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Nov 13, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Murdoch worries about ratings, holds cash

Rupert Murdoch said he was somewhat disappointed by the performances of “Ally McBeal” and “The Practice” on FX and by the initial ratings for “24” on Fox. That’s what the News Corp. Chairman and CEO told reporters after the company’s sparsely attended annual shareholders meeting Tuesday in Manhattan.

But Peter Chernin, News Corp. president, pointed out that the second run of the first episode of “24” on Fox had exceeded ratings expectations and that the show, which is not expected to do well in reruns because of the serial nature of its story arc, had a scheduling pattern (on both FX and Fox) that was designed to maximize the ratings benefits of its first run. Both “Ally” and “The Practice” on FX were expected to get off to slow starts because of the tough sweeps competition, Mr. Chernin said. And Mr. Murdoch pointed out that the toughest premiere-night competitor for “24” was “NYPD Blue,” another show produced by Fox.

Mr. Murdoch also said News Corp. will be keeping the more than $1.5 billion in cash it realized from the sale of the Fox Family Channel in the bank for the present time and will not be pursuing new acquisitions.

The News Corp. chief said that, because Fox is the No. 1 program supplier to the broadcast networks, he expects “great prospects” for syndication, with profits of $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion generated over the next six years.

News Corp. has responded to the general advertising turndown with a companywide hiring freeze and cutbacks in the operating budget, Mr. Murdoch said. At its duopoly TV stations there has been consolidation in the engineering and sales departments, he said. All duopoly stations will keep their own news departments, he said, scotching a persistent rumor that local news would be a candidate for consolidation in the duopoly markets.

CBS gives ‘Ellen’ full-season order: Despite the series’ early struggles, CBS has extended a nine-episode back order for “Ellen,” giving it a full season’s order of 22 shows. CBS executives have been encouraged by the Ellen DeGeneres-led sitcom’s move a half-hour later to 8:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, where the sitcom notched season-best scores in adults 18 to 49 (2.5 rating/8 share) and households (4.5/8) last week. “Ellen,” which is produced by CBS Productions, also marked its last outing with its most-watched episode at 6.8 million total viewers.

Fox still ahead of NBC in November sweeps race: Through the first 11 days of the November sweeps period (Nov. 1 to 28), Fox is maintaining an 18 percent advantage over NBC in the key adults 18 to 49 demographic ratings — largely due to the spike coming from Fox’s World Series games on Nov. 3 and 4. Fox’s 5.9 rating/15 share in adults 18 to 49 is 28 percent ahead of its comparable November 2000 sweeps ratings average (4.6/12), according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research data through Monday, Nov. 12. NBC’s second-ranked 5.0/13 among adults 18 to 49 is off 14 percent over the comparable year-ago sweeps span (5.8/15). Most industry watchers still expect Fox to slip into second place behind NBC in adults 18 to 49 — going into the teeth of the Peacock’s front-running “Must See” Thursday and Wednesday lineups.

Fox’s sweeps-to-date average in adults 18 to 34 (5.5/16) holds an even larger 25 percent cushion over second-ranked NBC (4.4/13), the latter of which is down 12 percent year to year (5.0/14). Fox is up 15 percent year to year in adults 18 to 34. Fox is also still hanging onto a 3 percent lead in households over CBS for the sweeps to date (9.4/15 vs. 9.1/15). NBC’s 8.4/13 and ABC’s 6.8/11 scores in households are down 11 percent and 21 percent, respectively, from their comparable year-ago sweeps-to-date averages.

So far, CBS owns the broadest gains across all demos and households (up 11 percent) for sweeps. On top of spikes it has enjoyed from “The 53rd Primetime Emmy Awards” and “Country Music Awards” at the beginning of the sweeps, CBS has markedly benefited from the first-time fall entry of “Survivor: Africa” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” on Thursday nights — in addition to gains made by its Monday and Tuesday lineups.

CBS has supplanted ABC for third place in adults 18 to 49 (4.6/12 vs. 3.8/10), growing 28 percent year to year and holding a 21 percent advantage over the Alphabet Network. ABC is down 19 percent from its second-ranked year-ago average in adults 18 to 49 (4.7/12).

Similarly, CBS’s 40 percent year-to-year growth in adults 18 to 34 (3.5/10 vs. 2.5/7) holds a third-ranked, 13 percentage advantage over ABC (3.1/9), which is down 18 percent from its year-ago sweeps average (3.8/11).

Among the weblets, UPN continues to enjoy healthy gains in most demos and households. UPN is up 5 percent in adults 18 to 49 (2.1/5), 28 percent in female teens (2.3/8), 11 percent in women 18 to 34 (2.1/6) and 3 percent in households (3.1/5). Much of UPN’s gains in young women can be attributed to the 8 p.m. Tuesday addition of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” this season, in addition to the 8 p.m. Wednesday run of the “Star Trek” prequel “Enterprise” broadening the network’s demo appeal.

The WB, on the other hand, is struggling with double-digit percentage declines in most of its demos, as the Frog has seen its Wednesday-through-Sunday lineup — much of it revamped — struggling to hit its stride. In such core demos as persons 12 to 34 (2.1/6), female teens (3.5/12) and women 18 to 34 (2.3/6), The WB is down 16 percent, 17 percent and 21 percent year to year, respectively.

ABC pulls ‘America.01’ series: “America.01,” the ABC newsmagazine focused on the mood of the country post-Sept. 11 and essentially conceived and launched in a couple of weeks, has been yanked after two outings at 8 p.m. (ET) in ABC’s troubled Friday lineup, which finished in fourth place last week. Taking its place Nov. 23 will be “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” hosted by “Hollywood Squares” host Tom Bergeron. This week, the hour will be filled by “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving.”

ABC News issued a statement that said the programming decision was made “after it became clear that it was too difficult to launch a newsmagazine in that time period. We will continue to work on the program during its hiatus as the network tries to find a more suitable time period.” Meanwhile, “20/20” is still scheduled for a late-December return to its old time slot at 10 p.m. Fridays, where “Once and Again” has helped drag down ABC for the night.

Scott Sassa staying put at NBC: After months of speculation, it looks as if Scott Sassa is staying put as president of NBC West Coast. Mr. Sassa, whose name has been mentioned for more than a year in connection with a variety of senior-level positions at other companies — including Yahoo! — is said to be close sealing a multiyear renewal at NBC.

Although an NBC spokesman said no formal deal has been announced yet, sources close the network said Mr. Sassa is hammering out terms of a renewal that could extend his stay for two to three years. His current contract expires in December.

Previously Mr. Sassa, who took over as head of NBC’s West Coast entertainment operations from Don Ohlmeyer in May 1999, had been rumored to be the top choice for the chairman spot at Yahoo! until former Warner Bros. Co-Chairman Terry Semel took the job earlier this year.

Further fueling the speculation about Mr. Sassa’s future with the network was NBC Chairman and CEO Bob Wright naming NBC News head Andrew Lack as president and chief operating officer last May. Industry watchers had wondered if Mr. Sassa would remain under Mr. Lack’s watch, as the latter had moved into a line of succession behind Mr. Wright.

However, Mr. Sassa is said to have forged a close working relationship with NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker, who took over the programming reins at the Peacock in December 2000 after spending almost a decade as executive producer of the “Today Show.”

Mr. Sassa had served as president of the NBC Television Stations group from September 1997 through November 1998. Known as a button-downed business affairs and creative executive, he
served seven years in various senior-level positions at Turner Broadcasting System, including president of Turner Entertainment Networks from 1991-95. He also served as president and CEO of billionaire Ronald Perelman’s Andrews Group (a division of the McAndrews & Forbes holding company) and as CEO of its Marvel Entertainment Group before leaving for NBC in 1997.

Pax plans mystery movie series: Pax TV, the family-friendly broadcast network, has cast Lesley-Anne Down and Nicollette Sheridan in the first two of six original, made-for-TV mystery movies based on best-selling Mary Higgins Clark novels.

Ms. Down stars in “Mary Higgins Clark’s You Belong To Me,” airing Saturday, Feb. 23 (9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET), while Ms. Sheridan headlines “Mary Higgins Clark’s Haven’t We Met Before” on Saturday, March 16 (9 p.m. to 11 p.m.). The all-new two-hour mysteries will premiere within the “Pax Big Event” original movie showcase.

The six telefilms are being shot in Toronto with longtime partners and executive producers Sonny Grosso (“The French Connection”) and Larry Jacobson (“The Big Easy,” “Top Cops”) taking the helm. Mr. Grosso and Mr. Jacobson, who have produced more than 500 hours of TV programming, join John Laing, chairman and CEO of Rigel Independent Distribution Entertainment, as producers of the Mary Higgins Clark telefilms.

ABC gets ratings boost during week of Nov. 11: For the week ending Nov. 11, ABC appeared to gain some lost ground this season in adults 18 to 49, households and total viewers.

Coming off big ratings returns for the three-hour world broadcast premiere of “Saving Private Ryan” (8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET) last Sunday, the two-hour premiere of “NYPD Blue” last Tuesday and continuing growth for its opening Wednesday comedies “My Wife & Kids” and “According to Jim,” ABC moved up 13 percent week to week in adults 18 to 49. ABC’s 4.2 rating/11 share average in adults 18 to 49, although ranking fourth among the six broadcast networks, marked a nice bump from the previous week’s 3.7/9 score, according to final Nielsen Media Research national data.

CBS’s rising fortunes in adults 18 to 49, helped by season-best outings last Thursday by “Survivor: Africa” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” the “CMA Awards” last Wednesday and the “I Love Lucy: 50th Anniversary Special” on Sunday, had it improving 4 percent to a second-ranked tie with Fox in the key demo (both at 4.6/12 averages). Fox, coming off the huge spikes from the last two games of the World Series the previous week, came back to down to earth with a 38 percent decline week to week in adults 18 to 49.

NBC won the week in adults 18 to 49 (4.9/13), remaining flat in the key demo with the identical score the previous week. UPN’s 2.2/5 and WB’s 1.8/5 came in fifth and sixth in adults 18 to 49, improving 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

The strong demo scores for CBS also translated to the Eye Network improving 9 percent with its winning 9.4/15 average in households and 12 percent spurt in total viewers (to 14.4 million) last week. NBC had 2 percent gains in households (8.4/14) and total viewers (12.5 million). ABC moved up 17 percent in households (7.6/12) and 18 percent in total viewers (11.3 million) — both tallies ranking third among the networks.

Cohanne, Frost promoted at Touchstone: Polin Cohanne has been named vice president of legal affairs at ABC Entertainment and Touchstone Television, while Jeff Frost has been promoted to vice president of business affairs for Touchstone Television. Ms. Cohanne most recently worked in the political arena, where she served as the chief of staff to the assistant secretary of labor for veterans’ employment and training from 1997-2001 in addition to working on the 1996 Clinton/Gore campaign.

Mr. Frost joined ABC in December 1997 as general attorney, litigation and employment practices. He was promoted to head of legal affairs for ABC Entertainment and Touchstone Television in November 1999, then named vice president in January 2001. Prior to joining ABC, he was an associate attorney for Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro where he specialized in entertainment and commercial litigation. Before that, he served as associate attorney for Haight, Brown and Bonesteel.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications