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Dec 11, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Posted Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 12:25 p.m. (PT); last updated at 4:05 p.m.

NBC close to sealing KRON deal

After several weeks of quiet, it appears talks have heated up between NBC and Young Broadcasting. Sources say NBC is close to sealing a deal to buy Young’s KRON-TV, San Francisco, for about $450 million, with the possibility of halting its switch from NBC affiliation, which scheduled for Jan. 1. NBC also has been maneuvering to acquire Granite Broadcasting’s KNTV, the nearby San Jose station to which the NBC affiliation is set to switch, and operate it as part of a market duopoly. On Tuesday, sources said, top NBC executives, including NBC chairman Bob Wright and GE chairman Jeffrey Immelt, were behind closed doors hammering out 2002 budget plans and other important matters.

Messier denies multi-billion dollar offer for USA’s TV assets: Vivendi Universal Chairman Jean-Marie Messier is calling a New York Post report that he will pay between $13 billion and $18 billion for USA Networks Inc.’s television assets “totally absurd.” Electronic Media has reported for weeks that Mr. Messier and USA Networks Chairman Barry Diller have been in talks about ways to bring USA’s TV and studio assets (which were once under Vivendi Universal’s corporate umbrella) back into the family. Mr. Diller paid $4 billion for the assets four years ago when he bought them from Universal’s then-CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr.

The Post tied Mr. Bronfman’s abrupt resignation last week to a pending USA-Vivendi deal. One favored scenario: USA would swap its traditional content assets (such as USA Network, Sci-Fi Channel and Studios USA) for some cash and Vivendi’s 314 million shares of USA stock. Sources close to the situation say Mr. Diller wants autonomy, wants to command the merged TV and studio business, and wants to independently control USA Networks’ interactive businesses (such as HSN and Ticketmaster) that make up the lion’s share of his company.

Talks are “heating up,” one source said. Vivendi, which owns 41 percent of USA, issued a statement saying the ongoing discussions with USA Networks and any business arrangement will not result in the issuance of any new Vivendi shares: “All contemplated scenarios under review would result only in a limited amount of cash exit for the company.” Neither Mr. Messier nor Mr. Diller could be reached for comment.

Niraj Gupta, analyst at SalomonSmithBarney, who values USA’s TV assets between $10 billion and $12 billion, says the swapping of assets could lead to “a massive equity shrink for USA Networks Inc.” It would leave the company with an $11 billion market cap and 450 million shares, down from a market cap of $19 billion and 767 million shares, he said. USA Networks Inc. would emerge as a pure play made up of three interactive commerce businesses: Ticketmaster, Hotel Reservations Network and Expedia.

NCTA asks for review of attribution rules: The National Cable & Telecommunications Association will ask the Federal Communications Commission next month to launch a review of the agency’s attribution regulations, NCTA President and CEO Robert Sachs said Tuesday. The regulations at issue define media ownership. Critics have long charged that they’re so stringent they unduly limit investment in the industry.

During a press briefing at NCTA headquarters in Washington Tuesday morning, Mr. Sachs took particular aim at an attribution rule that he said considers a 5 percent investment in a media company to constitute effective control. “It is time for the FCC to take a fresh look at its attribution rules,” Mr. Sachs said. “If there are to be rules here, we want rules that make sense.”

Also Tuesday, the NCTA released a report that says nearly 20 percent of U.S. cable subscribers, or 13.7 million consumers, are currently getting digital cable service, with that figure expected to rise to 15 million by year’s end. According to the report, there were 6.4 million subscribers to cable’s high-speed Internet services by this year’s third quarter.

LaSalle making final ‘ER’ appearance: Eriq LaSalle, as part of his long-planned departure from NBC’s “ER,” will make his final appearance in the top-rated drama this Thursday (10 p.m. to 11 p.m., ET). The actor, director and producer is looking to enter the production ranks full time.

In Mr. LaSalle’s final turn as Dr. Peter Benton, the brooding but talented surgeon boils over with rage and frustration as his custody trial for his son Reese hits a critical stage. He must choose between his ER job and his child unless the diabolical Dr. Romano (Paul McCrane) agrees to custom-tailor his work schedule.

Michael Michele, who has played Dr. Benton’s girlfriend Cleo Finch since the 1999-2000 season, will also make her exit from the series.

Michael Crichton, John Wells and Jack Orman are the executive producers. “ER” is a production of Constant c Productions and Amblin Television in association with Warner Bros. Television.

CBS gaining younger viewers, higher ratings: In the first week after the November sweeps, CBS made its own sweep of the adults 18 to 49, adults 25 to 54 and household ratings, as well as total viewers, according to final Nielsen Media Research national data. With the six broadcast networks airing somewhat heavier flights of repeat programming in prime time for the week ending Dec. 9, CBS won the war of attrition-including beating NBC for the first time this season in adults 18 to 49-by having the lowest week-to-week erosion. In another positive sign, CBS had the largest drop (5 percent) among the networks in its median age to 49.8 years, down from 52.5 years in the same week last year.

CBS took the week of Dec. 3 in adults 18 to 49 (4.0 rating/11 share) by dropping just 5 percent from its previous week’s average and improving 11 percent year to year in the key demo. NBC’s second-ranked 3.9/11 score in adults 18 to 49 marked a 15 percent drop week to week and 17 percent from year-ago levels. NBC has laid claim to adults 18 to 49 for 33 of the last 35 weeks dating back to last season.

As for the other Big 4 networks in the adults 18 to 49 race, ABC (3.9) dipped 9 percent week to week and 5 percent year to year while Fox (3.8/10) was down 7 percent week to week and 14 percent vs. year-ago levels. Among the weblets, UPN’s 1.5/4 average in adults 18 to 49 was down 29 percent week to week and The WB’s 1.4/4 dipped 18 percent from the previous week.

The network had three of the 10 top-rated shows in adults 18 to 49 that night, including Thursday stalwarts “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” (8.9/22) and “Survivor: Africa” (7.9/21), which finished second and fourth, respectively, for the week. NBC’s Thursday sitcoms “Friends” (10.6/29) and “Will & Grace” (8.4/21) were first and third for the week, respectively. CBS’s “Raymond” (6.8/16) finished seventh for the week in the key demo.

For the first time in its history, “CSI” took the top prime-time ranking for the week in households (14.9/23), adults 25 to 54 (11.0/25) and total viewers (23.9 million)-edging out “Friends” in all three categories.

For the week, CBS beat out NBC in households (8.0/13 vs. 7.2/12), adults 25 to 54 (4.8/11 vs. 4.5/11) and total viewers (12.0 million vs. 10.5 million).

CBS orders ‘American Fighter Pilots’ for midseason: Looking to seize upon the country’s renewed patriotism and viewer interest in military series (including CBS’s “JAG”), the Eye Network has ordered “American Fighter Pilots” (working title), a slated midseason reality series from noted action film directors Ridley Scott and Tony Scott’s (“Top Gun” and “Spy Game”) production company, Scott Free Productions.

The “‘Top Gun’-like reality series,” as CBS bills it, follows men from various backgrounds as they train to become fighter pilots. Tony Scott, Jesse Negron (“Pop & Me”) and Brian Gadinsky (“Combat Missions,” “America’s Most Wanted”) are the executive producers. Six to eight pilots will be featured in the series.

A CBS spokeswoman said the network has not decided on a final number of episodes to order, but also noted the half-hour or hour-long reality series is likely to launch in spring 2002.

Mr. Negron filmed the pilo
ts on a daily basis for a year and a half prior to the terrorist events of Sept. 11, CBS said. His focus during filming was on the pilots’ training process and the effect of the program on their personal lives. With many of the pilots now serving in the United States’ war against terrorism, a crew has been dispatched to various overseas locations to interview the pilots about their experiences.

WB lines up ‘Kennedy,’ ‘Glory Days’ for midseason: The WB has set out its new Sunday and Wednesday schedules for midseason, with “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment” and “Glory Days” getting January launches on the respective evenings. In the biggest change, The WB is dumping its low-rated reality series “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) hour with double runs of “The Steve Harvey Show,” followed by the 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. insertion of “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment” starting Sunday, Jan. 13.

“JKX,” as The WB has coined it, features standup comic Jamie Kennedy placing unsuspecting people in elaborate practical jokes and “on-the-street” sneak attacks. The half-hour comedy is executive produced by Mr. Kennedy, in addition to Fax Bahr and Adam Small (the creative team behind Fox’s “MAD TV” and “In Living Color”) and Mike Karz (“Max Keeble’s Big Move”). “JKX” is produced by Bahr Small Productions and Karz Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Television Production and Big Ticket Television, A Paramount/Viacom Company.

Also, as long anticipated, “Glory Days” will get the post-“Dawson’s Creek” 9 p.m. Wednesday hour from “Felicity,” which air its “winter finale” on Dec. 19 and then returns with original episodes in April-in the same kind of time-sharing arrangement it had with the drama “Jack & Jill” last season. “Glory Days,” from “Dawson’s Creek” creator Kevin Williamson, has an ensemble cast featuring Eddie Cahill (“Friends,” “Felicity”), Poppy Montgomery (“Blonde,” “Relativity”), Jay R. Ferguson (“Evening Shade,” “The In Crowd”), Amy Stewart (“ER”), newcomer Emily VanCamp, newcomer Ben Crowley, Theresa Russell (“The Believer,” “Black Widow”) and Frances Fisher (“Titanic”).

“Glory Days” is created and executive produced Mr. Williamson, and is produced by Disney-owned Dimension Television in association with Outerbanks Entertainment.

WHDH-TV extends Peacock affiliation: NBC affiliate WHDH-TV, Boston, has extended its affiliation with NBC through 2012. “We couldn’t be more pleased with our long-term extension,” WHDH General Manager Mike Carson said.