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Jan 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 9:53 a.m. (PT); last updated at 3:20 p.m.

WB renews ‘Smallville,’ ‘Reba’; seeks to boost Sunday

Proclaiming it is still on track with teen and young female viewers, The WB has made second season orders on freshman dramas “Smallville,” and “Reba,” and sophomore drama “Gilmore Girls.” Also, in keeping with the growing synergy with AOL Time Warner, the network’s Kids WB announced it would be sharing 13 new episodes of the cartoon classic “Scooby Doo” this season. Kids WB has also placed an order for a new Saturday series called “Ozzie and Drix.”

The WB also made a point of noting that its new addition of the “Jamie Kennedy Experiment” scored the network’s season-best ratings in adults 18 to 34 and men 18 to 34 ratings in Sunday’s 8:30 p.m.-to-9:30 p.m. (ET) time period.

On that front, WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin stressed that “JKX” will hopefully reignite one of The WB’s weak spots — Sunday night. Additionally, Mr. Levin said Fox plans to take at least a dozen comedy and up to 10 drama pilots into the fall 2002 season. He stressed that the WB is going to continue to address one of its weak spots — the 9 p.m. Wednesday hour — with the midseason insertion of “Glory Days.”

The network’s opening hour on Sundays, which has also been a continuing weak spot, is scheduled to get a makeover with the new Ford Motor Co.-sponsored reality show “No Boundaries” starting on March 3 at 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Both Jamie Kellner, chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting System, and Jed Petrick, president and chief operating officer of The WB, said they will look at potential advertiser-sponsored programming opportunities but aren’t going to let advertisers dictate the creative content of any show — in light of what they acknowledged was an unsuccessful foray with Coca-Cola on the “Young Americans” drama a couple of seasons back.

Mr. Levin announced that “Dawson’s Creek” producer Greg Berlanti is developing a new drama called “Everwood,” which The WB is seriously considering as the next project for which it will seek funding from the Family-Friendly Programming Forum, which underwrote the script development of “Gilmore Girls” and “Raising Dad.”

Mr. Kellner also said the network is aggressively pursuing secondary cable windows for WB series for the AOL Time Warner-owned TNT and TBS networks. Suggesting that “Charmed’s” second run on TNT has 98 percent of its audience coming from unduplicated viewership, he continually stressed that the studios need to work with the Frog Network on building new economic models.

Responding to comments from CBS President Leslie Moonves on his newfound penchant to take on The WB, Mr. Kellner and Mr. Petrick struck a conciliatory tone, suggesting that the “rhetoric” between the two will be toned down from now on. In particular Mr. Petrick noted that The WB’s emphasis on the young female and teen demographics puts it in a different competitive division from that of UPN or the other networks. For that reason he sees no need for a “squabble.”

MGM sale still up in the air: In response to Tuesday’s report in the Los Angeles Times that MGM is up for sale at $7 billion, the company has denied it has entered into any agreements regarding a transaction and that “there can be no assurance that the company will decide to enter any transactions.”

MGM Chairman Alex Yemenidjian has bluntly stated in the past that his company must be part of a bigger media entity in order to survive. While he has improved the balance sheet and its film performance, MGM has no assured distribution. Lead suitors include NBC and The Walt Disney Co. It is especially critical for NBC, which must merge with other distribution and content companies in order to remain competitive.

General Electric, meeting with analysts Tuesday in New York, recommitted itself to growing NBC. Other potential suitors include Cablevision Systems, which last year sold MGM a 25 percent stake in its Rainbow Media Program Group; Comcast Corp.; and any of the four big studios, including AOL Time Warner, Viacom and Vivendi Universal. Goldman Sachs has been hired to solicit bids for MGM, which are due this week. Majority shareholder Kirk Kerkorian is said to be seeking at least $30 a share. MGM stock traded around its 52-week high of $23 a share Tuesday.

Dockery to manage diversity for Clear Channel: James Dockery, corporate counsel at Clear Channel Communications, will become director of diversity for the company. According to a memo distributed at the company today, the move was made in order to make the company more “proactive” in the diversity area. In addition to keeping his current duties, Mr. Dockery will be in charge of tracking progress of diversity throughout the various divisions of the company.

ABC’s Lyne puts ‘Once and Again’ on hiatus: In her first scheduling move since being installed as ABC Entertainment president last week, Susan Lyne is putting the growth-resistant “Once and Again” on the shelf for seven weeks. The hiatus starts this week when the 10 p.m. (ET) Friday time slot is restored to “20/20,” with correspondent John Miller sharing anchor duties with Barbara Walters.

Ms. Lyne announced that when “Once” returns to the lineup, it will be at 10 p.m. Mondays, the time slot it occupied the 1999-2000 season.

“The show simply hasn’t worked on Fridays, so we’re returning it to the night where it had its greatest success,” said Ms. Lyne in a statement accompanying the scheduling announcement that noted “Once” had beat CBS’s “Family Law” and NBC’s “Third Watch” in key demos when it competed with them on Monday.

In the meantime, ABC is scheduling movies at 9 p.m. Mondays, following “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” which continues to struggle at 8 p.m.

Current thinking is that “The Court,” the Supreme Court-based drama starring Sally Field, also will join the Monday lineup in early March. The series begins production this month.

Lineup set for NBA ‘Read to Achieve’ special: The lineup joining Britney Spears on the “NBA All-Star Read to Achieve Celebration” special at 11 a.m. (ET) Feb. 9 has been set. Appearing on the special, which will be simulcast by NBC, TNT, BET, Nickelodeon, Nick GAS and NBA.com TV in the United States and MuchMusic in Canada, will be Carson Daly (“Total Request Live” and “Last Call With Carson Daly”), Frankie Muniz (“Malcolm in the Middle”) and performers Alicia Keys and Lil’ Bow Wow. Also appearing on the pro-reading, pro-literacy special will be the pro-basketball NBA all-stars and star players from the WNBA.

FCC tells DirecTV it must comply with must-carry rules: The Federal Communications Commission yesterday gave DirecTV 60 days to begin carrying Paxson Communications’ broadcast TV signals to comply with the satellite must-carry law. DirecTV says Paxson waived its rights to mandatory carriage because it earlier obtained carriage for its stations through retransmission consent. But Paxson said it never waived its rights, and the FCC agreed.

NAB will work with FCC on equal employment rules: The National Association of Broadcasters board has voted unanimously to work with the Federal Communications Commission to come up with new equal employment opportunity regulations that can pass court muster, sources said.

The courts have thrown out the FCC’s two previous versions of the regulations as unconstitutional — and some small-market broadcasters would prefer that the industry oppose a recent agency effort to resurrect limited EEO obligations once again. But at its board meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla., Monday, sources said the NAB board made clear it wants to “help” the agency.

Peacock wins week with ‘Friends,’ ‘ER’: NBC won the week of Jan. 7 to 13 among adults 18 to 49 with its regular prime-time lineup. The network beat the highest ratings averages of the season for both ABC and CBS despite airing regular programs against such stiff competition as CBS’s “Survivor: Africa” finale on Thursday and “People’s Choice Awards” on Sunday and ABC’s “American Music Awards” on Thursday and its pair of prime-time NFL telecasts.

According to in-home viewing statistics from Nielsen Media
Research, NBC’s Thursday night staples “Friends” and “ER” emerge as the No. 1 one and No. 2 show for the week among adults 18 to 49.

Nelvana gets rights to ‘Berenstain Bears’: Nelvana has been granted the rights to “The Berenstain Bears” franchise from Berenstain Enterprises to develop, produce and distribute episodic television series and individual programs based on the popular children’s brand. The production deal between Nelvana and PBS will allow the animation company to place “The Berenstain Bears” in a Nelvana one-hour TV block on PBS.

“The Berenstain Bears” will appear on PBS’s kids block Monday through Friday beginning in fall 2002. The one-hour block will debut 15-minute episodes of “The Berenstain Bears” and new 15-minute episodes of Nelvana’s “Seven Little Monsters,” plus new episodes of the half-hour show “George Shrinks” for a total of 40 one-hour blocks.

King stretches truth about contract renewal: Larry King’s well-known penchant for inflating his paycheck backfired on the CNN schmoozemeister Tuesday when people familiar with negotiations for his nearly completed new contract scoffed at a leak to the New York Post that he’s doubling his salary to $14 million a year.

That would have meant he was worth as much as “Today” co-host Katie Couric, who recently signed a multiyear contract valued at $65 million in total and a record $14 million a year. But sources familiar with the particulars of the talks between CNN and Mr. King say Mr. King — who has characterized his current salary as $7 million a year — will be making between $6 million and $7 million a year under the contract expected to be signed this week.

In addition to the cash, there will be seed money for a “development deal” and stock options. It is unknown whether he is to get significantly more stock under the new deal than he did under the last one, which was signed nearly four years ago. Mr. King had made it widely known that easy access to a private plane was a must under his new deal, but an informed source said that isn’t happening. Indeed, Mr. King, who already can make occasional use of an AOL Time Warner corporate plane when one is available, probably can expect to cadge no more than a couple of flights per month in a company plane in the future.

As the exaggerated contract figures flashed throughout CNN, where several hundred people have been laid off and bought out over the past year, anger ran high and wide Tuesday morning. By early Tuesday afternoon, even Internet gossip Matt Drudge was gleefully pointing out how far Mr. King has stretched the truth.

Cable nets shuffle ad sales execs: Musical chairs continues in the world of TV advertising sales, with changes at or near the top of A&E, Rainbow, Discovery and Fox Cable, among others.

At Rainbow, Arlene Manos is set to move to into the top ad sales position. Ms. Manos, formerly senior VP, national ad sales, A&E Television Networks, will become president, national network advertising sales, Rainbow Advertising Sales Corp., on Jan. 28. She moves into the position formerly held by Christopher Kager and will be responsible for advertising and related sales for American Movie Classics, Bravo, Independent Film Channel, MuchMusic and WE: Women’s Entertainment.At A&E, Ms. Manos was No. 2 to Ron Schneier, who is leaving his post as executive VP, sales and marketing. Taking over the ad-sales function at A&E will be Whitney Goit, executive VP, AETVN.

Moving to Fox Cable Networks from Discovery is Bruce Lefkowitz, who becomes executive VP of advertising sales, entertainment. For the past five and a half years, Mr. Lefkowitz was senior VP of national advertising sales, Discovery Networks U.S.

In his new position, Mr. Lefkowitz will report to Lou LaTorre, president of advertising sales, and will head national advertising sales for FX Networks, the National Geographic Channel and Fox Movie Channel.#

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications