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Feb 26, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 11:58 a.m. (PT); last updated at 5:15 p.m.

NBC nails it, winning final Olympic week

As expected, NBC, fueled by the final week of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, won its biggest weekly margins in adults 18 to 49, households and total viewers for the week ending Feb. 25.

According to final Nielsen Media Research national data, NBC posted an 11.4 rating/28 share in adults 18 to 49, improving 17 percent from its previous week’s top-ranked 9.7/25 average. Fox came in second in adults 18 to 49 (3.6/9), followed by ABC (2.8/7), CBS (2.6/7), UPN (1.8/4) and The WB (1.3/3).

For the week, NBC averaged 32.8 million viewers. NBC also won households (19.9/31), just narrowly edging out the remaining five networks’ combined 19.8 rating average. CBS came in second in homes (6.0/9), followed by Fox (4.7/7), ABC (4.5/7), UPN (2.6/4) and The WB (2.0/3).

All seven days of the Olympics last week dominated the ratings and held the first of the top 10 slots for the week in Nielsen’s program rankings. Last Thursday’s (Feb. 21) figure skating finals crested at the top with a 15.9/39 in adults 18 to 49, 26.8/41 in households and 43.3 million total viewers.

Overall, for the 17 days of the Olympics (Feb. 8 to 24), NBC posted a 19.2/32 in households, up 18 percent over CBS’s 1998 Winter Olympics from Nagano, Japan (16.3/26). NBC’s Salt Lake City Games also held a narrow 3 percent edge over CBS’s 1992 Winter Olympics from Albertville, France (18.7/29), en route to attracting 187 million unique viewers, according to NBC researchers.

Facing the Olympics onslaught and minus major programming stunts, save this Wednesday’s expected bump from the Grammy Awards, CBS’s 2.9/7 average in adults 18 to 49 is down 36 percent from its year-ago score — when it had “Survivor: The Australian Outback” hauling in young viewers. For the sweeps to date (ending Feb. 26), ABC is currently holding a third-ranked score in adults 18 to 49 (3.0/8) but could drop lower and add on to its 32 percent year-to-year loss. UPN’s largely stunt-free lineup is up 33 percent year to year in adults 18 to 49 (2.0/5), while The WB is down a slight 6 percent (1.5/4).

Meanwhile, Fox researchers are projecting that the end of the sweeps will have NBC leveling off to an 8.8/22 average in adults 18 to 49 but still growing by a 63 percent year-to-year clip with the Olympics-driven spike. Fox estimates it will finish the sweeps at a 5.5/13 in the key demo, up 6 percent from year-ago sweeps. Fox also projects that the Grammys will add a 0.5 rating spike (or 17 percent) to give CBS a third-ranked 3.4/8 in adults 18 to 49, minimizing its year-to-year loss to 23 percent. ABC is expected to hold a fourth-ranked, 3.0/8 score for the end of the sweeps.

Magna Global report shows NBC first, Fox second in sweeps race: With two days left in the February sweeps (Jan. 31-Feb. 27), researcher Steve Sternberg of media buying giant Magna Global has NBC’s front-running 9.3/23 average among adults 18 to 49 marking a 72 percent jump over its year-ago 5.4/14 sweeps average (with regularly scheduled programming). Taking into account Fox’s bump from its Super Bowl XXXVI telecast (Feb. 3), the network is up 14 percent year to year at a second-ranked 5.7/14 in the key demo.

On a season-to-date basis (Sept. 24, 2001-Feb. 24), Magna’s report has NBC holding the top-ranking spot in adults 18 to 49 (5.5/14), moving up 10 percent thanks to its Olympics-related ratings spike. Fox’s second-ranked 4.3/11 in the demo is down 7 percent, while CBS and ABC are locked in third-place tie (both at 3.8/10) and down 5 percent and 19 percent, respectively. UPN’s 2.0/5 is up 18 percent while The WB’s 1.6/4 is down 6 percent.

However, when Magna excluded all sports-related programming and other specials, it has NBC’s 5.0 rating season-to-date in adults 18 to 49 down 6 percent from its year-ago (5.3 rating) average. Similarly, Fox’s 4.2 rating this season in the demo is down 20 percent from its comparable season-to-date average (5.3 rating). CBS, however, is up 5 percent year to year in adults 18 to 49 (4.1 rating vs. 3.9 rating) while ABC is down 19 percent (3.9 rating vs. 4.8 rating). UPN’s 18 percent gain is the largest of the broadcast networks year-to-year (2.0 rating vs. 1.7 rating) while The WB is down 5 percent (1.7 rating vs. 1.8 rating).

BBC faulted for timing on release of Pearl widow video: “Good Morning America” fended off questions Tuesday about whether it had broken an embargo on interviews conducted with the widow of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by the BBC and CNN and stretched a fine point by labeling “exclusive” an interview the ABC morning show obtained from the BBC.

A Journal spokesman said, “The BBC made an error” in giving “GMA” a head start on using the interview.

The stipulations to the BBC were that the interview be translated into Urdu, played on BBC’s worldwide service and that then “the English-language interview be made available to anyone who wanted it at the same time.”

“I expressed my displeasure,” said the Journal spokesman. “They said it was in error, and we take them at their word.”

The Journal had made Mrs. Pearl available to the BBC and CNN and reportedly had chosen those organizations because they are seen in Pakistan and because that way Mrs. Pearl would be able to convey her thanks to the Pakistani authorities who had helped search for her husband and for the kidnappers who recorded his death on a grisly videotape.

CNN and the BBC were slated to make the interview available to other news organizations after they ran it. A spokesperson for CNN said the news network carried its interview, conducted by correspondent Chris Burns, at 7:05 a.m. (ET) and labeled it “exclusive” because “we had the exclusive for a U.S. network.”

The spokeswoman said CNN immediately made its interview available to other U.S. networks and news organizations and took “exclusive” off the screen during subsequent airings.

But “GMA” kicked off its show at 7:02 a.m. with the BBC interview, which ABC News had recorded in London as the tape was being fed to the BBC. ABC News has a longstanding news-sharing relationship with the BBC.

As to why “GMA” labeled the BBC interview “exclusive,” a spokesperson said, “We were the only American morning show broadcast to have the BBC interview at 7 a.m.”

Some sources at ABC News maintain they were unaware of any formal pool arrangements and that ABC News was not contacted directly by Dow Jones, the parent of the Journal.

“The Early Show” at CBS News used a combination of CNN and BBC footage at 8 a.m., and a spokeswoman said, “The Wall Street Journal had told us it was pool footage.”

NBC’s “Today” show used BBC clips in its headline blocks at 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Staffers at the show were reportedly surprised that “GMA” would use the term “exclusive” on the video.

A spokesperson for MSNBC said the news channel first aired a “chunk” of the BBC interview at 8:40 a.m. and never got a CNN version.

‘Crossfire’ team to include Carville, Begala: CNN is expected to announce soon the on-air team for the expanded “Crossfire” that is scheduled to grow to an hour every weeknight by early April.

Clinton loyalist James Carville and former Clinton adviser Paul Begala will weigh in from the left. On the right will be Tucker Carlson, whose assignments at CNN have included roundtable regular, co-host (with Bill Press) of the short-lived “The Spin Room,” and “Crossfire” veteran Robert Novak. Mr. Begala and Mr. Carlson are expected to appear on the majority of shows, while Mr. Carville and Mr. Novak will appear perhaps 25 percent of the time.

The word is that CNN plans to add an audience to the show by moving it to George Washington University, which will help recruit audience members and help defray the increased costs of the show.

NBC lays out stunting plans for midseason, May sweeps: Projecting a win for the season in its core adults 18 to 49 demo thanks to the huge spike from 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics during the February sweeps, NBC also looked to seize upon midseason programming opportunities with several major
scheduling stunts and other initiatives. Near the top of the list was NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker confirming the signing of a new four-year deal with late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien that includes ongoing negotiations with E! Entertainment to repurpose the host’s “Late Night” on cable.

In keeping with a shared cable window deal being struck earlier with E! for “Last Call With Carson Daly,” NBC West Coast President Scott Sassa also confirmed that talks are in the early stages with various cable networks to similarly repurpose Mr. O’Brien’s show for an unspecified daypart.

“‘Carson Daly’ is on 1:30 a.m. [ET] on our schedule, and we really wanted to expose him to viewers in other dayparts,” Mr. Sassa said. “While we don’t have a deal yet [with E!], we’re looking to do something similar with Conan,” whose show airs from 12:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. weeknights on NBC. “But we have not made any such deal to repurpose Jay Leno [host of NBC’s long-running “Tonight Show”] for example.”

Although financial figures were not divulged by NBC’s top brass, Mr. O’Brien’s widely expected renewal with the Peacock is valued at over $30 million over four years (or $7.5 million annually).

Mr. Zucker, in re-emphasizing his preseason claim that NBC would win the season in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers, used the post-Olympics celebration to announce several other major midseason programming moves.

He said “The Colin Quinn Show,” to be taped live by NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” production team, will premiere at 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, March 11. Mr. Quinn will be joined by another former “SNL” regular, Cheri Oteri, in the midseason sketch comedy. It will be getting hammocked between a celebrity edition “Fear Factor” (8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.) and an hour-long “SNL Remembers John Belushi” retrospective special (10 p.m. to 11 p.m.) that night.

Mr. Zucker also made a point of thanking some TV critics on the conference call for supporting “Watching Ellie,” NBC’s new midseason Tuesday sitcom. Mr. Sassa said NBC is not expecting breakout ratings and will be looking at “Watching Ellie’s” ratings performance over a month or more.

In a promotion-meets-programming strategy, Mr. Zucker also announced that NBC is presenting a “20 Years of Must See TV” anniversary special. The two-hour clip show, tied with NBC’s previously announced “75th Anniversary Special,” will air during the May sweeps. The “Must See” special, set to be produced by Gay Rosenthal (best known for VH1’s “Behind the Music”), will highlight clips from NBC’s long-dominant Thursday sitcoms and dramas (including “The Cosby Show,” “Cheers,” “Seinfeld,” “Friends,” “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “ER”).

Other 75th anniversary-related May sweeps stunts include a bevy of separate reunion specials, including “The Cosby Show” cast reassembling, an “L.A. Law” telefilm, a Bob Hope retrospective (hosted by “Frasier’s” Kelsey Grammer) and a 10-year anniversary show in prime time for “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

The largest-rated of May sweeps stunts undoubtedly will be Rachel giving birth on “Friends,” confirmed the executive producing team from Bright-Kauffman-Crane Productions. Just as NBC tied up a 2002-03 season renewal of the “Friends” cast for its series finale next year, the producing troika claimed it has not even figured out how to tie up story lines for this season — before addressing the top-rated sitcom’s ultimate ending.

Marta Kauffman also said she has not yet discussed with NBC whether the Peacock Network will be looking to schedule a gala-like final sendoff of “Friends,” similar to the post-show hour-long special NBC produced at the end of “Cheers'” series finale in 1992. “We tend to do our finales in seasons, and my guess is that it will be one hour and five minutes,” she joked, adding, “But I don’t think we’ve even approached NBC on specific plans — until we get done with this season.”

From Salt Lake to Sorkingate: Early into NBC’s February sweeps conference call Tuesday, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said the network had not chastised “West Wing” show runner Aaron Sorkin and would “never get in his way to speak his mind.”

Mr. Zucker, referring to controversial comments Mr. Sorkin had made criticizing the media’s coverage of Bush administration’s war on terrorism, said NBC top brass “disagrees” with Mr. Sorkin’s assertion on the White House deliberately “padding” President Bush’s schedule during an NBC special, “The Bush White House: Inside the Real West Wing,” which aired several weeks ago. In addition, Mr. Zucker said Mr. Sorkin had spoken with Mr. Brokaw to apologize for simply being “wrong” about NBC News accepting pre-interview conditions with the White House.

“Aaron and Tom spoke,” Mr. Zucker said, adding, “Aaron apologized to Tom for getting that wrong. Aaron was just wrong that Tom let the president pad his schedule that day with events, or that [Bush] wouldn’t have done it if it were not for the cameras. Tom pointed out that fact out right at the start of the special … just as [he] has in six previous White House specials he did, dating back to President Nixon.”

Mr. Sorkin was quoted in The New Yorker’s Talk of Town section as saying, “The White House pumped up the President’s schedule to show him being much busier and more engaged than he is, and Tom Brokaw let it happen — the show was a valentine to Bush. That illusion may be what we need right now, but the truth is we’re simply pretending to believe that Bush exhibited unspeakable courage at the World Series by throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium, or that he, by God, showed those terrorists by going to Salt Lake City and jumbling the first line of the Olympic Opening Ceremony. The media is waving pompoms, and the entire country is being polite.”

The Drudge Report’s Web site, which first broke The New Yorker story on Monday, had also quoted a “White House staffer” who had suggested that Mr. Sorkin was “bitter” because “The West Wing” had been rejected on a request to do on-air interviews with key administration players. However, a spokesman for Warner Bros. Television said the show was not denied access by the White House and is still in negotiations to get the participation of current and past Cabinet officials in an episode to be produced this season.

Mr. Zucker suggested that “The West Wing” had never requested “shooting privileges” at the White House but may have proposed an upcoming episode in which the show’s fictional cabinet members would interview their real-life counterparts from current and previous administrations.

“I don’t believe anybody from the current White House will be participating in that, and I think that [the denial] was what they [Drudge Report] was referring to,” Mr. Zucker said. Subsequently, EM Online had asked who was contacted at the White House, and Mr. Zucker replied that he did know and referred further questions to “West Wing’s” studio backer, Warner Bros. Television.

EchoStar, DirecTV vow to carry all local stations after merger: The National Association of Broadcasters will continue to oppose the planned merger of EchoStar and DirecTV, despite an announcement Tuesday by the companies that they’ll carry all local television signals nationwide if the deal is approved. The companies previously said they only had capacity to offer local-into-local in major markets but now say they’ll launch a new satellite that would enable them to carry every local station in each of the nation’s 210 designated market areas. The merger plan, under review by federal regulators, has been facing criticism from consumer groups and some lawmakers, particularly in rural states, who say it eliminates competition in the dish TV business. “Broadcasters have had a long and tortured history of bad faith dealings with EchoStar and its chairman, Charlie Ergen,” said NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts. Nevertheless, he said the announcement is a step in the right direction.

Lawmakers ask NBC to drop hard-liquor ads: Thirteen lawmakers sent a letter to NBC Tuesday urging the network to reverse its decision to air hard-liquor ads. “We would hate to see yo
ur network become the object of a public backlash against network hard-liquor advertising or the reason that Congress steps in to protect the public interest and the airwaves by setting up a federal regulatory system for network advertising,” they wrote.

The signatories included Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.; Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.; and Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who are leading the charge against NBC. Other signers included Rep. Connie Morella, D-Md., and Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn. “Self regulation by the networks has worked well and should continue to be the established rule,” they wrote. NBC insists it has taken steps to air hard-liquor ads responsibly.

WBZ to look at Boston area’s victims of terrorism: CBS-owned WBZ-TV, Boston, will air a newscast at 11 p.m. March 10 — following the network’s World Trade Center documentary — that will focus on the families of local victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The special newscast, which will include a live report from New York City, will be anchored by Lisa Hughes and Joe Shortsleeve. At 11:20 p.m., there will be a local news update from weekend anchors Josh Binswanger and Shelli Lockhart.

GM takes gold for most Olympics spots: When it comes to national advertisers in the Winter Olympics in the Feb. 16-24 period, the gold goes to General Motors, which ran the most spots every night, while AT&T Corp. earns a silver, in second place on every night of the period, according to monitoring service CMR.

The most GM spots in a single night (Saturday, Feb. 16) totaled 31, followed by AT&T’s 21 the same night. Third place was a nightly battle, with Anheuser-Busch, Coca Cola, Target Corp. and Visa USA airing between five and 10 spots each, good for the bronze on at least one night of the Olympics.

Lahti to star in Showtime telefilm: Actress Christine Lahti (“Chicago Hope”) will play the title role in Showtime’s upcoming “Gisella Perl,” an original film based on “I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz,” Ms. Perl’s autobiography, which recounts the Jewish physician’s experiences in the Nazi death camp and then after the war, when she was an emigre in Manhattan.

The script is by Anne Meredith (“Bastard out of Carolina”). Joseph Sargent (“Miss Evers’ Boys”) will direct. The Ardent Productions picture is set for a March production start.

‘The Job’ gets run on Comedy Central: ABC’s “The Job,” the critically acclaimed dramedy starring Denis Leary as a profane, cigarette-smoking, seen-it-all New York cop, will get a one week run on Comedy Central, at 11:30 p.m. (ET) March 4 to 7, following “The Daily Show.” The one-week late-night run will be followed by a two-hour, four-episode “Job” marathon on Sunday, March 10. Telecasting the ABC series is a “low-risk experiment for us to see how well an on-brand, off-network comedy/drama series like ‘The Job’ will perform on Comedy Central,” said Bill Hilary, the cable network’s executive vice president and general manager, calling it a “format we are developing for the future.”

MTV to debut new digital channels: MTV Networks is launching four new 24-hour digital channels, bringing MTV’s total digital offering to 13 channels. The new channels are MTV Hits, VH1 Mega Hits, MTV Jams and Nicktoons TV.

MTV Hits will target the persons 12 to 24 demographic with Britney Spears and other pop acts. VH1 Mega Hits will air ’90s hits from various genres and such artists as Aerosmith and Madonna. MTV Jams, which replaces MTV X on the digital tier, will feature rap, R&B, hip-hop, and soul. Nicktoons TV, which is aimed at kids and will replace Nick Too on some West Coast systems, will air animation from Nickelodeon, ranging from “Jimmy Neutron” to “Ren & Stimpy.”

Cablevision, the New York tri-state area’s big multiple system operator, is the first MSO to sign on for services from the new package, adding MTV Hits and Nicktoons TV to its iO: Interactive Optimum digital service lineup.

Soundtrack Channel acquires overseas Gaylord properties: New cable network Soundtrack Channel has signed an agreement with Gaylord Entertainment to acquire its MusicCountry channel assets in Brazil, Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. Created as a destination on television for people who love movies, music and entertainment news, Soundtrack Channel (STC) will begin rolling out on systems previously carrying the MusicCountry network on March 1, reaching an estimated audience of over 4 million subscribers.

STC is a joint venture between Bill Lee, former VP, international, for E! Networks; MWP Editorial, a post-production and editorial company; and Gaylord Entertainment. Mr. Lee is president of the new channel.

Furlong named GM for KPHO-TV: Robert Furlong will be the new VP and general manager of CBS affiliate KPHO-TV, Phoenix. Mr. Furlong comes across town from UPN affiliate KUTP-TV and fills the vacancy left after Patrick North departed in January. “We’re extremely pleased that Bob is joining Meredith, especially with the broadcast expertise he offers,” said Kevin O’Brien, Meredith Broadcasting Group president. “He has proven himself as an innovative and effective general manager. Additionally, his knowledge of the Phoenix market will truly benefit KPHO.”

NECN celebrating 10 years: On March 2, New England Cable News will celebrate its 10th anniversary. It began with 600,000 subscribers and is now the largest regional news network in the country, reaching 2.8 million homes in more than 700 communities in New England.#

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications