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Aug 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

‘Mutant X’ to move forward, court rules

One of the most anticipated new syndicated action TV shows for the fall season will be able to move forward, thanks to a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The court threw out a lawsuit Thursday from 20th Century Fox that claimed the new show, Tribune’s “Mutant X,” is a copycat of 20th Century Fox’s box office hit feature “X-Men.”

“This morning, the U.S. Disctrict Court overwhelmingly ruled in our favor by denying Fox’s claims seeking a preliminary injunction to halt production and use of the title for our eagerly awaited new action hour ‘Mutant X’ and dismissing all the significant claims against Tribune Entertainment,” Dick Askin, president and CEO of Tribune Entertainment, said Thursday. “We have always believed that there [are] no actionable similarities whatsoever between ‘Mutant X’ and the motion picture ‘X-Men,’ and we are pleased that Judge [Allen G.] Schwartz agreed with us and rejected Fox’s efforts to stop the show.”

Thomas to star in WB’s ‘Off Centre’: Eddie Kaye Thomas, who has starred in a pair of “American Pie” movies, has been cast to star in The WB’s fall 2001 buddy comedy “Off Centre,” created by “American Pie” producers Chris and Paul Weitz.

Mr. Thomas replaces actor Josh Radnor in the role of Mike, a staid, slightly neurotic guy who is in stark contrast to sophisticated, womanizing British roommate Euan (played by Sean Maguire). A spokeswoman for The WB Network said the Weitz brothers thought Mr. Thomas was a “better fit” for the role than Mr. Radnor.

Mr. Thomas also appears in three upcoming features: the Matt Damon and Ben Affleck-produced “Stolen Summer”; “Taboo,” co-starring Nick Stahl and Amber Benson; and the coming-of-age comedy “Sheer Bliss,” an independent film that tells the story of a group of college friends trying to figure out their post-graduation lives.

Lundberg promoted at Fox: Giles Lundberg, an audience research veteran at Fox for 13 years, has been promoted to executive vice president of research and marketing for Fox Broadcasting Company.

Mr. Lundberg has overall responsibility for handling affiliate, audience, consumer, program/market research, sales and sports research for Fox’s entertainment, news and sports divisions. He will continue to report to Gail Berman, president of Fox’s entertainment unit.

Mr. Lundberg, who previously served as senior vice president of research and marketing since 1995, joined Fox in 1988 as director of sales research and marketing after a four-year stint (1984-88) in broadcast research at New York agency Foote, Cone and Belding. Before that, he was with agency Benton & Bowles (now DMB&B Advertising) from 1981-84.

NBC runs with the bulls: NBC has entered into a rights deal with the Professional Bull Riders Association (PBR) to do first-ever live broadcast coverage of the “$200,000 Bud Light World Challenge” rodeo event from the Frank Erwin Center at the University of Texas in Austin on Saturday, Nov. 24.

NBC Sports Executive Producer Tom Roy will produce the live event along with NBC Sports’ John Gonzalez, who will direct the coverage. The first-time, two-hour PBR event will feature the top 45 international bull riders and world’s top 30 ranked bulls.

“Having NBC Sports produce and televise the Professional Bull Riders Bud Light World Challenge is not only a milestone for our young organization, but also exposes our sport to a vast new audience of potential fans who will discover the fast-paced danger and excitement of professional bull riding,” PBR Chief Executive Officer Randy Bernard said in a statement.

Founded in 1992, the PBR Bud Light Cup Series includes 29 stops in the United States and Canada, culminating in the Bud Light Cup World Championships in Las Vegas and hosted by Caesars Palace. Prize money on the tour, which is televised weekly on Viacom-owned cable channel The National Network (TNN), totals $7.2 million.

Warner Bros.’ Greenblatt retiring: Syndie vet Dan Greenblatt will cap a 36 year career at the end of September, retiring as executive vice president of sales at Warner Bros where he oversaw the two syndication arms of the studio, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution and Telepictures Distribution. Mr. Greenblatt will relocate to Florida.

“Dan is a great salesman, a terrific executive and a good friend,” said Dick Robertson, president, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. “He’s been a vital part of our divisions’ continued success in a business climate that is increasingly challenging. He has also been a key architect of many of our most innovative and successful sales and distribution strategies throughout his seven years with our company.”

Mr. Greenblatt was named to his current post in October 1999, becoming the two syndication divisions’ No. 2 executive and assuming oversight of both distribution operations. He was responsible for the distribution sales activities for both divisions’ first-run and off-network properties, as well as overseeing the day-to-day operations of administration, research, marketing, creative services, programming and new business development.

‘Wayne Brady’ gets a bunch of viewers: ABC’s debut of the summer replacement sketch comedy/variety series, “The Wayne Brady Show,” dominated the Wednesday 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) time slots by 67 percent margin in adults 18 to 49 over its nearest competitor (Fox) that night.

Premiering with an hour-long special episode, “Wayne Brady” opened with a 4.5 rating/15 share in adults 18 to 49 to win the 8 p.m. hour and post 55 percent week-to-week improvement in the time period, according to Nielsen Media Research fast national data. The sketch and musical variety show held a commanding 67 percent advantage over Fox’s double run of “Grounded for Life” (2.7/9) during the frame.

Additionally, “Wayne Brady” won the hour frame in adults 18 to 34 (4.0/14), adults 25 to 54 (4.7/15), households (6.7/13) and total viewers (10.2 million) to edge out CBS’s “60 Minutes II” in the latter two categories (6.4/12, 8.6 million total viewers).

ABC also won the night in adults 18 to 34 (3.5/11), moving up 13 percent from its week-ago performance. NBC, airing repeats of “Ed” (1.9/7), “The West Wing” (3.4/10) and “Law & Order” (3.8/11) was up 3 percent in adults 18 to 49 for the night (3.0/9). Fox, who worked in an original episode of “Family Guy” (3.0/9) to win the 8:30 p.m. slot, was flat week-to-week at a 2.8/9. CBS moved up 13 percent to a 2.3/7.

Cablevision lowers financial projections: Cablevision Systems Corp. stock fell nearly 4 percent to $51.85 a share after the company lowered its previous guidance for the year, saying pro forma cash flow for cable television, high-speed data and Long Island Lightpath now likely will be up 11 percent to 13 percent, instead of 13 percent to 15 percent. It also lowered its subscriber growth forecast to 1 percent from 1.75 percent for 2001 and said pro forma cash flow for total telecommunications will now grow 7 percent to 9 percent, instead of the previously estimated 10 percent to 11 percent. The company reported a better-than-expected net loss for the second quarter of $122 million, or 6 cents per share.

The company plans a major launch of its digital service in late September and said its advanced digital set-top boxes, manufactured by Sony, will contain Sony software but will be an open platform. Second-quarter pro forma net revenues rose 7 percent to $1.1 billion, and operating cash flow rose 4 percent to $254.4 million. Subscribers grew 1.3 percent from a year earlier, although there was a 4 percent decline in pay-per-view revenues due to fewer movie buys and less professional wrestling. Rainbow Media Group’s core network revenues rose 18 percent to $130.8 million, with operating cash flow rising 21 percent to $49 million.

AT&T’s Disney, Microsoft talks no big deal: Don’t expect a big deal as a result of talks between AT&T Corp. Chairman Michael Armstrong and Walt Disney Chairman Michael Eisner Thursday in Los Angeles and with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates on Friday in Seattle. Sources close to the companies say Disney an
d Microsoft, at best, will pursue strategic equity investments in AT&T Broadband in exchange for valuable arrangements, including secured carriage for content and services.

Although an infusion of several billion dollars from strategic partners would help AT&T further reduce its debt, that is not a long-term solution. Sources said Microsoft most likely would back a Comcast bid for AT&T Broadband — in which Disney has a minority stake — only as a way to block an AOL Time Warner offer, if it materializes.

AT&T’s continued talks with Disney, Cox Communications and AOL Time Warner — all of which have signed confidentiality agreements — are designed to squeeze Comcast, the only bidder for AT&T Broadband so far, for concessions that would benefit the other potential bidders. Comcast is seeking modifications to the confidentiality pact it was asked to sign before AT&T will discuss its bid allow it, among other things, to alter its initial bid and talk to other interested parties. Comcast remains Wall Street’s favored bidder to win this one.

Levitt leaving Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst: Michael Levitt, the mastermind behind Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst’s broadcast investments in the 1990s, has resigned from the Dallas-based leveraged buyout firm as a result of a reorganization that will shut down its New York office. Mr. Levitt led Hicks, Muse in successful broadcast deals involving Clear Channel Communications and LIN Television and in failed investments such as Rhythms NetConnections and Teligent. The firm is streamlining its fund raising in Latin America, where it hoped to raise $1 billion. But the firm continues to add partners, most recently Peter Brodsky in Dallas and Lyndon Lea in London.

Artists Television Group cuts staff: Artists Television Group, the network TV production arm of Michael Ovitz’s Artists Management Group, has laid off close to half its staff as rumors fly that onetime Hollywood uber-agent Mr. Ovitz is trying to find a studio buyer or a partner for his fledgling independent TV unit.

ATG handed out pink slips Wednesday to 18 of its 38 staffers, with the layoffs involving production personnel, business affairs executives and administrative assistants, confirmed an ATG spokesman. Left intact was ATG’s core management team, including ATG President and CEO Eric Tannenbaum, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President Sandra Stern and Executive Vice President of Creative Affairs Kim Haswell. The highest-ranking executive to be laid off is Bill Phillips, senior vice president of production.

The layoffs come on the heels of recent Hollywood industry speculation that Mr. Ovitz’s management company has been looking in recent months to find an outside studio to acquire the TV production unit or share in the financing of network series production. In recent months, ATG is said by sources to have approached several studios, including Paramount Television Group and Sony-owned Columbia TriStar Television.

However, various production sources said Columbia TriStar, already a partner with ATG in providing advance money for international distribution sales rights to series, had recently rebuffed ATG’s request to fold the indie production unit into the major studio.

One source close to Columbia TriStar, said ATG had specifically approached the major studio about taking over production on the fall 2001 CBS sitcom “The Ellen Show” (starring Ellen DeGeneres) as well as its upcoming “Lost in the USA” reality series for The WB Network.

“There just was not a good financial incentive to take that kind of risk” on taking over the two fall series, said a source privy to Columbia TriStar’s talks with ATG.

A spokeswoman for Paramount said she did not have direct knowledge that ATG had approached the Hollywood studio. With CBS Productions already set as a co-production partner on “The Ellen Show” it was not immediately known if the Viacom sister unit, Paramount, would be inclined to the let the Eye Network production arm take over production of the show first.

Mr. Tannenbaum, a former president of Columbia TriStar Television, helped ATG forge its charter international distribution/financing relationship with the Sony-owned studio, but since ATG’s formation in late 1999, questions have kept cropping up over Mr. Ovitz’s financing. In the past, ATG officials have said in the past Mr. Ovitz was using his own money and other sources of private venture capital.

In the past, it has been widely rumored that supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle and various international investors had stakes in AMG, only to pull out after the failure of various Internet and new media marketing ventures. At one point, Mr. Ovitz had been rebuffed in his request to telecom giant AT&T that it stake his talent management, film and TV production and new media companies.

With an estimated $20 million in operating expenses annually for Artists Television Group, Mr. Ovitz’s overall management company has not seen returns from the lucrative must-have back-end domestic syndication market. That’s because all five of ATG’s once-promising slate of 2000-01 season shows — “Grosse Pointe” (The WB), “Madigan Men” (NBC), “The $treet” (Fox), “The Fighting Fitzgeralds” (NBC) and “The Weber Show” (NBC) — fell under the cancellation ax last season.

On top of the freshman pickups of “The Ellen Show” and “Lost in the USA,” ATG has two other midseason pickups for sitcoms “Cedric the Coach” and “No Ordinary Girl,” both seven-episode orders from The WB.

Although ATG said Mr. Ovitz has “made it no secret” that he is actively seeking outside financing partners, there are still nagging doubts whether the major studios would want to take over production on new, unproven shows without a track record of ratings success and long-term network deals to guarantee back-end syndication revenue streams.

General Motors is cable’s top spender: General Motors was the top spender on national cable-network advertising in the 2000-01 season, according to data just released by the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau.

General Motors spent almost $170 million on network cable, according to CAB’s analysis of Competitive Media Reporting data. AOL Time Warner was in second place with $169 million, followed by Procter & Gamble ($161 million), Philip Morris ($143 million) and AT&T ($116 million). For these top five advertisers, cable spending was up 12.7 percent over the previous year.

In terms of increases in national cable spending AOL TW, which is also the second largest multiple system operator in the country, led the way, upping its own national cable ad buys by more than $85.2 million. AT&T, currently the No. 1 MSO, followed, increasing its own national cable ad spending by more than $53.5 million. AT&T also led the list of advertisers in terms of percentage of ad budget in national network cable, investing a full 55.6 percent of all TV dollars it spent in national ad-supported cable.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications