. “Washington Week in Review”

8:30 p.m. “Wall Street Week with Louis Rukeyser”

9 p.m. “Life 360” (new continuing series)

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications