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The Insider

Dec 31, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Roots: Guy Pepper’s CNN sequel
Guy Pepper, the director who helped put CNN on the map, has come back to give the all-news network a makeover for the new millennium. The 12-time Emmy winner is CNN’s prodigal poobah (technically, the title is executive director) of sets, lighting, production values and those intangibles that go into creating a brand, a signature look.
Mr. Pepper was a director at fledgling Atlanta-based CNN before heading north in 1985 to NBC News, where he would put his stamp on numerous shows, including “Today” and “Dateline,” and help launch MSNBC as a news channel where TV and Internet would converge. He rose to senior director at NBC, where he helped develop the NBC Experience store at the network’s 30 Rock headquarters.
He joined the stampede of TV executives who thought they were joining the dot-com gold rush only to find it was a roller-coaster ride from boom to bust. He was named CEO of byebyeNow.com, which had hired Regis Philbin as its spokesman, in February 2000. A year later, the vacation-travel Web site was in Chapter 11. Last May, he was named CEO of Kobalt Interactive, a provider of interactive television software, application tools and technology services to the broadcast, cable, satellite and advertising communities. The Insider doesn’t have to tell her readers about how slowly interactivity is being deployed, so Mr. Pepper left Kobalt in search of a more immediate challenge a mere four months later.
In late November, Mr. Pepper’s professional odyssey brought him back to a sixth-floor office at CNN headquarters in Atlanta with a mandate to create or tweak the sets and looks of CNN’s major shows. The “A.M. With Paula Zahn” set is scheduled to be unveiled Jan. 7.
CNN Chairman Walter Isaacson is determined to shake the mustiness off the granddaddy of news networks. Fans of Mr. Pepper, who reports to Sid Bedingfield, executive vice president and general manager of CNN/U.S., say Mr. Pepper is a handy man to have around when the assignment is renovation or innovation.
He is, one CNN insider tells The Insider, “sufficiently strong-willed to get things done.”
Will it be finis for ALTV?
The Association of Local Television Stations board is planning a conference call within the next couple of weeks to decide whether to pull the plug on the organization, according to sources. Ray Rajewski, ALTV board chairman and Viacom Television Stations Group executive vice president, would say only that it was “too premature” to say what fate would befall the organization, which has lost key members. “It’s an ongoing discussion how we continue to operate,” Mr. Rajewski said. Jim Hedlund, the association’s longtime president, did not return phone calls. However, sources said Mr. Hedlund has acquired a retirement residence.
Schaap tributes continue
The glowing tributes that followed the unexpected death on Dec. 21 of sports wordsmith and renaissance man Dick Schaap were just the beginning. A private service was held for Mr. Schaap the weekend after he died at age 67 of complications from hip-replacement surgery. There’ll be a big memorial sometime in January. Stay tuned.
The Insider’s favorite video moment so far played in Mr. Schaap’s memory was the encore on ABC’s overnight “World News Now,” to which Mr. Schaap contributed top-notch theater reviews, of a “Schaap on Schaap” segment in which the prodigious writer and commentator interviewed himself. It doesn’t get any better than that.
And, hey, get a designated clicker
The standard greeting on The WB’s “Felicity” appears to have inspired a drinking game. The characters make their myriad encounters official with a “hey” or two, each of which merits a sip of players’ beverages. In the winter finale on Dec. 19, there were several double “heys” and a quadruple “hey.”
Hey, The Insider hopes that The WB’s young core audience has been chugging seltzer, or something equally healthy, when they watch and quaff. The Insider’s “Felicity”-addicted friends, who could be parents of WB’ers, sound as though they’ve spent the night in binge territory on Thursday mornings. The WB would not comment except to acknowledge that it had heard a “Felicity” drinking game is being played.
WPIX-TV rekindles Christmas tradition
Ending a 12-year hiatus, Tribune-owned WPIX-TV, New York, returned the yule log to the air Christmas morning to win the 8 a.m.-to-10 a.m. time slot. WPIX General Manager Betty Ellen Berlamino brought the tradition back to the airwaves, and New Yorkers, in need of some holiday cheer, responded. The two-hour video of a log blazing in a fireplace while Christmas carols played averaged a 3.1 rating and 10 share in the Nielsen Station Index, boosting the WB affiliate to No. 1. From 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., WPIX averaged a 3.3/9, with WABC-TV ranking second for the day with a 3.0/8. The yule log was an annual fixture for New York viewers on WPIX from 1966 to 1989.