Belo group details cost-reduction plan
A day after Belo announced the completion of its $5 million purchase of KSKN-TV in Spokane, Wash., the group announced a cost-reduction strategy that includes the reduction of management committee salaries by 5 percent, the elimination of 160 jobs by the end of October and the freezing of wages companywide.
The salaries of the five members of the management committee are to stay at the reduced level at least until 2003, Belo Chairman, President and CEO Robert Decherd said Wednesday in the announcement of expense reductions attributed to lower expected revenue generation. The company, which claims a work force of 8,000, has cut its employee rolls by some 6 percent since last year. The additional cuts will mean an 8 percent total job reduction.
Mr. Decherd said that after cutting the 160 positions companywide, Belo plans to fill positions that open up next year. Employees who have personal services contracts or labor agreements will be asked to volunteer to have their salaries frozen, but will not face punitive action if they refuse. Discretionary expense and capital spending, which have been reduced, will remain at the current level through 2002. Belo’s cash dividend will not be increased until at least 2003.
Meanwhile, KSKN-TV, a WB/UPN affiliate, gives Belo a duopoly in Spokane, where it already owns CBS affiliate KREM-TV. The group already has a duopoly in Seattle with NBC affiliate KING-TV and indie KONG-TV.
Larry Sanders’ clears with two ABC O&Os: Columbia TriStar Television has kicked off the off-cable sales of “The Larry Sanders Show” in a big way, clearing the former HBO comedy with ABC O&Os KABC-TV in Los Angeles and WLS-TV in Chicago for the beginning of its fall 2002 weekend syndication window. The Garry Shandling-led “Sanders,” which was a cornerstone hit comedy for HBO from 1992-98, has already been sold for weekday stripping on cable’s Bravo channel, also starting in fall 2002.
Broadcast station sales of “Sanders” also mark somewhat of a watershed point for off-cable series, with other hit cable properties like HBO’s current series “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos” expected to test the broadcast waters in the near future.
“Sanders,” currently being marketed to TV stations as a much-needed young male demo magnet, is being offered to stations as weekend hour play — either full hour or pair of half-hours for run of their Saturday and Sunday schedules.
Caution urged on bin Laden video: The top executives of cable and network news divisions have agreed that they will not air video messages from terrorist Osama bin Laden or his terrorist organization al Qaeda until they have first screened them in their entirety. The consensus was reached Wednesday morning after a conference call in which National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice shared with the news executives some of the Bush administration’s concerns about messages from bin Laden.
On Sunday, shortly after the United States had begun bombing targets in Afghanistan, Qatar-based Al Jazeera television, bin Laden’s news outlet of choice, began broadcasting a taped message from bin Laden and some of his associates. It was quickly picked up by U.S. networks covering the military action. A second message, this one delivered only by a bin Laden spokesman, was broadcast Tuesday by Al Jazeera but did not get such widespread coverage so quickly.
The administration has quietly expressed concern that the messages might actually include signals from bin Laden to terrorist cells, that they might heighten feelings of paranoia and fear in viewers, or that they might be less news than propaganda.
According to multiple descriptions of the conference call Wednesday, Ms. Rice was cordial and direct but was careful only to reiterate those fears — with an emphasis on the possibility that bin Laden was using the messages as a way to pass signals — and not to say anything that might be interpreted as an attempt to censor coverage or impinge on First Amendment rights.
After about 25 minutes, she signed off the call, leaving the news executives to talk among themselves about the issues. They then unanimously agreed that bin Laden messages will not air until each news organization has a chance to translate and weigh the content.
ABC News, CBS News and NBC News specifically batted down potential questions of censorship or government-requested embargoes in their statements.
Ms. Rice, said CBS News, “did not ask the networks to stop showing tape of bin Laden. In fact, Ms. Rice acknowledged the potential importance of messages and other appearances by bin Laden. She did ask the networks to keep national security in mind while exercising their independent news judgment.”
“Dr. Rice made no specific request of the news organizations other than that we consider the possible existence of such hidden messages in determining whether and how to air portions of Al-Qaeda statements,” said ABC News.
“These concerns had already been under discussion,” said NBC news, echoing what other networks said on and off the record about evolving deliberations behind the scenes after receiving the second bin Laden message.
“CNN’s policy is to avoid airing any material that we believe would directly facilitate any terrorist acts,” said a spokesman for the all-news network, which has struck an exclusive agreement to be Al-Jazeera’s exclusive U.S. affiliate but which has agreed to share with other U.S. networks video deemed to have compelling news value — bin Laden messages and military actions being prime examples. In deciding what to air, CNN will consider guidance from appropriate authorities.”
Fox News said it will “carefully review the content of all materials from Al-Qaeda before deciding whether or how to air them. We believe a free press must and can bear responsibility not to be used by those who want to destroy America and endanger the lives of its citizens.”
President eases plans to keep lawmakers out of terrorism loop: The Bush administration Wednesday relaxed a controversial, day-old plan to substantially reduce the number of lawmakers granted access to classified information on the military campaign against terrorism. On Tuesday, President George W. Bush said only eight key lawmakers would be kept in the loop because some congressmen had leaked secret data on the anti-terror efforts to the media. The eight are the top House and Senate leaders and the chairmen and ranking members of the intelligence committees. But Wednesday, after a breakfast meeting with lawmakers, the president backed off a bit and said all members of the armed forces committees — Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Intelligence and so on — would receive classified briefings. Several lawmakers had squawked that the White House plan undermined Congress’ oversight role.
Game Show Net exec suing Fox Family: Rich Cronin, who now heads the Game Show Network, has taken Fox Family Worldwide to court, claiming that it breached a 1997 employment contract by which he became president and CEO of the Fox Family and Fox Kids cable networks.
The suit, filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court, comes on the verge of the completion of The Walt Disney’s Co.’s $5.3 billion cash-and-debt-assumption acquisition of Fox Family.
Mr. Cronin seeks at least $12.7 million in compensatory damages. His filing contends that Fox Family has “refused to acknowledge Mr. Cronin’s ownership of Fox Family stock options worth a minimum of $11.9 million” and that Fox Family has “refused to pay Mr. Cronin at least $712,916 in wages that are due.” Mr. Cronin headed Fox Family and Fox Family for an approximately two-year period, from mid-1998 until late in 2000, although it is likely the exact dates of his employment and in particular the date and method of his termination will be become issues in the litigation.
A Fox Family spokeswoman declined comment, citing the company’s general policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
President eases plans to keep lawmakers out of terrorism loop: The Bush administration Wednesday relaxed a controversial, day-old plan to substantially reduce the numbe
r of lawmakers granted access to classified information on the military campaign against terrorism. On Tuesday, President George W. Bush said only eight key lawmakers would be kept in the loop because some congressmen had leaked secret data on the anti-terror efforts to the media. The eight are the top House and Senate leaders and the chairmen and ranking members of the intelligence committees. But Wednesday, after a breakfast meeting with lawmakers, the president backed off a bit and said all members of the armed forces committees — Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Intelligence and so on — would receive classified briefings. Several lawmakers had squawked that the White House plan undermined Congress’ oversight role.
Clear Channel to keep Fox stations running through 2007: Clear Channel Television has signed an agreement that will keep WAWS-TV in Jacksonville, Fla., KOKI-TV in Tulsa, Okla., KLTR-TV in Little Rock, Ark., KSAS-TV in Wichita, Kan., and WXXA-TV in Albany, N.Y. through mid-2007. The five affiliates of Fox Broadcasting reach almost 2.5 percent of the U.S.
‘Gilmore Girls’ takes Tuesday night by storm: Taking over in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s” former 8 p.m. (ET) Tuesday time slot on The WB, the two-hour season opener of “Gilmore Girls” registered a personal-best 5.0 rating/7 share household average in Nielsen Media Research’s 53 metered markets. In addition to improving The WB’s Tuesday performance by 75 percent in share over the Frog’s previous-week score (2.7/4), “Gilmore Girls” narrowly edged out UPN’s “Buffy”/”Roswell” lineup — both being imports from the Frog — by a 19 percent margin in households (4.2/6) last night.
The opening for the erstwhile “Gilmore Girls,” voted as the best new drama in EM’s 2001 Spring Critics Poll, also garnered a 9 percent increase from its 8 p.m. Thursday debut on Oct. 5, 2000, which was aided by going up against the vice presidential debates and baseball playoffs last year.
“Buffy’s” second weekly outing registered a 4.9/7 in households, off an expected 22 percent in share from its highly-anticipated two-hour debut (6.2/9) on UPN in the comparable overnight markets on Oct. 2. On a year-to-year basis, though, “Buffy” has registered a 29 percent time period improvement for UPN compared to its 5 share average in the year-ago period.
Meanwhile, “Roswell” opened its first season on UPN with a 3.6/5 household average, off about 27 percent from “Buffy’s” lead-in. However, “Roswell” held even with UPN’s 9 p.m. hour average last year (5 share). For the night, UPN registered a 4.2/6 average, up 20 percent from its year-ago 5 share average in overnight households.
ABC sees Tuesday ratings decline in key demo: The wheels on ABC’s once dominant Tuesday night lineup appear to be falling off, as the network dropped 18 percent week to week to a bottom-ranked position in adults 18 to 49. Losses ran deep for ABC, with the second week of its new “Bob Patterson” sitcom dropping 31 percent, followed by 20-percent drops for returning sitcoms “What About Joan” and “Spin City.”
Meanwhile, it was CBS’s three-hour drama lineup that seemed to gain the most, moving up 13 percent week to week in adults 18 to 49 and finishing with a competitive second-place ranking to NBC on the night.
Similar to last week, ABC’s 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) sitcom duo of “Dharma & Greg” and “What About Joan” finished last in the frame with a 3.5 rating/10 share and a 2.6/7, respectively, in adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research fast national data.
While “Dharma & Greg” was actually up 6 percent from the previous week, “Joan’s” second new episode of the season marked a 24 percent drop week to week and a poor 74 percent retention from its lead-in.
The limp opening hour also played a major hand in the Jason Alexander-led “Bob Patterson”(2.9/7) sliding 31 percent from it previous debut-week average in adults 18 to 49 (4.2/10). At 9:30 p.m., lead-out veteran “Spin City” (3.4/8) dropped 21 percent week to week, although it increased 17 percent from its “Patterson” lead-in.
The falling dominoes also affected ABC’s Steven Bochco-created “Philly” (3.8/10), which marked its second week of erosion by dropping 10 percent from its previous week ‘s score in adults 18 to 49 (4.2/11) in the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. time slot.
All told, ABC’s 3.3/8 in adults 18 to 49 and 5.8/9 in households had it dropping 18 percent and 12 percent, respectively, week to week. In total viewers, ABC was also down 17 percent week to week (7.9 million vs. 9.5 million).
NBC won the night in adults 18 to 49 (3.3/8), though it was down 9 percent week to week and saw “Emeril” (3.0/8) and “Three Sisters” (3.5/9) finish a similarly limp third in the 8 p.m. hour. “Emeril” was down 3 percent in adults 18 to 49 from its previous week’s second episode. “Frasier” (6.4/16) and the second weekly outing of “Scrubs” (5.5/13) won the 9 p.m. hour in adults 18 to 49, but the two shows were down 6 percent and 20 percent week to week, respectively.
CBS’s drama lineup of “JAG” (4.3/11), “The Guardian” (4.2/10) and “Judging Amy” (4.8/12) moved up week to week by 13 percent, 24 percent and 4 percent margins, respectively, in the key demo. For the night, the drama trio had CBS up 2 percent in winning households (10.8/17), 5 percent in total viewers (15.9 million) and 13 percent in adults 18 to 49 (4.4/11).
Meanwhile, Fox’s “That ’70s Show” (5.0/14) and third episode of “Undeclared” (4.6/12) won the 9 p.m. hour in adults 18 to 49 (4.8/13) but were down by 9 percent and 6 percent week-to-week margins, respectively, in that demo.
Limited-run reality series “Love Cruise: The Maiden Voyage” (3.7/9) finished third in adults 18 to 49 and was down a mere 2 percent from the previous week. For the night, Fox was a competitive, third-ranked 4.3/11 in adults 18 to 49 — down just 4 percent week to week.
TV Guide Channel plans PSAs: In another sign of the times, TV Guide Channel has announced a new “immediate response alert strategy,” under which TVGC will air 10-second and 30-second advisory public service announcements about breaking news and changing programming schedules.
“As a national network and a trusted brand responsible for providing guidance to our viewers, we feel it is our responsibility to have a plan in place to inform our viewers during unpredictable times,” said Pam McKissick, president and chief operating officer TV Guide Television Group and TV Guide Networks.
In addition to the alert strategy, TVGC has also retooled “Hollywood Insider” to reflect current viewer interests with an expanded “Entertainment News” and the addition of “America’s Update,” a new segment providing guidance to coverage of recent events.
TVGC, a subsidiary of Gemstar-TV Guide International, is available in 57 million homes.
(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications