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Jan 9, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Wednesday, Jan. 9, at 11:25 a.m. (PT); last updated at 4:15 p.m.

Fox flees from ‘Tick’

Fox is canceling its critically received sitcom “The Tick” after a somewhat ratings-challenged run in the highly competitive 8:30 p.m. (ET) Thursday time slot. “The Tick,” which was voted as the 11th-best series on TV in Electronic Media’s Fall/Winter 2002 Critics Poll (EM, Jan. 7), had been averaging about a 2.5 rating among the key adults 18 to 49 demographic and appeared somewhat hobbled by a weak lead-in from “The Family Guy.”

A source at Columbia TriStar Television, which produces the Patrick Warburton-led superhero satire, said Fox has not picked up the option beyond “The Tick’s” initial order of 8 episodes and will give it a final airing on Jan. 24. Fox officials were unreachable to comment on what will be scheduled in “The Tick’s” time slot, but the network has pair of midseason comedies — “Greg The Bunny” and “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” — to potentially plug any holes on Thursday or another night.

ABC Cable’s Sweeney accuses EchoStar of misleading press: There has been another volley of tough talk in the war of words and legal briefs between EchoStar Communications and Disney/ABC over EchoStar’s proposal to pull ABC Family, formerly Fox Family, from its satellite distribution at the end of 2001. This time it was Anne Sweeney, president of ABC Cable Networks Group and Disney Channel Worldwide, firing the verbal fusillade in a brief and terse telephone conference call with reporters. Ms. Sweeney accused EchoStar of “misleading statements provided to the press.” In those statements, EchoStar contended that Disney had sought exorbitant carriage fees for ABC Family.

Just before the new year, Disney/ABC took its dispute with EchoStar to federal court in Los Angeles. Only a restraining order from the court, which expires Thursday, has kept ABC Family in EchoStar’s DISH Network lineup.

Ms. Sweeney said in her statement that “EchoStar falsely claimed that Disney has sought increased fees for carriage of ABC Family on the EchoStar system. This statement … is untrue. The indisputable fact is that Disney has not sought any increase in the carriage fees set forth in the EchoStar/Family Channel contract signed in 1995.”

The EchoStar statement that Ms. Sweeney disputed contended that Disney has “imposed rate increases well beyond the rate of inflation,” forcing EchoStar to “make difficult decisions about which programming it can afford to carry.” EchoStar also contended in that statement that, “No other television programmer has tied its political position on EchoStar’s pending merger with Hughes Electronics [which owns DirecTV] with any kind of programming deal. Only Disney has applied such heavy-handed tactics of trading political support for rate increases.”

In her telephone conference, Ms. Sweeney declined to address EchoStar statements not involving ABC Family, specifically declining to discuss ESPN Classic, which was dropped from DISH at the end of 2001. An EchoStar spokeswoman who could respond to Ms. Sweeney was not available for comment.

NBC renews ‘Scrubs,’ ‘Crossing Jordan’; announces midseason debuts: The Peacock Network has confirmed pickup of three of its freshman series for a second season. “Scrubs,” “Crossing Jordan,” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” will return to the schedule next fall, according to NBC programming chief Jeff Zucker, who made the announcements during a presentation on behalf of the network at the Television Critics Association Press Tour under way this week in Pasadena, Calif.

Mr. Zucker also said that after the Olympics end in February, NBC will debut two all-new midseason series — “Watching Ellie” and “Leap of Faith.” Julia Louis-Dreyfus-led half-hour “Watching Ellie” will premiere at 8:30 p.m. (ET) Tuesday, Feb. 26, while “Leap of Faith” will take the 8:30 p.m.-to-9 p.m. slot after “Friends” on Thursday, Feb. 28, with Tim Meadows (“Saturday Night Live”) and Sarah Paulson having been added to the cast.

NBC will also be adding a third show to the midseason lineup with “New York Live” starring Colin Quinn. The comedy sketch show will film at Studio 8H, home of “Saturday Night Live,” at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Its prime-time time slot and debut date have yet to be determined.

Mr. Zucker said some of the network’s biggest priorities for next year are to renew “Friends” and lower the costs of one-hour dramas. NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa said the network is currently in talks with the cast of “Friends” to come back for a ninth season and that the talks have not been acrimonious. With the show’s creative renaissance this year, “It’s a decision for them [to make],” he said.

As for development, Mr Zucker said, “We’re particularly keen on developing lower-cost dramas.” He said studios have been open to the idea. He said he’s looking for some dramas with license fees of $500,000 per episode.

NBC has gotten flak for its recent decision to run hard-liquor ads, and Mr. Sassa defended that decision by noting that more than 300 TV stations, 50 cable networks and 2,000 radio stations, along with print publications, currently run the ads. “We felt the time was right — now,” he said. He also noted that the network came up with strict guidelines to run hard-liquor ads, including requiring an advertiser to run public service announcements for four months before product ads air.

Mr. Zucker also said his network has renewed hit daytime drama “Passions” for fall 2002.

Daly debuts a day late due to contract trouble: Finally, NBC’s “Later With Carson Daly,” made its debut at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday night instead of Monday night as had originally been planned. The delay was a result of lingering contractual issues between NBC and representatives of Mr. Daly. But those issues have since been resolved, said NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa at the TCA press tour.

Mr. Sassa said, “We made a mistake” by allowing Mr. Daly to shoot test shows for the series before final contractual details had been ironed out. One of the sticking points concerned NBC’s right to repurpose Mr. Daly’s show, but Mr. Sassa said the parties reached an agreement that allows NBC to repurpose it in any way the network chooses.

For its inaugural outing, “Last Call” earned 1.4 rating and 7 share in Nielsen Media Research’s metered markets. While the new show dropped a third of its “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” (2.1/8) lead-in nationally, “Last Call” improved on NBC’s season average for the time period in New York by 33 percent (1.2/5 vs. 0.9/4), in Los Angeles by 77 percent (2.3/4 vs. 1.3/9) and in Chicago by 29 percent (1.8/7 vs. 1.4/5).

Cosby to anchor Fox’s late newscasts on weekends: Rita Cosby’s new home at Fox News Channel is the 10 o’clock hour on Saturday and Sunday nights starting this weekend. In addition to anchoring the hour, which will originate live from New York, Ms. Cosby, who has earned a reputation as a dogged reporter and headline-maker since she joined Fox in 1995, will essentially fill the hour with her own reports. She will spend weekdays putting together in-depth reports and staking out newsmakers to interview.

The programming move also means Fox’s 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. hour will be occupied by women all week long. Fox last week announced it had raided CNN to get Greta Van Susteren to anchor at 10 p.m. weeknights starting in the first quarter.

Houston, Detroit stations extend NBC affiliations: Post-Newsweek stations WDIV-TV in Detroit and KPRC-TV in Houston have extended their affiliations with NBC through 2011. Alan Frank, president of Post-Newsweek Stations, which also owns two CBS-affiliated stations and two ABC-affiliated stations, said the extension was driven by NBC’s performance and by the idea that continuity is good for viewership, among other factors. “Prime-time ratings have held up and we’ve done well,” Mr. Frank said.

ABC New Media Sales to bring advertisers to YES: ABC New Media Sales has signed a three-year deal to bring advertisers to the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network (YES), a regional channel scheduled to launch in March as a home for the New York Yankees and
other sports and sports-related programming.

“This is to put the network in touch with advertisers outside the marketplace,” said Leo Hindery Jr., chairman and CEO of YES.

Meanwhile, YES has filled out the broadcast team that will cover the 100-plus games carried on the regional channel. The team will include Yankees radio broadcaster Michael Kay doing play-by-play for 100 games and Jim Kaat and Suzyn Waldman doing the remaining games; and Ken Singleton doing analysis for 100 games with Mr. Kaat and Bobby Murcer doing the remaining games. Ms. Waldman, Mr. Murcer and Paul O’Neill will join host Fred Hickman on pre- and postgame shows.

Varney to host weekly CNBC show: Stuart Varney, who lost his co-anchorship of CNN’s “Moneyline” with the return of Lou Dobbs, has spun his series of CBNC specials into a weekly gig on the new lineup CNBC will launch on Monday, Feb. 4.

The business day lineup will start at 6 a.m. daily with Liz Claman and Carl Quintanilla at the NASDAQ MarketSite in Times Square for a new two-hour “Wake-Up Call,” followed by the familiar “Squawk Box” (8 a.m. to 11 a.m.); the new “Midday Call” with Martha MacCallum and Ted David (11 a.m. to 1 p.m.); the familiar “Power Lunch” (1 p.m. to 3 p.m.); the new “Closing Bell” that starts at 3 p.m. with Maria Bartiromo, who will be joined at 4 p.m. by Tyler Mathison; and the familiar “Business Center” (5 p.m. to 7 p.m.)

Mr. Varney will host “The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board With Stuart Varney” from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays starting March 1, a time slot previously occupied by Ms. Bartiromo.

Mr. Bartiromo’s new after-hours perch will be 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays with “Market Week.” The 7 p.m.-to-8 p.m. hour Tuesdays-Thursdays will be filled by “Capitol Report,” anchored from Washington by Mr. Mathison.

L.A. cable interconnect licenses product to New York counterpart: In what the parties are describing as the first licensing agreement of its kind between two cable interconnects, Los Angeles-based Adlink is licensing its Adtag and Adcopy audience segmentation products to the New York Interconnect.

The two Adlink products are designed to allow advertisers to target their ads to particular zip codes and geographic areas within the larger DMA. For example, an auto dealer might want to run ads for the company’s SUVs in one part of the DMA and ads for its luxury cars in another; Adlink touts its ability to do exactly that in the Los Angeles DMA. Specifically, Adtag allows advertisers to run the same commercial throughout a television market while customizing it by displaying a different dealer, franchise or retail tag for different locations, while Adcopy enables advertisers to run different commercials simultaneously in specified subsections of the market.

“The ability to break down the market geographically and address relevant messages to specific audiences, with only one buy, is an extraordinary benefit to advertisers,” said Eglon Simons, the New York Interconnect’s senior VP and general manager. “We think these products are remarkable and will be extremely effective for our automotive and fast food clients, as well as any advertisers with multiple dealers or products to offer.”

L.A.’s Adlink reaches nearly 3.5 million households across 44 cable networks. The New York Interconnect provides advertisers with more than 3.6 million households across 31 cable networks.

NBC’s ‘Imagine That’ premieres with weak ratings: On the heels of overwhelmingly negative reviews from TV critics around the country, NBC’s midseason debut of “Imagine That” may be something the Peacock Network wants to forget after seeing its early rating returns from Tuesday night. The Hank Azaria-led workplace sitcom, which has been derided by TV critics for its sexually spiced humor, came out last in the 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. (ET) Tuesday time slot — previously filled by NBC’s canceled “Emeril” sitcom.

“Imagine That,” which co-stars Katey Segal (“Married … With Children”), posted a bottom-ranked 2.8 rating/8 share among adults 18 to 49 — making little improvement over the now-deposed “Emeril” in the slot. According to the preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data, “Imagine That” also came out last in households (5.0/8) and total viewers (7 million) during the opening half-hour frame last night.

Among adults 18 to 49, Fox’s “That ’70s Show” (5.3/15) easily won the frame, holding an 89 percent margin over “Imagine That” in the key demo. Meanwhile, ABC’s struggling “Dharma & Greg” (3.1/9) was flat at a third-place ranking while the first half-hour of CBS’s resurgent “JAG” (3.8/10) took second-place honors.

The slow start with “Imagine That” only allowed NBC’s marginal 8:30 p.m. sitcom “Three Sisters” (3.1/8), to improve a mere 3 percent from its lead-in. Nevertheless, the ongoing strength of its long-running “Frasier” (6.2/15) helped NBC improve 100 percent from its “Three Sisters” lead-in by winning the 9 p.m.-to-9:30 p.m. frame. Critically received freshman lead-out “Scrubs” (5.5/13), also helped itself to a winning adults 18 to 49 score at 9:30 p.m. by holding 89 percent of “Frasier’s” lead-in.

The battle for second-place in the 9 p.m. hour was somewhat tighter, with ABC’s “NYPD Blue” (4.5/11) narrowly edging out Fox’s critically lauded “24” (4.4/10) drama among adults 18 to 49. In a positive development for “24,” it has exhibited 22 percent improvement over its last three airings, compared with a 3.6/8 average in the demo on Dec. 11. Coming in fourth in the demo was CBS’s “The Guardian” (3.1/7), but it nonetheless won the hour in households (8.8/13) and total viewers (13.2 million).

CBS’s “Judging Amy” swept the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. frame in adults 18 to 49 (4.5/12), households (10.8/18) and total viewers (15.7 million). “Dateline NBC” came in second in adults 18 to 49 (4.1/14), while ABC’s freshman “Philly” drama (3.5/9) continued to raise concern by dropping 22 percent of its “NYPD Blue” lead-in.

For the night, Fox won adults 18 to 49 (4.5/11), followed by NBC (4.3/11), CBS (3.9/10) and ABC (3.8/10). CBS beat NBC by a 44 percent margins in households (10.1/16 vs. 7.0 vs. 7.0/11) and 51 percent in total viewers (15.1 million vs. 10 million).

RTNDA considers joint convention with NAB: The Radio & Television News Directors Association’s Board of Directors will meet Friday to vote on whether they will hold their annual convention, which usually takes place in September, instead as part of a joint convention with the National Association of Broadcasters in April. RTNDA’s annual convention was not held in 2001 due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Juris named president of MuchMusic USA: Marc Juris, formerly the executive vice president and general manager for American Movie Classics, has been named president of MuchMusic USA, the music cable network that positions itself as both more interactive and more viewer-driven than its better known competitors. Both AMC and MuchMusic are part of Cablevision Systems Corp.’s Rainbow Media, and Mr. Juris will report to Rainbow’s CEO and President Josh Sapan.

Nora Ryan, who had served as the interim general manager of MuchMusic since Rainbow acquired it approximately 18 months ago, will return to her position as senior VP of business development for Rainbow.

Before taking his AMC post, Mr. Juris was the senior vice president of programming at Rainbow Media, where he was instrumental in the development and launch of MetroChannels, the package of three regional cable channels for the New York tri-state area.#

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications