Breaking News Archives

Oct 15, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Anthrax at ABC

Bio-terrorism targeting the American media now has reached a second television network, ABC. The 7-month-old infant child of an ABC News producer has contracted the cutaneous form of the bacterial disease.

Following this latest outbreak, the New York offices of several other major television and print news organizations were being subjected to “environmental review” to make certain their premises are safe, the New York City Police Commissioner said at a press conference Monday night.

The news of the child’s infection came on the evening of the same day that network news reports were dominated by word that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s office on Capital Hill in Washington also had received an anthrax-tainted letter. Both the letter received in Sen. Daschle’s office and the letter that was sent to NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw, which has infected his assistant among others, were postmarked from Trenton, N.J.

The ABC News producer had brought her child to visit the network’s Manhattan offices. Presumably it was then that the child contracted the disease.

The child of the ABC News producer was recovering after having been near death, according to the bulletin that was telecast by NBC News shortly after 8 p.m. (ET) Monday.

At a press conference about 45 minutes later, ABC News President David Westin confirmed the child’s infection, saying the little boy had been at ABC’s headquarters at 47 W. 66 St. on Sept. 28 for a “short period of time.”

The network was operating on the assumption that the child had contracted the disease there, although the specifics of the circumstances of the infection remained to be determined, Mr. Westin said. The child was recovering and has an “excellent prognosis,” he said.

An “environmental review” was under way at the Disney-owned network, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said.

New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik said as a “precautionary measure,” that review would be extended to CNN, Fox News, CBS, the Associated Press, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. The reviews at the various media organizations were expected to be completed by midnight Monday, Commissioner Kerik said.

Brokaw one of 600 taking Cipro at NBC: NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw is one of 600 employees at the network now taking the antibiotic Cipro as a precaution because of possible exposure to anthrax. Mr. Brokaw’s assistant was diagnosed on Friday with a relatively mild form of the disease after opening mail that contained a powder that tested positive for it. Mr. Brokaw touched the letter but has not displayed any symptoms of the disease.

Meanwhile, the anthrax scare that has plagued NBC in New York and the American Media tabloid newspaper group in Florida spread to Washington Monday when a staffer in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., opened a letter containing a powdery substance that later tested positive for anthrax in two preliminary tests. The letter sent to Sen. Daschle’s office will undergo further examination at a military base in Maryland.

Sen. Daschle told reporters Monday that one employee had direct exposure to the powder and others may have come in contact with it — 40 staffers were in his office at the time. The senator was not exposed and is not taking antibiotics. The lawmaker’s office is under quarantine while aides receive medical attention and police investigate. Mail delivery to congressional offices has been temporarily suspended.

The letters to NBC and Sen. Daschle’s office both had a Trenton, N.J., postmark.

Murri promoted at Detroit Fox affil: Jeff Murri has been promoted to VP and general manager of WJBK-TV, Fox’s owned-and-operated station in Detroit. Mr. Murri also will oversee local advertising sales and marketing for Fox Sports Net Detroit.

As the station’s top executive, he succeeds Jim Clayton, who is now the VP and general manager of the New York duopoly of Fox flagship WNYW-TV and UPN affiliate WWOR-TV.

Mr. Murri had first joined WJBK in 1984 as local account executive and spent stints with Storer Communications in Atlanta and WCBS-TV in New York before returning in 1990 to WJBK, where he rose from national sales manager to general sales manager.

Billock named Time Warner Cable COO: John Billock has been named vice chairman and chief operating officer of Time Warner Cable. Mr. Billock had been president of the U.S. network group at HBO, another unit of AOL Time Warner.

His appointment is part of a new organizational structure at the giant multiple system operator. That new executive structure is aimed at accelerating the company’s marketing of new digital services, including video-on-demand, subscription video-on-demand and cable telephony, according to a TW Cable statement..

Among several other new appointments made under the aegis of Glenn Britt, TW Cable’s new chairman and CEO, are the appointments of Thomas Baxter, a former president of Comcast Cable and the former CEO of Internet-site Audible Inc., as president of TW Cable; and Landel Hobbs as chief financial officer, TW Cable, replacing Tommy Harris, who is joining the AOL Time Warner Interactive Video division as executive VP. Also, Fred Dressler, TW Cable’s senior VP, programming, has been appointed executive VP, programming.

In addition, Christopher Bogart, president and CEO of Time Warner CableVentures, will add investments, new product development, human resources, cable IP telephony and Road Runner commercial services development to his other broadband-related responsibilities. Mr. Hobbs joins TW Cable from his position as VP, financial analysis and operations support, at AOL Time Warner.

‘Gilligan’ attracts adults 18 to 49: There is something evergreen about the appeal of those castaways from “Gilligan’s Island.” CBS’s 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. (ET) presentation of the docudrama “Surviving Gilligan’s Island,” which visually seemed to take its cue from CBS’s hit “Survivor,” drew a surprising win in the key adults 18 to 49 demographic for the two-hour frame — beating out ABC’s perennial winner “The Practice” Sunday night.

“Surviving Gilligan” drew a top-ranked 5.7 rating/13 share in adults 18 to 49, improving the two-hour frame by 138 percent from the previous week’s time period average (2.4/5), according to comparable Nielsen Media Research fast national data. “Gilligan” also finished a close third in households (8.2/13) and total viewers (12.9 million).

The two-hour documentary did well enough to outscore ABC’s “Alias” (5.2/11) and “The Practice” (6.0/14), which averaged a 5.6/13 over the 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. time slots. NBC’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (5.1/11) and “UC: Undercover” (4.1/10) ranked third during the span with a 4.6/10 average in adults 18 to 49.

Overall, it was still a good Sunday outing for the networks, with the ratings for ABC’s “Alias” and “The Practice” up 18 percent and 3 percent, respectively, from their previous week’s adult 18 to 49 averages. NBC’s “L&O: Criminal Intent” and “UC: Undercover” were also up 50 percent and 21 percent week to week.

“Gilligan” capped what was a strong Sunday for CBS, with its stalwart “60 Minutes” newsmagazine winning 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in households (11.1/19), total viewers (16.2 million) and somewhat unexpectedly in adults 18 to 49 (4.2/12). The lone weak note for CBS came at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., with the Richard Dreyfuss-led freshman drama “The Education of Max Bickford” dropping 35 percent in adults 18 to 49 (2.6/6) from its previous outing two weeks ago (4.0/10).

Otherwise, CBS posted robust 64 percent growth week to week for a second-ranked 4.6/11 in adults 18 to 49 for the night. Also significant was CBS’s top-ranked household (8.9/14) and total viewer (13.4 million) improving 44 percent and 50 percent week to week. Researchers at CBS say the scores in adults 18 to 49 and adults 25 to 54 (5.5/12) are the best Sunday night ratings since Jan. 28, 2001, when the network broadcast the Super Bowl.

Combined with total viewer wins on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and Sunday evenings last week, CBS could win households as well.

It was also a good night for ABC, which saw its 7 p.m-to-9 p.
m. “Wonderful World of Disney ” presentation of the “Emperor’s New Groove” score a top-ranked 4.7/11, in winning the night in adults 18 to 49 (5.2/12) and improving 26 percent week to week in the demo. For NBC, which saw “Weakest Link’s” adult 18 to 49 (5.4/13) jump 47 percent from its previous airing two weeks ago (3.7/9), finished the night up 33 percent in adults 18 to 49 (4.4/10) week to week.

Letterie promoted at WB: The WB Network has promoted Kathleen Letterie to executive vice president of talent and casting. She will report to Jordan Levin, president of entertainment. Ms. Letterie, who oversees all casting and talent activities for The WB, most recently served as senior vice president, talent and casting.

During her tenure at The WB, Ms. Letterie played a key role in the casting of Katie Holmes, Josh Jackson and Chad Michael Murray of “Dawson’s Creek”; Sarah Michelle Gellar of “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel of “Gilmore Girls”; Keri Russell, Scott Speedman, Scott Foley and Tangi Miller of “Felicity”; and Jessica Biel of “7th Heaven.” The WB will introduce two more of Ms. Letterie’s finds — Oliver Hudson of “A Young Person’s Guide to Becoming a Rock Star” and Kelly Brook of “The (Mis)Adventures of Fiona Plum” this midseason. Ms. Letterie was also involved in the selection of the members of Eden’s Crush, the singing group formed during the reality show “Popstars.”

Prior to joining The WB, Ms. Letterie had her own casting company, where her credits included NBC’s “The John Larroquette Show,” pilot episodes of “Nurses” and “Good and Evil” as well as the film “Encino Man,” which starred Brendan Fraser. Ms. Letterie was director of talent for Warner Bros. Television from 1985-87.

Comedy Central launches film division: Comedy Central will be mining for feature-length laughs with Comedy Central Films, its newly launched film division, to be headed by Patty Newburger, formerly the network’s director of corporate affairs.

The new division’s mandate: Two to three funny movies for the network per year. First up from Comedy Central Films: “Porn N’ Chicken,” the fact-based story of a Yale student club that made headlines when its members allegedly went beyond weekly sessions of fast food and X-rated videos to shoot their own porn film on campus, complete with student actors.

Though prominent national media rushed to cover the salacious goings-on surrounding the Ivy League student-produced porn film, the “movie” may actually have been an undergrad hoax — an aspect of the story that “Porn N’ Chicken” will examine.

Prior to joining Comedy Central, Ms. Newburger was an executive at ABC Films, the network’s in-house film production unit. Production on “P N’ C” is scheduled to begin in early 2002.

NBC extends U.S. Golf Association contract: NBC and the United States Golf Association have extended their current contract through 2008. In addition to keeping the U.S. Open Championship NBC will help raise the profile of younger golfers with a 90-minute taped show about either the U.S. Junior Amateur (in 2004) or U.S. Girls’ Junior (in 2003) championships, plus an expanded U.S. Open preview show and a review show for NBC affiliates. This year, NBC is presenting more than 30 hours of USGA championships.

Scripps to gain subscribers: Scripps Networks’ four lifestyle-oriented cable networks can expect to gain a total of almost 12 million more homes by the end of 2003 under a multinetwork distribution agreement reached with Time Warner Cable.

Those networks include HGTV (Home & Garden Television), Food Network and DIY (Do It Yourself) Network. The agreement also calls for carriage for Fine Living, which is scheduled to launch in early 2002.

Specifically, HGTV and Food will gain almost 2 million Time Warner cable households, DIY will gain approximately 5 million new households and Fine Living will gain a commitment for about 5 million Time Warner households at launch. Currently, Food reaches approximately 67 million households and HGTV reaches approximately 74 million. With this latest commitment, DIY, which currently reaches some 10 million homes, is expected to be at the 20 million mark by the end of 2003, according to Scripps.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications