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Jan 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Friday, Jan. 11, at 11 a.m. (PT); last updated at 2:20 a.m.

Valentine out at UPN

UPN President Dean Valentine, who last September sued his own network for as much as $22 million in bonuses he said he was due, has left the company quietly. Viacom, which had transferred control of UPN to CBS President Les Moonves effective last week, announced the departure Friday without referring to the lawsuit, but discussions about a settlement are said to be continuing.

Mr. Valentine’s sprawling collection of mostly avant-garde art had come off the walls at UPN by Thursday, leaving little doubt that his exit had been worked out.

Trade groups to produce joint conferences: The Radio-Television News Directors Association and the National Association of Broadcasters made it official Friday that they are linking up in April in Las Vegas in hopes that overlapping conventions will be mean bigger attendance for both. While NAB 2002 exhibits and events are taking place April 6 to 11 at the Las Vegas Convention Center and Sands Convention Center, NAB@RTNDA will take place at the Las Vegas Hilton.

“This is a perfect fit for NAB,” said NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts. “We are always looking for ways to expand and enhance our convention.”

RTNDA did not hold its convention in 2001 due to Sept. 11 attacks.

In addition, the NBC Affiliates Board has voted to hold its annual conference in tandem with the TVB annual marketing conference, which this year is being held on March 26 in New York City. Both the Peacock Network meeting and the Television Bureau of Advertising conference will take place at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. At least 100 broadcasting executives from NBC affiliates are expected, according to the TVB.

In addition to the NBC affiliates, major broadcast station groups that will be holding meetings during the conference include ABC’s owned-and-operated stations, NBC’s owned-and-operated stations, Hearst/Argyle Television, LIN Television, Nexstar Broadcasting and Tribune Broadcasting.

Fox’s ‘Chamber’ pushed ahead of ABC’s ‘Chair’: In a game of one-upmanship, Fox has again pushed up the premiere of its extreme game show “The Chamber,” attempting to precede ABC’s opening bow of its quiz show “The Chair.” Fox filed a countersuit on Friday against Touchdown Productions of New Zealand, the producers of “The Chair,” which had filed a suit on Jan. 4 claiming that “The Chamber” was an outright rip-off of their concept.

Fox’s countersuit, which claims “unfair business practices” and “trespass,” claims “The Chair” executive producers Andrew Golder and Gregg Sherman had illegally entered a taping of “The Chamber” on Jan. 10. They were discovered and ejected from the closed set. Mr. Golder had reportedly attempted to lure a contestant coordinator for the show away to fill a similar position on “The Chair.” The suit also claims that Mr. Golder and Mr. Sherman had obtained confidential information about “The Chamber’s” content and tried to use it in their development of “The Chair.”

In the race for public perception over which is the original concept, Fox thought it was important to get “The Chamber” on before its competitor aired “The Chair.” Fox will do so on Sunday, Jan. 13, just after its broadcast of an NFL playoff game. Rick Schwartz will host the game show. “The X-Files” will be pre-empted for the broadcast.

Jan. 15 is believed to be the earliest ABC can get “The Chair” on the air. The network will run the first episode of the program from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) on that date. “Dharma & Greg” and “Spin City” will be given a broadcast hiatus for the new series’ initial run.

Julie Christie, creator of the New Zealand-based concept “The Chair,” filed a lawsuit on Jan. 4 against Fox in Los Angeles Superior Court, claiming the network stole the concept and then brought it to Dick Clark Productions to produce. Mr. Clark’s production company is not named in the suit.

“The Chair,” which presents a rapid-fire succession of questions to chairbound contestants, who have their heart rates monitored under extreme mental and psychological challenges (including such obstacles as artificial rain and earthquake simulation), is set to be hosted by acerbic tennis great John McEnroe. Ms. Christie and Darryl McEwen (the New Zealand version of “Weakest Link,” “Treasure Island.”) and Andrew Golder (“Two-Minute Drill,” “Win Ben Stein’s Money”) are executive producers.

CBS’s ‘Survivor: Africa’ finale attracts 27 million viewers: More than 27 million viewers watched the Eye Network’s two-hour “Survivor: Africa” finale Thursday night, which named 28 year-old Ethan Zohn winner of the third installment of the franchise.

The final episode posted an average 14.7 share 22 rating with 27.26 million viewers over the two-hour block, according to Nielsen Media Research, with a 10.1/24 in adults 18 to 34, 11.3/25 in adults 18 to 49 and 12.3/25 in adults 25 to 54. Those scores put CBS first in the ratings race in those demos as well as in households and total viewers, marking “Survivor: Africa’s” best households, viewer and key demo delivery ever.

For the night, CBS was first in viewers — with an average of 24.5 million viewers across all time periods; its “Late Show With David Letterman,” featuring guests Jack Black and the Foo Fighters, delivered a 4.5 rating/11 share in households — the highest rated Thursday for “Late Show” since it delivered a 5.2/15 on May 3, 2001 (the finale of “Survivor: The Australian Outback”).

Fox to debut new episodes versus NBC’s Olympics: Even though NBC’s Olympics broadcast is expected to snow over the competition during February sweeps, Fox is still looking to launch original episodes of its most popular shows during the period.

Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman said at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., Friday that the network will debut “That ’80s Show” on Wed., Jan. 23 in the 8:30 p.m. (ET) time period in place of “Undeclared,” which is going on temporary hiatus, leading into “Bernie Mac” at 9 p.m.

“Andy Richter Controls the Universe” and “Greg the Bunny” will premiere in March.

Ms. Berman said “American Embassy” (formerly “Emma Brody”) will start on Monday, March 11 in the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. time slot and will run for six weeks in place of “Ally McBeal,” which will go on temporary hiatus.

Ms. Berman and Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group, noted during the presentation that there is concern about some of the aging and young demo erosion for “Ally McBeal” as well as “X-Files.” On that front, Ms. Berman announced that Christina Ricci will be joining the “Ally” cast in a six-episode recurring role later this season, and “X-Files” will celebrate its 200th episode later with a special airing, details of which are yet to be determined.

Ms. Berman and Mr. Grushow said Fox is looking to bring back the second repeat run of “24” in the Friday 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. slot. Dennis Hopper will join the cast of “24” later this season as well. He will star in his first episode on April 23. He will play a Balkan War criminal who blames Jack Bauer for his fall from power.

In other stunts coming up this season, Ms. Berman said “Bernie Mac” will shoot an hour-long closing episode for this season on location in Chicago, guest-starring Halle Berry. She also said Susan Sarandon will guest-star in the hour-long “Malcolm in the Middle” following the Super Bowl. Ms. Sarandon’s character will engage in a “cat fight” with Jane Kaczmarek’s character, she said.

Mr. Grushow also acknowledged that Fox, in consultation with its affiliates, has decided to cut back on its budget for co-op advertising on stations during February. He said it didn’t make sense to throw out a lot of money in the face of “heavy duty” competition such as the Olympics during the period.

Edwards starts broadcasting company: Eddie Edwards, the minority broadcast entrepreneur with close ties to Sinclair Broadcasting, is branching out on his own. Mr. Edwards announced Thursday that he’s formed a new company, Edwards Broadcasting, and has hired former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell as VP of communicatio
ns and legal affairs.

Mr. Edwards said he’ll “aggressively pursue” television and radio properties and will lobby Congress to restore the minority tax certificate program, which was terminated after allegations of abuse. A radio deal will be announced in a few weeks. Mr. Edwards insists the new company has no connection, financial or otherwise, to Sinclair, but he might do business with it.

Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and other watchdogs have accused Mr. Edwards of being a Sinclair front. They maintain Sinclair funded Mr. Edwards’ former company, Glencairn, Ltd., which entered into local marketing agreements with the Baltimore-based station group. After the FCC loosened its duopoly rules, Sinclair purchased some of Glencairn’s stations. Carolyn Smith, the mother of Sinclair CEO David Smith, is now an owner of Glencairn, which Mr. Edwards has since left. And an executive with close ties to Sinclair is now Glencairn’s CEO.

Mr. Edwards denies any allegations of wrongdoing, emphasizes the Federal Communications Commission approved his former company and notes he’s been in broadcasting more than 30 years. But the FCC recently fined him and Sinclair $40,000 each for running afoul of its ownership regulations.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications