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Feb 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Monday, Feb. 11, at 11:55 a.m. (PT); last updated at 5:25 p.m.

‘Friends’ back for ninth and final season

The stars of NBC’s top-rated “Friends” will be staying together for one more season, with 30 percent-plus pay hikes for each of the six cast members’ current $750,000-per-episode paychecks.

According to sources at NBC and series producer Warner Bros. Television, each of the “Friends” cast members — Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox Arquette, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, David Schwimmer and Matthew Perry — will be earning about $1 million per episode in order to renew the 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. (ET) tentpole to NBC’s “Must-See TV” Thursday lineup for next season.

Securing the renewal of “Friends,” which is up 13 percent among adults 18 to 49 (12.0 rating/31 share) and 17 percent in total viewers (24.7 million), was seen as the vital link in maintaining NBC’s hold on the coveted young demographics for next season.

“We’ve never had better ‘Friends’ and we’re thrilled,” NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said in a statement. “It’s no secret how important ‘Friends’ is to NBC. But what’s truly great is how important this program is to the entire country and that millions of fans will be able to watch the series continue for another full year. This is a great day.”

The per-episode license fee for “Friends” is expected to approach between $7 million to $8 million, up considerably from the estimated $5.8 million per episode NBC currently shells out for the top-rated show.

If NBC approaches the north end of those fees, which would also cover other executive producer salaries (including those for Kevin Bright, Marta Kauffman and David Crane), “Friends” would be the most expensive sitcom airing on the broadcast networks and second only to NBC’s “ER” drama. In 1998, shortly after NBC discovered that “Seinfeld” would not be returning, the Peacock Network agreed to cough up an all-time record $13.2 million per episode for “ER.”

NBC is currently estimated to be garnering around $600,000 per 30-second commercial unit for “Friends,” leaving to question whether its $7.2 million per episode in gross advertising revenue would leave the Peacock in a deficit situation if the license it would pay Warner Bros. topped $8 million per installment. However, most network-studio licensing deals allow for two runs of each episode, and it is expected that NBC would remain on the plus side in any new “Friends” deal.

As for Warner Bros., which already has eight years of “Friends'” network run on NBC translating to $1 billion-plus revenue in the lucrative off-network syndication market, higher front-end salary costs would have no negligible impact on the show’s bottom line.

The announcement was made late Monday night after negotiators from both sides had burned the midnight oil to finalize the renewal. Representatives at NBC and Warner Bros. were unreachable to elaborate on terms of the deal.

Charter expects loss in subs: Charter Communications executives told analysts Monday the company expects to lose 120,000 basic subscribers in the first quarter due to a halt in service discounting, a crackdown on nonpaying customers and seasonal factors. Like other cable operators, it warned of a slowdown in the growth of its 2.14 million digital subscribers as it reported a wider than expected fourth-quarter net loss of $306 million, or $1.04 a share, compared with $241 million, or $1.03 a share, a year earlier. Operating cash flow rose to $503 million from $453 million a year earlier on a 13.6 percent rise in revenues to $1.11 billion.

Analysts had mixed response to the results from heavily leveraged Charter. “Although revenue and cash flow growth have come under some pressure recently, we continue to view Charter as one of the better operators in the industry,” said Niraj Gupta of SalomonSmithBarney.

Directors Guild ratifies collective bargaining agreements: Clearing up perhaps the last major labor agreement among Hollywood’s creative unions, the membership of the Directors Guild of America voted to ratify the new three-year collective bargaining agreements between the DGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). DGA President Jack Shea announced Monday that the DGA membership voted to ratify the interim settlement agreement struck between the DGA’s national board of directors and AMPTP on Dec. 12. The current DGA contracts expire on June 30.

As per an agreement reached between the DGA and the AMPTP during negotiations, the interim settlement agreement takes effect immediately upon ratification and therefore will be operative for the upcoming television pilot season.

The ISA adapts current agreements to the new technologies that are modernizing the method of television production. This new “blended contract” recognizes that the methods of recording television programming are changing and covers all prime-time dramatic programming regardless of whether it is shot on film, traditional videotape or digital video.

“I’m gratified that our membership overwhelmingly voted to ratify the new contract,” Mr. Shea said in a statement. “Our Negotiating Committee was able to achieve some major gains for Guild members, including the revolutionary interim settlement agreement. This ratification vote is a tribute to the unceasing determination and matchless skill of our Negotiating Committee Chairman Gil Cates, our Creative Rights Negotiating Co-Chair Martha Coolidge, our National Executive Director Jay Roth and the rest of our negotiating teams.”

The newly ratified Basic Agreement (BA) and Free-lance Live and Tape Television Agreement (FLTTA) will take effect on July 1, 2002.

“Although our negotiations with the AMPTP were tough, we were able to achieve very significant economic and creative gains for the DGA membership,” Mr. Roth said. “Additionally, the blended contract will help to ensure the economic security of DGA members and eliminate contractual uncertainties with the advance of new technologies. In ratifying the new contracts almost five months before the expiration of our current ones, the DGA membership has once again demonstrated its seriousness of purpose and commitment to keeping the entertainment industry working.”

The ratification of the DGA agreement culminates in what has been a successful run by the AMPTP in closing other long-term labor deals with the Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and Writers Guild of America last summer.

NBC on track to win week in key demo: Coming off two straight weeks of wins of the adults 18 to 49 demographic by Fox (thanks in large part to Super Bowl XXXVI), NBC, as expected, is going to recapture the demo crown for the week of Feb. 4-10 — powered by the start of the 2002 Winter Olympics from Salt Lake City.

Preliminary projections, partially based on Nielsen Media Research fast national returns for last weekend, has NBC on track to easily win the week with a 9.4 rating/24 share among adults 18 to 49. The demo score is tracking 77 percent ahead of the 5.3/13 mark in adults 18 to 49 from the previous week (Jan. 28-Feb. 3).

NBC’s first three days (Feb. 8 to 10) of the Olympics averaged a 20.3/33 in households, according to final Nielsen Media Research national data. Also helping to fuel 17.6/27 household average with the Olympics last Sunday was a prime-time runover of the NBC All-Star Game (5:19 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET) averaging an 8.2/15 — the highest all-star hoops telecast since 1998 (10.6//18).

Fox, a big winner in adults 18 to 49 the previous week (11.0/27) with the Super Bowl (34.7/70), is projected to finish the week of Feb. 4 with a second-place 3.9/10 in the key demo — off about 65 percent from its NFL-fed week. Fox’s all-comedy lineup — with repeats of “The Simpsons” and “Bernie Mac” taking over the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. Sunday time slot for the soon-to-be departing “X-Files” — held a second-ranked adults 18 to 49 (4.7/11) to NBC’s Olympics telecast.

Meanwhile, ABC’s projected, third-ranked score in adults 18 to 49 for last week minimized week-to-week erosion to 18 percent (3.2/8 vs. 4.0/10) going against NBC’s Olympics on
slaught. In particular, ABC’s 9 p.m.-to-11 p.m. dramas, “Alias” and “The Practice,” held second-ranked slots Sunday in adults 18 to 49, at 4.7/10 and 5.1/12, respectively.

CBS, although a somewhat distant fourth in adults 18 to 49 (3.3/8), was up 10 percent from its previous week’s score (3.0/8). On a total-viewer basis though, CBS drew 11.8 million viewers (up 13 percent week to week) and was second only to NBC’s Olympics-spiked 24.2 million viewers (up 47 percent).

Station groups to benefit from 2002 political ads: Big 3 network-affiliate stations groups — such as Hearst-Argyle Broadcasting, Young Broadcasting, Belo, Gannett, E.W. Scripps and Sinclair Broadcast Group — will be the biggest beneficiaries of the estimated $750 million that will be spent on issue-driven political advertising this year. Although down from the $825 million spent in 2000, the infusion of dollars will help local broadcasters, who are bracing for a 2 percent to 4 percent decline in overall advertising this year. Political-year advertising could bolster station revenues by as much as 6 percent and account for about half a station’s income. However, political advertising could represent all of the growth the industry musters in 2002, according to a report released Monday by Bear Stearns analyst Victor Miller.

Case buys one million AOL Time Warner shares: AOL Time Warner chairman Steve Case has acquired 1 million shares of company stock in 10 separate transactions on the open market at per-share prices ranging from $24 to $24.25. He now owns a total of about 11 million shares of the company’s stock, which closed up two points Friday to $27.36 a share. In a statement, Mr. Case said, “For the past decade, I have been a periodic seller of AOL stock for diversification purposes.” He said last week, he became a buyer of AOL Time Warner stock “to underscore the confidence I have in the company and its growth prospects.”

Viewers flock to Peacock’s Olympics coverage: The first two days of NBC’s 2002 Winter Olympics coverage from Salt Lake City, despite being delayed 21/2 hours on the West Coast, appear to be getting a wide embrace from TV viewers in prime time. The first two days of Olympics coverage (starting Feb. 8) attracted 60 million viewers and a 21.5 rating/36 share household average though the end of Saturday night’s coverage, according to final Nielsen Media Research national data.

NBC researchers also claim the U.S.-based Winter Games, which have drawn 104 million viewers for all or part of both days’ prime time telecasts, have achieved a 45 percent increase in households over CBS’s first days of the 1998 Winter Olympics from Nagano, Japan (14.8/26).

Friday night’s 2002 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony telecast, which aired live at 8 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. in the Eastern time zone and was delayed to 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. in the Pacific time zone, drew a record 25.5/42 household average and 72 million viewers.

The ceremony from Salt Lake City outscored the previous all-time Winter Games opening score from CBS’s first-day telecast of the 1960 Olympics from Squaw Valley, Calif. (24.2/37) by a 5 percent ratings margin. In terms of total viewers, the previously most viewed Winter Olympics opener came from CBS’s coverage of the 1994 games from Lillehammer, Norway, with 62 million total viewers. Even more notable, the Salt Lake City opener also out-drew the two previous U.S.-based Summer Olympics — the 1996 Games in Atlanta (23.6/45) and 1984 Games in Los Angeles (23.9/48).

Saturday night, featuring the first full-day of competition, had NBC drawing a 17.1/30 household average, a 39 percent jump over CBS’s second day from Nagano (12.3/22). With the United States’ grip on the medals count not anywhere near as firm as in Summer Games, the Winter Games often take a back seat with viewers, but the Olympics typically scores better when the nation plays host.

Although there have been some criticism in newspapers on the West Coast over not being able to get the Games live on NBC’s broadcast network feed because of the 21/2-hour taped-delayed airings in prime time, viewers in key markets appear largely unfazed. As expected, Salt Lake City led all overnight markets on Friday (65.5/84) and Saturday (37.2/59) in households and was followed by Portland, Ore. (37.0/58; 24.2/40) and Seattle (34.8/55; 24.7/42) on both nights.

Kids’ WB renews animated series: Kids’ WB, the top-rated Saturday morning children’s broadcast network, has formalized the 2002-03 season renewals for the next-generation of “Pokemon: Master Quest” and the hit series “Jackie Chan Adventures, “X-Men Evolution,” “The Mummy: Secrets of the Medja” and “Rescue Heroes: Global Heroes.” The renewals, announced by Donna Friedman, executive vice president of the Kids’ WB, come in advance of the expected opening of the kids upfront advertising market in mid-March.

For its fifth season, 52 all-new episodes of “Pokemon: Master Quest” will air six days a week on Kids’ WB, courtesy of a longtime licensing deal with 4Kids Productions, which struck its own six-year deal to separately license and program the Saturday morning Fox Kids lineup.

WB to start ‘Felicity’ final run in March: The WB has “Felicity” set to return for the end of its fourth and final season starting on Wednesday, March 20 (9 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET) through a sweeps-targeted ending on May 22.

In a time-sharing arrangement with “Jack & Jill” last season, “Felicity” has been off the air since its winter finale in December to make room for the new Kevin Williamson suspense thriller “Glory Days.” Starting on March 11, “Glory Days” will temporarily move into the coveted Monday 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. lead-out time slot — in place of “Angel” — coming out of The WB’s top-rated “7th Heaven” drama. “Angel” will return to its regular Monday berth on April 15 with all-new episodes through the season finale in May.

“Felicity,” starting Keri Russell and created by J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves, will return with 11 new episodes to close its fourth season. The WB says the series finale will culminate with a two-hour (8 p.m. to 10 p.m.) event on May 22, centering on a college commencement for Felicity and friends.

Meanwhile, “Felicity,” will live on in cable syndication. WE: Women’s Entertainment will strip all four seasons, totaling 84 episodes, of the Buena Vista Television series, beginning Sept. 30, 2002.

“Felicity” is produced by Imagine Television, in association with Touchstone Television. Aside from Mr. Abrams and Mr. Reeves, also serving as executive producers are Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Tony Krantz, Jennifer Levin and Laurie McCarthy.

Concept Farm signs with ESPN ABC Sports: Concept Farm joins Wieden and Kennedy and Ground Zero as agencies of record for ESPN ABC Sports Customer Marketing and Sales, the sports sales and marketing arm of The Walt Disney Co.

Manhattan-based Concept Farm, which was appointed to the account after a two-month review, will be responsible for creating co-branded on-air promotions between key advertisers and ESPN and ABC Sports properties such as “SportsCenter,” The Great Outdoor Games and the Bowl Championship Series. The agency also will create and produce the communications materials that will support those promotions.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications