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Dec 12, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Posted Wednesday, Dec. 12, at 2 p.m. (PT); last updated at 4:10 p.m.

Vinciquerra named Fox Television Network president

Tony Vinciquerra, 47, who has been executive vice president and chief operating officer of Hearst-Argyle Television Stations during a time of dramatic expansion, will become president of the Fox Television Network effective Jan. 1. He will report to News Corp. President and CEO Peter Chernin, who said Mr. Vinciquerra’s 25 years of experience at every level of broadcasting will be “extremely valuable assets” to Fox. Mr. Vinciquerra succeeds Brian Mulligan, whose short stint as Fox network president came to an abrupt end earlier this year.

Mr. Vinciquerra’s rise began in the early ’80s within Hearst Corp, for whom he served a stint as sales manager at WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh. He left the group for executive positions at Group W’s WBZ-TV in Boston, where he became vice president and station manager. He had been vice president and general manager of KYW-TV in Philadelphia for 11/2 years when he was named executive vice president of the CBS-owned station group in 1995. In 1997, he joined Hearst Corp. as broadcasting group executive. Two months later, when Hearst-Argyle went public, Mr. Vinciquerra was promoted to executive vice president. He has been Hearst-Argyle’s executive vice president and chief operating officer since June 1999.

Hearst-Argyle announced that Mr. Vinciquerra’s duties will be reassumed by President and CEO David Barrett, who said his company’s management bench strength is a testament to Mr. Vinciquerra’s executive skills.

In addition to personal ties that draw Mr. Vinciquerra back to Los Angeles, where he was based during his two years with the CBS-owned stations, is the opportunity to work with Mr. Chernin-“a brilliant leader”-and for News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch-“a visionary.”

“I know the network is an important part of the company and I’m just hoping I can add some value,” said Mr. Vinciquerra, who will oversee business development, finance, advertising sales, affiliate relations, administration and personnel at the Fox network.

NBC leaves KRON offer on the table: In yet another about-face in the unpredictable negotiations between NBC and Young Broadcasting, NBC has once again left its best offer on the table, which is an estimated $400 million to $450 million, for Young’s KRON-TV, San Francisco. Although the principals declined comment on the talks, Young has indicated it wants close to the $800 million-plus it originally paid for KRON. Sources close to the situation say NBC is refusing to make up the difference with other considerations, such as one or more of its smaller, owned TV stations.

It now appears more likely that NBC will buy Granite Broadcasting’s San Jose station, KNTV, to which the NBC affiliation is set to switch from KRON on Jan. 1. The logic behind that move is that if NBC is going to program KNTV, it would rather own and control it, sources say. Negotiations are still ongoing for NBC to acquire KNTV, which is valuable for the local cable support it now enjoys and could fetch $250 million.

If KRON negotiations, which could resume any time, get back on track and a deal is done, NBC could wind up owning a San Francisco market duopoly and still stay under the current 35 percent ownership cap. Sources say Jeffrey Immelt, chairman of General Electric, which owns NBC, is supportive of both deals and of NBC acquiring other additional TV stations in the top 25 markets.

FCC delivers mixed bag to Sinclair: The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it has approved all but one of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s 15 TV station transactions that have been pending at the agency for up to four years. Nonetheless, the FCC fined Sinclair and Glencairn chief Eddie Edwards $40,000 apiece for running afoul of the agency’s ownership regulations.

Sinclair told a federal court that the FCC had appeared to be sitting on the applications because the company had declined to accede to a pitch by former FCC Chairman Bill Kennard and his staff to swap a pro-minority commitment for expedited action on the transfer applications. In explaining the fines, the FCC said the evidence suggested that Sinclair exercised de facto control of at least some Glencairn stations. Mr. Edwards said he didn’t agree with the fines or the FCC’s finding.

Mark Hyman, Sinclair vice president for corporate relations said, “[The fine] is a face-saving gesture that they put in there because they couldn’t make a decision in four years that Judge Judy could have made before the first commercial.” The one transfer that the FCC did not grant was for WB affiliate WBSC-TV in Anderson, S.C., on grounds that it did not comply with the agency’s new duopoly criteria.

Johansen says NATPE will continue: The show will go on, according to NATPE President and CEO Bruce Johansen, but it won’t necessarily be the same. At a pre-NATPE press conference Wednesday, Mr. Johansen said the National Association of Television Program Executive conference will go ahead in New Orleans in 2003 and 2004 after all, and a task force has been created to explore possibilities of adding new and different conferences to the mix.

“This task force has been established to explore ways to satisfy the diverse constituencies in one or more conferences,” he said. “Our approach to planning for the future will be to serve our member niches and adapt or reconfigure in ways that meet their needs.”

Among the task force participants will be newly named Fox Television Network President Tony Vinciquerra, Studios USA Domestic Television President Steve Rosenberg and Lifetime President and CEO Carole Black. The group will meet and survey NATPE members for an April decision on the future of the conference.

Mr. Johansen noted that NATPE will work with syndicators who have set up shop at the Venetian Hotel, offering a shuttle service to and from the Las Vegas Convention Center, a kiosk at the Venetian and listings in NATPE guides. FCC Chairman Michael Powell will deliver the keynote address on Jan. 23, and “Law & Order” creator/producer Dick Wolf will be honored with the creative achievement award.

New television technologies attracting dollars: Five years after introduction by a cable operator with 5 million subscribers, 600,000 of whom are digital customers, video-on-demand and personal-video-recorder services will yield $80 million and $35 million, respectively, in operating cash flow this year, according to a new study of interactive TV by Accenture, the management and technology consulting organization.

The study found that 56 percent of cable subscribers who switched to satellite said dissatisfaction with their cable operator’s customer service was a motivating factor, while 33 percent said it was a major reason for switching. The study also found that only 18 percent of analog subscribers say they are very likely or somewhat likely to switch to digital at a $10 premium and that lowering the price difference between analog and digital cable by 30 percent could double incremental revenue in the second year. In addition, the study showed that sports and documentary video-on-demand programming could generate over 200 percent gross margins and that enhanced TV, high speed Internet and interactive games were the next most popular services consumers would like cable companies to offer.

One bottom-line finding: “Cable companies need to move quickly to preserve their customer base because in 2000 alone, satellite operators captured over $1 billion of new revenue from former cable customers,” according to the study.

Fox’s ’24’ slips in fifth outing: After a one-week hiatus to make room for last week’s “Billboard Music Awards,” Fox’s “24” returned to its 9 p.m. (ET) Tuesday hour by dropping over 20 percent in the key adults demos and households from its previous airing. In the 9 p.m. hour, considered the most competitive on television this season, “24” came in third in adults 18 to 49 as NBC comedies “Frasier” and “Scrubs” and ABC’s “NYPD Blue” held the upper two rankings in the key demo.

In a somewhat troubling sign for “24,” the fifth episode
drew a 3.6 rating/9 share in adults 18 to 49, marking a 20 percent drop from its previous outing on Nov. 27 (4.5/11), according to comparable Nielsen Media Research fast national data. The decline mirrored 23 percent drops in its core male 25 to 54 demo (4.1/10 vs. 5.3/12) and household score (4.8/7 vs. 5.9/9), in addition to an 18 percent dip in total viewers (7.5 million vs. 9.2 million).

Fox, however, has “24’s” second run at 9 p.m. Fridays averaging just over a 3 rating among adults 18 to 49, allowing the network to put a cumed 6 rating or higher in front of advertising buyers.

“24” was not alone Tuesday night in making a precipitous drop in post-November sweeps period, with NBC’s front-running “Frasier” (5.9/15) and “Scrubs” (5.0/12) averaging a 5.4/13 in adults 18 to 49 — a drop of 22 percent from its comparable two-week-ago average (6.9/16). Similarly airing original episodes, CBS freshman “The Guardian” (2.8/7) was off 15 percent from two weeks ago (3.3/8) while ABC’s second-ranked “NYPD Blue” (5.1/13) had only a minimal 2 percent drop (from a 5.2/12 average).

To open the evening, Fox won the 8 p.m. hour with comedies “That’s 70 Show” (5.2/15) and “Undeclared” (3.8/10) averaging a top-ranked 4.5/13 in adults 18 to 49 for the frame. CBS’s long-running “JAG” set highs for the night in households (11.0/18) and total viewers (16.5 million) while turning in competitive second-ranked score in adults 18 to 49 (3.9/11). Along with “NYPD Blue” holding even at 9 p.m., ABC’s 10 p.m. drama “Philly” ended up holding even week to week at a second-ranked 8.9/11 in adults 18 to49. CBS’s “Judging Amy” won the 10 p.m. hour in adults 18 to 49 (4.2/11) and households (4.2/11).

ABC edged out Fox for the night in adults 18 to 49 (4.1/11 vs. 4.0/11), followed by NBC (3.9/10) and CBS (3.6/10). CBS won the night in households (9.7/16) and total viewers (14.0 million).

Showtime to debut ‘Queer Duck’: “Queer Duck,” an animated series from Emmy winner Mike Reiss (“The Simpsons,” “The Critic”) that debuted in 1990 on the now-defunct Web site Icebox.com, has made the transition from the Web to television.

The three-minute-long episodes about the lives of gay cartoon characters, including the titular duck who works as a male nurse, were a cult hit on the Web. Beginning in January, Showtime will debut new three-minute “Duck” episodes following the 11 p.m. (ET) Tuesday telecasts of “Queer as Folk,” the cable network’s cutting-edge series about the lives and loves of young gay people.

Ovitz returns to TV with animation projects: Although he had to scuttle efforts to produce prime-time TV series last summer, Michael Ovitz’s Artists Management Group is bolstering its presence in the animated TV series arena by forging a new partnership with German animation company TV-Loonland AG. TV-Loonland, the animator behind PBS’s “Clifford,” HBO’s “Babar” and syndicated series “G.I. Joe” and “Transformers,” has forged a “production alliance” with AMG’s Animation & Family Entertainment Department to produce a minimum of four animated TV series during the next three years.

Animation talent represented under the AMG umbrella includes Paul Germain and Joe Ansolabehere (the creators of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats”), acclaimed director Henry Selick (“James and the Giant Peach,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas”), animation studio Film Roman (Fox’s “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill”), and writer/director/producer Shawn Levy (“The Famous Jett Jackson,” “Jett Jackson: The Movie”).

AMG’s re-entry into television production comes in marked contrast to last summer’s shutdown of Mr. Ovitz’s Artists Television Group division, which was said to have accumulated more than $5 million in red ink after a half-dozen TV series failed to stick on the broadcast networks’ prime-time schedules. However, an AMG spokeswoman said the management and animation units have considerable pull in Hollywood’s creative and network circles, with AMG animation head Ellen Goldsmith-Vein representing more than 250 animators, producers, directors and writers.

Ms. Goldsmith-Vein merged her company, Gotham Group, with AMG in January 1999, a few months after AMG originally opened its doors. The AMG spokesman suggested that the folded ATG unit was operated as a separate TV company and that this animation alliance marks AMG’s first direct involvement in TV production.

Under the terms of the alliance, AMG Animation & Family Entertainment will package the projects and make sales to the appropriate domestic network or TV station. TV-Loonland will collaborate with AMG Animation on creative development and will handle principal production and international broadcaster relationships. TV-Loonland and AMG Animation will co-own each series, including all marketing and distribution rights.

Channel operators will have technological freedom: The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that the winning auction bidders for broadcast channels 52-59 will have the flexibility to pick the technology they want to use to serve the public with those channels after the broadcast industry’s conversion to digital is complete. Nonetheless, the FCC said any efforts by broadcasters to cash in by selling their rights to the channels to the auction winners will be subject to public interest reviews by the FCC. That struck some observers as a step back for the agency, because its rules for channels 60-69 suggested that broadcasters would be able to bank on agency approval of similar agreements to vacate those channels early. But an FCC source said there are a number of differences between the two bands that justify handling them under different sets of regulations.

J&J to sponsor ‘American Family’: PBS has secured packaged-goods giant Johnson & Johnson to be the sole corporate underwriter for its upcoming Latino-American drama “American Family,” to premiere 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) Wednesday, Jan. 23. The groundbreaking 13-episode series was created by Academy Award-nominated director Gregory Nava (“El Norte,” “Selena”). Primary funding for the series is provided by PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The drama chronicles the lives of the Gonzalez family, residents of East Los Angeles. It stars Edward James Olmos, Constance Marie, Rachel Ticotin, A.J. Lamas, Austin Marques, Kurt Caceres and Raquel Welch, with guest star Esai Morales and special appearances by Sonia Braga. “American Family” is produced by Mr. Nava’s production company, El Norte Productions, and KCET/Hollywood in association with The Greenblatt Janollari Studio and Fox Television Studios.

Tribune clears ‘Praagh’: As expected, Tribune Entertainment has cleared upcoming strip “Beyond With James Van Praagh” in 48 markets, including Tribune stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston, for a clearance level of 58 percent of the country. Non-Tribune markets include Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio. The series will be executive produced by Emmy Award winner Kari Sagin, whose credits include “The Maury Povich Show” and “Sally Jessy Raphael.”

Russert signs on for 12 more years at NBC: Tim Russert has signed a new contract that guarantees him 12 more years of “the best job in television”: moderator of “Meet the Press,” the No. 1 Sunday newsmaker show. He also adds the duties and title of managing editor for the show he has moderated for a decade, in addition to continuing as Washington bureau chief and political analyst for “Today” and “NBC Nightly News,” contributor for MSNBC and host of an interview show, “Tim Russert,” on CNBC.

CNN’s Zahn show coming together: CNN’s Paula Zahn show, which has made CNN competitive with Fox News Channel on weekday mornings, is coalescing. Executive producer Kathy O’Hearn has named a No. 2 producer, David Clark, whom she knows from her years at ABC News, and who most recently was a senior producer at Fox News Channel, where he worked with John Gibson. A new set and show title are to be revealed in January. The show is scheduled to relocate to the street-level studio being built in the Time Life building on Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue.

Shannon to chair ABC affils board: Roseann Shann
on, director of news for Hearst-Argyle-owned KETV-TV, the ABC affiliate in Omaha, Neb., has been named chairwoman of the ABC affiliates news director advisory board. She succeeds Ray Carter, recently named president and general manager of Cox-owned NBC affiliate WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh.

FCC proposes equal opportunity rules for broadcasters: The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday proposed new equal employment opportunity regulations intended to ensure that broadcasters and cable operators reach out to minorities and women when filling job vacancies. The courts threw out the agency’s two previous versions of the EEO regulations. But this time around, the regulations would not require owners to track job applicants by race or gender — a requirement that previously troubled the court. Licensees would still have to report the race and gender of their employees to the FCC every year. But the FCC vowed to use the information only to monitor industry employment trends and to prepare reports for Congress.

In a statement, Eddie Fritts, National Association of Broadcasters president and CEO, said the proposal would be discussed at the association’s board meeting in January. “NAB has always encouraged broadcasters to employ a diverse work force, and our industry has sponsored many innovative programs to accomplish that goal,” Mr. Fritts said. Said David Beckwith, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, “We’re already voluntarily following their previous rules.”

Stars donate items for auction to benefit Sept. 11 victims: Billy Crystal, Cindy Crawford, Alex Rodriguez, Vivica A. Fox and Martin Scorsese are among the more than 40 celebrities who have contributed handmade patriotic items and artwork to Helping Hands II: Handmade in America, an online celebrity auction designed to benefit the Sept. 11 relief efforts. This initiative is kicking off Wednesday evening at the Folk Art Museum in New York City. Helping Hands II is sponsored by AOL Time Warner and its subsidiary America Online.