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Feb 27, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 10:30 a.m. (PT); last updated at 2:45 p.m.

Lachlan Murdoch joins Fox Entertainment Group board

Lachlan Murdoch, 30, who recently added oversight of the 33 stations owned and operated by Fox to his print-asset duties, has been elected to the Fox Entertainment Group board. The deputy chief operating officer of News Corp. (and the elder and ascending son of News Corp. founder Rupert Murdoch), he succeeds Chase Carey, who resigned as Fox director and left the multimedia empire early this year.

Network revenue shows record decline: The year 2001 will be long remembered for producing the largest single-year loss in network revenue history. That’s the bottom line according to the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association’s 2001 report on figures compiled by Ernst & Young.

Fourth-quarter 2001 year-to-year comparisons showed a “broad decline” in every daypart except morning, where there was a meager 0.013 percent increase, according to the BCFM. The overall fourth-quarter picture was bleak, with a $300 million decline in broadcast network revenues.

Other fourth-quarter revenue declines, according to the BCFM report, included news revenues, which were down 36.1 percent; sports down 18 percent; children down 28.4 percent; and daytime down 16.5 percent. Late-night was down around $2 million, or 1.1 percent, for the quarter, while prime time was down just $23 million, for a loss of less than 1 percent.

Hollings says ownership rules decision should be appealed: Upset about an appeals court ruling last week that further relaxed broadcast ownership rules, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., plans to hold a hearing on the issue next month, possibly on March 20.

Addressing reporters Wednesday afternoon at a briefing on Capitol Hill, he said the 35 percent cap on broadcast ownership — which the court sent back to the Federal Communications Commission for further consideration — was “well-conceived” and should not be increased. “That’s a bad decision, and I hope it’s appealed,” he said of the court’s action, which also axed the broadcast-cable cross-ownership rule.

Sen. Hollings is working with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., ranking minority member on the panel, to arrange the hearing. Sen. Hollings also reiterated that he remains concerned about NBC’s decision to air hard-liquor ads and may hold a hearing on the matter. “I’ll try to bring pressure on NBC,” he said, adding that he may discuss the situation with NBC Chairman and CEO and GE Vice Chairman Bob Wright. The American Medical Association ran a full-page ad in Wednesday’s New York Times that is critical of NBC’s move to air the spots.

Meanwhile, Sen. Hollings repeated his strong condemnation of the so-called Tauzin-Dingell bill, a measure passed by the House late Wednesday afternoon that makes it easier for the Baby Bell phone companies to compete against cable in the broadband business. He considers the bill a giveaway to the Bells while they still have local phone monopolies.

‘Watching Ellie’? 18 to 49s are: Could it be that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is going to break the post-“Seinfeld” jinx? Benefiting from an Olympic-sized promo push and a “Frasier” lead-in, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus’ premiere in NBC’s “Watching Ellie” broke out with winning ratings in the adults 18 to 49 demographic — potentially defying Hollywood buzz about typecasting creating a “post-‘Seinfeld’ jinx” for the show’s supporting cast members placed in new series.

Billed as a real-time, slice-of-life sitcom, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus’ lounge singing Eleanor Riggs had NBC posting a winning 7.1 rating/17 share in the demo at 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. (ET) — improving 42 percent on its repeat “Frasier” lead-in (4.5/11), according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data.

“Watching Ellie’s” early jump out of the gates had it improving the time period by 92 percent over the 3.7 rating this season (before the Feb. 8-24 run of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics) for what “Three Sisters” and some other programs contributed previously. Compared to “Three Sisters'” 3.2/8 average in adults 18 to 49, “Watching Ellie’s” first returns in the demo marked 121 percent improvement.

Ms. Louis-Dreyfus’ first solo sitcom flight was 20 percent ahead of what “The Michael Richards Show,” starring another former “Seinfeld” cast mate, debuted at in adults 18 to 49 (5.9 rating) in the 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. Tuesday slot last season. “Ellie’s” preliminary opening-night showing is also tracking 97 percent ahead of what “Richards” posted in adults 18 to 49 for its entire run (3.6/10) before being canceled by NBC.

“Watching Ellie” also came out 65 percent ahead of the premiere of the Jason Alexander-led “Bob Patterson” sitcom (4.3 rating) in ABC’s 9 p.m.-to-9:30 p.m. slot on Oct. 2, 2001. Mr. Alexander’s sitcom, which was moved a couple of more times over its abbreviated six-episode run, similarly averaged a 3.6/9 average in adults 18 to 49.

In the broader ratings races, “Watching Ellie’s” household (11.0/16) and total viewers (16.9 million) scores were second only to CBS’s established “JAG” drama (11.3/17, 17.7 million total viewers). Although “Ellie” beat Fox’s repeat of “That ’70s Show” (5.1/12) by 39 percent, the latter came out on top in adults 18 to 34 (5.3/15 vs. 5.4/15) for the 8:30 p.m. frame.

NBC researchers were jubilant about “Ellie’s” first showing, but an NBC spokesman said the company is taking “guarded but optimistic approach” in regard to how the show will hold up in subsequent airings. NBC has made a 13-episode order on the midseason series, which is executive produced by Ms. Louis-Dreyfus’ husband, Brad Hall (“Saturday Night Live,” “Single Guy”), for NBC Studios.

Nonetheless, “Ellie’s” strong showing helped a 9 p.m.-to-9:30 p.m. original episode of “Frasier” hit an evening-high 7.2/17 in adults 18 to 49, while “Scrubs” (5.8/14) won the 9:30 p.m. frame and held 81 percent of its lead-in. Not a frequent winner of Tuesday nights, NBC took the evening in adults 18 to 49 with a 5.6/14 — its highest non-Olympics Tuesday score since Nov. 21, 2001.

Another real-time series, Fox’s critically touted yet ratings challenged “24” also gave Fox a lot to crow about. From 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., “24” edged out ABC’s “NYPD Blue” in adults 18 to 49 (4.7/11 vs. 4.5/10) en route to the Fox freshman posting its best demo score since its premiere last November. Appropriately, “24” was up 24 percent over its previous week’s average in adults 18 to 49.

Meanwhile, CBS’s sophomore “Judging Amy” drama won the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. frame in households (9.9/17) and total viewers (14.2 million) but finished second to NBC’s “Dateline” in adults 18 to 49 (4.3/11 vs. 4.4/11). ABC’s “Philly” came in third with a 3.6/10, holding 80 percent of “Blue’s” lead-in.

Marino, Esiason to analyze for CBS’s ‘NFL Today’: CBS Sports is sending in former NFL quarterbacks Dan Marino and Boomer Esiason as studio analysts when “The NFL Today” begins its 2002 season with CBS Sports’ utility player Jim Nantz and football player-turned-TV player Deion Sanders. Jerry Glanville is getting benched in the shuffle that also will reduce the profile of ex-coach Mike Ditka on the game-day show and send Randy Cross back to the booth as a game commentator.

In other personnel assignments, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament announcing team will include three new members: player and coach-turned-analyst Matt Guokas, former coach Eddie Fogler, and Solomon Wilcots. Tournament coverage, hosted by Greg Gumbel and Clark Kellogg, begins at noon Thursday, March 14. Bob Wenzel’s sophomore season as part of the “March Madness” team will find him promoted from reporter to analyst.

Nextel underwrites ‘9/11’: Nextel Communications will be the sole underwriter of “9/11,” the March 10 CBS broadcast of “eyewitness story” broadcast of video taken on Sept. 11 in and around and inside the World Trade Center from the moment of the first hijacked plane’s impact. The two-hour program, which is built from video taken by documentary makers and brothers Gedeon and Jules Naudet, will air without commercials or promotional announcements.

y signs multiyear contract with Fox News: Fox News has re-signed one half of its popular “Hannity & Colmes” team to a new multiyear contract. The show is second only to stablemate “The O’Reilly Factor” in the cable news ranking for the month of February. Fox is currently in contract talks with Alan Colmes.

Fenn to guest star in WB shows next season: Sherilyn Fenn, best known for star turns in ABC’s former “Twin Peaks” drama and the movie “Boxing Helena,” has been cast for a guest starring roles on The WB’s “Dawson’s Creek” and the drama pilot “Birds of Prey” presently under consideration at the Frog network for the 2002-03 season.

Ms. Fenn will take on the role of Alex Pearl, Pacey’s (Joshua Jackson) new boss, who attempts to seduce the young chef and has a hard time taking no for answer. She has also been cast for a guest-starring stint in the Batman-related pilot “Birds of Prey,” which focuses on three female crime fighters (Rachel Skarsten, Dina Meyer and Ashley Scott). “Birds of Prey” comes from Tolin/Robbins Productions and Warner Bros. Television.

“Dawson’s Creek” was created by Kevin Williamson, who also serves as executive producer with Paul Stupin, Tom Kapinos and Greg Prange, for Columbia TriStar Television.

Stainton promoted at Walt Disney Television Animation: David Stainton, a 13-year Disney studio animation executive, has been promoted to president of Walt Disney Television Animation, it was announced Wednesday by Thomas Schumacher, head of Walt Disney Television Animation and Walt Disney Feature Animation. Mr. Stainton will now oversee the day-to-day operations for the division’s animated television series and specials.

In January 1998, Mr. Stainton was named senior VP of creative affairs for Walt Disney Feature Animation, where he was charged with overseeing Disney’s animation studio in Paris. While at Walt Disney Feature Animation, he helped guide such films as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Hercules,” “Dinosaur” and “Tarzan.” He returned to Disney’s Burbank, Calif. headquarters in January 2000 to head up Walt Disney Television Animation as executive vice president.

Mr. Stainton joined The Walt Disney Company in 1989 as a manager of special projects for Walt Disney Pictures and Television. In 1991, he joined the Feature Animation department.

‘Felicity’s’ Foley to star in NBC’s ‘AUSA’: Scott Foley, co-star of The WB’s soon-to-be departing “Felicity” drama, has been cast to headline in the NBC sitcom pilot “AUSA,” from Emmy-winning writer-producer Rich Appel, 20th Century Fox Television and NBC Studios.

In the single-camera comedy, which NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker has described as “‘Scrubs’ with lawyers,” Mr. Foley plays Ben, an eager young lawyer just starting his career as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Mr. Zucker has previously hinted publicly that should “AUSA” be picked up as a series for the 2002-03 season, it could be teamed as a lead-out companion to NBC’s freshman hit “Scrubs.”

“AUSA” was inspired by Mr. Appel’s early career; right after he graduated from Harvard Law School, he joined the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office. Mr. Appel eventually left his legal career behind to pursue writing, first joining the staff of Fox’s “The Simpsons.” He later moved up to serve as show runner and executive producer of Fox’s “King of the Hill,” where he shared in the show’s outstanding animated series Emmy in 1999.

Daniels moves into sales position for InSight Telecom: InSight Telecommunications Corp., a Boston-based provider of analog and digital content delivery systems for the broadcasting, cable, enterprise and Internet industries, has hired former Disney studio executive David Daniels as VP of sales. Mr. Daniels, who will report to InSight’s April Hodgson, executive VP and chief operating officer, will be responsible for expanding InSight’s global capacity and content delivery business.

Mr. Daniels brings more than 14 years of telecommunications, entertainment and media experience to InSight. Most recently, he developed a U.S. presence and Web portal launch for SoneraZed, where he was VP, marketing and sales. Prior to that, he was senior VP of sales and marketing at The Walt Disney Co. for six years, responsible for national distribution of all Disney-owned cable networks and managing all U.S. regional sales offices. He also held senior management positions at TCI (now AT&T Broadband) and SportsChannel Ohio (now Fox Sports Ohio).#

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications