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Sep 17, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Networks regroup after week of terrorist attacks

Commercials and entertainment programming began reappearing on a limited basis on TV in New York over the weekend, but regularly scheduled programming was still a hit or miss proposition on a day when official press conferences ran all but back-to-back and news divisions were mobilizing their troops to Mideast hotspots. In Kabul, CNN’s Nic Robertson, the only U.S.-deployed network correspondent who had been able to report from inside Afghanistan, was appealing a directive to leave the country because the foreign ministry could not guarantee his safety.

A spokeswoman for CNN said it might be Tuesday before the situation resolved itself. Meanwhile, in an unrelated bit of excitement, Steve Harrigan, the Moscow-based correspondent who had been deployed to Afghanistan, keeled over on-camera while reporting from rebel-held territory about 15 miles north of Kabul, apparently the result of food poisoning. He was propped up on a chair to go back on camera so as to let executives and viewers of CNN that he was, at least relatively, OK.

All the major news organizations had correspondents headed for Islamabad and other overseas locations that may be affected by the United States’ response to last week’s attacks.

“It’s kind of fluid right now,” said a Fox News Channel spokesman. Fox began easing back into commercial breaks Monday morning. MSNBC planned to put commercials in the hour-long “The News With Brian Williams” Monday night but otherwise planned to run commercial-free through at least 6 a.m. and then try them on what a spokesman described as “a limited basis.”

All three network news organizations planned hour-long evening newscasts and prime-time reports in special or magazine format. ABC News and CBS News have scheduled reports lasting at least an hour each night this week.

In installments Monday and Wednesday, on “60 Minutes II,” Dan Rather was planning to air recent interviews with members of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle. NBC is planning for the return of “The Tonight Show” at 11:35 p.m. Tuesday. Baseball games were set to resume Monday night.

The NFL is expected Tuesday to announce that it will knock a week off the playoffs to accommodate last week’s canceled games, since there is no way to move the Jan. 27 Super Bowl and there is only one week between the end of the playoffs and the championship.

In its sports coverage, Fox Sports planned to put an American flag where its famed “Fox box” has been and to cover the singing of the National Anthem, as well as moments of silence. The pregame shows were to focus on baseball as part of the healing process, said a spokesman.

Fox Sports Net regional channels, which had shown nothing but a rippling American flag all weekend, planned to return “The Best Damn Sports Show” — without the comedy — back to the lineup Monday. WCBS-TV, the station that dominated the ratings in New York (all the other English-language stations’ transmitters were atop the World Trade Center), broadcast 18 hours of news Saturday, and General Manager Tony Petitti was hoping to add early morning and late-afternoon news time and perhaps even access news blocks, some of it with reduced commercial inventory, but also to have regular entertainment programming and commercials during the day.

“If information is breaking,” he said, “we’re going to be there immediately.”

“Live With Regis & Kelly” was planning to return to the air Tuesday morning, incorporating a news update and a segment featuring Regis Philbin talking to the firemen and other heroic relief workers who worked all weekend in search of survivors at what became known as “Ground Hero.”

Meanwhile, a poll of 500 viewers nationwide was released by WestGroup Research and C3 (Convergent Communications Consultants). It showed that “viewers praised the commitment to continuous coverage by the networks and local stations,” said C3 President Franklin E. Graham.

NBC pulls plans to produce terrorism-themed ‘Law & Order’ series: Confirming previous speculation (EM, Sept. 17), NBC, as well as series producers Studios USA and Dick Wolf Films, announced that they are scrapping plans to produce and air a five-hour “Law & Order” miniseries centering on terrorism in New York. The miniseries, originally slated for NBC’s midseason schedule, was to incorporate casts from the three “L&O” shows on its schedules (including this fall’s debuting “Law & Order: “Criminal Intent” spinoff).

NBC, Studios USA and Wolf Films issued a joint statement that “believe it is inappropriate to produce the ‘Law & Order’ miniseries, dealing with terrorism, in light of the horrifying events that have unfolded over the past week.” The statement added: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and colleagues of everyone touched by this tragedy.”

NBC has, indeed, been personally affected, with “Frasier” co-creator David Angell, and his wife, Lynn, being passengers on one of the airline flights that was crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers on Sept. 11. Additionally, WNBC-TV in New York is said to have lost one engineer working on its transmission tower atop the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks.

Networks plan telethon in wake of attacks: The major broadcast network entertainment divisions are hoping to mount a telethon to raise money for relief efforts in the wake of the terrorist assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Planning was being conducted under top-secret conditions, but sources said the hope is to put on the two-hour telethon Friday night and to roadblock it on as many broadcast and cable outlets as possible.

According to various sources, Joel Gallen, executive producer of the “2001 MTV Movie Awards,” has been named to helm the telethon’s production — though there has been no further word on which celebrities or newsmakers will be involved as hosts and performers. One network source said the idea for the telethon was “germinated” among the networks, but among the key backers of the fund-raiser for victims, survivors and relief organizations are executives at media conglomerates AOL Time Warner and The Walt Disney Co./ABC.

A source for The WB Network said Friday’s scheduling of the telethon may be tentative and a later date could be chosen. The WB pre-empted the planned Sept. 14 premieres of its Friday lineup — “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” “Maybe It’s Me,” “Reba” and “Raising Dad” — and tentatively rescheduled them for Friday.

American corporations are already estimated to have made pledges of more than $200 million in donations to relief organizations, and Congress has passed an emergency aid package of $40 billion (some of which would go to military and national security efforts).

“Private enterprise and charitable foundations have done an amazing job in raising money and other products and goods, such as medicine and clothing, but I have to wonder how much more the networks can do for this effort,” said one New York advertising agency source, who questioned the wisdom of a televised marathon. “Certainly, the networks have already been losing a lot of money on interrupted [news] coverage, but one has to wonder how much more a commercial-free telethon would affect their bottom lines.”

Media stocks down sharply in Monday trading: Media and entertainment industry stocks took a hammering Monday along with the overall stock market. The Dow Jones industrials fell as much as 722 points during the first day of trading since the Sept. 11 disaster and closed down 7 percent, or 671 points, for the day. General Electric (owner of NBC) fell 10 percent to close at $60.91 a share after warnings that its 2001 earnings will be off from earlier estimates and an announcement that the company would accelerate its stock buyback program. AOL Time Warner (closing at $30.15) and Viacom (closing at $32.81) each were down around 4 points. USA Networks fell 4.6 points to $18.45 a share, and Tribune was down 2 points to $37. Gannett, which also issued a warning Friday about weaker-than-expected ad spending and revenues, was down 3 points to $60.91. The Walt Disney Co., which was down
4 points to $19.36 a share at the close, Monday announced a $1 billion debt offering. The company said it wanted to demonstrate its confidence in the markets and in Disney. The proceeds can be used to repurchase stock or to help acquire the Fox Family Channel for $5.3 billion. Disney also has registered to sell $7.5 billion in securities to fund the acquisition.

ABN AMRO assesses attack’s effect on media stocks: Investment banks cranked up their research machines to assess the near-term damage. Analyst David Doft and his team at ABN AMRO said in a report to clients that the terrorist attacks will have a negative impact on the near-term and intermediate outlook for cyclical entertainment stocks. Already weak advertiser spending will get even weaker into 2002. The television networks, especially those featuring heavy news coverage, will suffer significant advertising revenue declines and lower third-quarter earnings, the report said. Cable’s limited dependence on advertising will allow it to outperform other media stocks near-term, and it could actually see increased revenues and earnings in the second half of 2001. However, new cable television service deployments could suffer. Destination-based theme parks, such as the ones Disney owns, will suffer due to reduced consumer travel and spending. However, AT&T Corp. will be an major beneficiary of increased use of telecommunications as a substitute for business and personal travel, according to analyst Jack Grubman at Salomon Smith Barney.

NBC news holds top ratings spot for weekend: NBC continued to hold the ratings edge in extended news coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack — winning four out of the past six nights in the household ratings. But Fox took home a strong Saturday victory with a special two-hour, commercial-free edition of “America’s Most Wanted,” while CBS and ABC also found pockets of victory, CBS with Sunday’s 7 p.m.-to-8 p.m. (ET) run of “60 Minutes” and ABC with a 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. news special on Saturday.

Starting on Saturday night in prime time, the Big 3 networks began returning to regularly scheduled programming. However, regularly scheduled news programs and special runs continued to dominate viewers’ attention on Saturday and Sunday.

Continuing Fox’s usual Saturday dominance, its special two-hour (8 p.m.-to-10 p.m.) run of “America’s Most Wanted,” which focused much of the show on the No. 1 suspect, Osama bin Laden, and also interspersed national cable news feeds from Fox News Channel, turned in a top-ranked 5.8 rating/11 share in households and a 3.8/12 in adults 18 to 49, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data. Overall, Fox also bested all network competition with 9.4 million total viewers.

In the opposing Saturday 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. time slot, a special run of “Dateline NBC” came in second in households (5.1/10) and adults 18 to 49 (2.5/9) to Fox’s revitalized “AMW” juggernaut. ABC’s 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. Saturday news special (anchored by Elizabeth Vargas), however, won the closing hour frame in households (5.8/11), adults 18 to 49 (3.2/10) and total viewers (8.5 million).

Viewer appetite for any post-attack news developments continued Sunday, with CBS’s regularly scheduled “60 Minutes” — the first news show in six days with commercials — taking the 7 p.m. hour in households (9.7/17) and total viewers (14.0 million). However, the first hour of NBC News’ two-hour (7 p.m.-to-9 p.m.) special coverage, which was second in households (6.9/12) and total viewers (9.4 million), beat “60 Minutes” in adults 18 to 49 (3.1/10 vs. 3.0/9).

NBC’s news special took the entire 7 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Sunday frame in households (8.1/14) and adults 18 to 49 (3.7/11). Meanwhile, ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney” presented the biodocumentary “Walt — The Man Behind the Myth” (2.1/6 in adults 18 to 49) and Fox opened with “That ’70s Show” (2.5/8) and closed the remainder of the night (7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.) with “Mrs. Doubtfire” to win the night in adults 18 to 49 (4.1/11). ABC News’ 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. news special, anchored by Ted Koppel, won the closing hour of Sunday prime time in households (7.3/12), adults 18 to 49 (4.0/10) and total viewers (10.5 million). NBC, however, won Sunday night in households (7.6/13) and finished second to Fox in adults 18 to 49 (4.1/11 vs. 3.6/10).

Fox to postpone fall premieres: On the heels of NBC, CBS and ABC deciding to delay the start of their fall 2001 prime-time schedules till Monday, Sept. 24, Fox followed suit late last Friday by holding back premieres of its Tuesday and Friday lineups until that week.

Late last week, Nielsen Media Research said it agreed to network requests to observe Sept. 24 — instead of Monday’s previously scheduled opening — as the formal start of the 2001-02 season. However, Nielsen reps have also stressed the new date is pending due to the possibility that American military action will further pre-empt the prime-time lineups this week or next.

Under the new scheduling plan, the Tuesday 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. (ET) premieres of “That ’70s Show,” “Undeclared” and “Love Cruise: The Maiden Voyage” will kick off Sept. 28. An original episode of “That ’70s Show” will lead off Wednesday night’s season opener of “Grounded for Life” and another original episode of “Love Cruise” on Sept. 26. “Dark Angel” and the debut of “Pasadena” starts off the Friday lineup on Sept. 28.

On Monday, Sept. 24, Fox will also open its new season with the two-hour reality special “Who Wants to Be a Princess,” a pageant where 30 woman compete for a date with real-life European prince.

The only other original programming on Fox’s schedule for the week of Sept. 17 is an original episode of “Family Guy” on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.); and back-to-back original episodes of “Guinness Book of World Records” on Thursday (8 p.m. to 10 p.m.). The late-night sketch comedy “Mad TV” is set to premiere Saturday, Sept. 12 at 11 p.m. to midnight.

Cable provides grief counseling info: A public service announcement about where to receive and where to make financial donations to the American Red Cross in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks is now available to national and regional cable networks. The PSA features American Red Cross president and CEO Dr. Bernadine Healy.

Uplinks of the PSA will be available to participants at the following times and transponder locations:

— Monday, Sept. 17: 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Galaxy 11, Transponder (C-Band) 8

— Tuesday, Sept. 18: 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Galaxy 11, Transponder (C-Band) 8

— Wednesday, Sept. 19: 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (ET) on Telstar 7, Transponder (C-Band) 10

— Thursday, Sept. 20: 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. (ET) on Galaxy 11, Transponder (C-Band) 8

— Friday, Sept. 21: 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. (ET) on Galaxy 11, Transponder (C-Band) 8.

FCC allows analog extensions: To give broadcasters added incentive to clear TV channels 60 through 69 for wireless radio auctions, the Federal Communications Commission agreed Monday to allow stations operating in that band to use their digital channels to offer analog TV operations at least until Dec. 31, 2005. In a previous order, the FCC said the broadcasters could sell their rights to operate on channels 60 through 69 to the winners of the wireless auctions.

Cable pays better: Compensation in the cable industry meets and sometimes exceeds compensation in the media communications industry overall. That is the bottom line result of the 15th annual compensation study conducted by the Cable and Telecommunications Human Resources Association.

Average corporate base salaries increased by approximately 3 percent and total compensation for corporate positions increased an average 8.4 percent from the 2000 study in the sample of 17 cable and telecommunications companies.

The New York, Los Angeles and Washington markets are the highest-paying individual markets.

At the regional level, average base salaries increased by approximately 5 percent per year between March 1, 2000 and March 1, 2001. Average total compensation increased by 8.9 percent annually over the same period. Average base salaries at t
he system level changed at a rate of approximately 3 percent per annum between 2000 and 2001. Total cash compensation, which is relatively similar to base salary, changed at an annualized rate of approximately 3 percent. This year, the New England region’s pay compensation rates most closely approximate the national average.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications