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Apr 9, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Tuesday, April 9, at 10:35 a.m. (PT); last updated 2 p.m.

‘West Wing’ to run interview episode without Bush administration participation

Following controversial published complaints from series creator/executive producer Aaron Sorkin last February about Bush administration policies, NBC’s “The West Wing” is pushing forward with an April 24 special episode featuring interviews with past White House players. But notably absent is the participation of any current Bush Cabinet officials. The current administration was approached for participation by “West Wing’s” series producers.

“The West Wing’s” docudrama special, directed by Bill Coultouris and airing 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. (ET) Wednesday, April 24, will feature a mix of scenes in which the series’ fictional characters will be balanced by the reflections of past White House officials.

NBC spokespeople were unreachable for comment on the absence of any current Bush Cabinet members from the show. NBC did issue a release mentioning a list of “real-life” Cabinet members and presidents from previous administrations.

Former Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton will participate. Other officials set for interviews are Reagan and Clinton administration adviser David Gergen, Clinton Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (from the Nixon and Ford administrations) and Clinton Chief of Staff Leon Panetta.

Last February, Mr. Sorkin was quoted in a New Yorker magazine feature taking issue with the media “waving pompoms” on the Bush administration’s war on terrorism. In particular, Mr. Sorkin took issue with NBC News’ access to President Bush for a Tom Brokaw-hosted “Inside the Bush White House: Inside the Real West Wing,” which Mr. Sorkin suggested had the president padding his schedule “to show him being much busier and more engaged than he is.”

The online Drudge Report was the first to pick up on the New Yorker feature and quoted unnamed White House officials as saying Mr. Sorkin was “bitter” because his TV show had been rebuffed on interview requests. During a subsequent February sweeps conference call, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said he would “never get in the way” of Mr. Sorkin speaking his mind but also noted the “West Wing” producer had apologized to Mr. Brokaw for suggesting that NBC News participated in a staged special on the day in President Bush’s White House life.

The “West Wing” special will also feature highlights of all three seasons of the series. The Emmy winner as outstanding drama for two years running stars Martin Sheen, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford, Rob Lowe, Richard Schiff, Allison Janney, Dule Hill, Janel Moloney and Stockard Channing.

“The West Wing” is from John Wells Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television. Director Thomas Schlamme and John Wells are executive producers.

NAB attendance down 8 percent: At deadline Tuesday, the attendance figure for this week’s National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas stood at approximately 95,000, down 8.4 percent from last year’s figure of 113,300.

McCain skeptical about DTV transition: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the leading voices in Washington on media issues, doesn’t have much confidence in the television industry’s transition to digital. In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the lawmaker said he remains “skeptical” that the digital conversion will be completed by the Dec. 31, 2006, congressional deadline. “Broadcasters received $70 billion worth of spectrum for free, and they still have not come close to meeting their DTV commitments,” he said. Nevertheless, he praised Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, a fellow Republican, for issuing voluntary proposals for the TV industry last week aimed at speeding the transition along.

Sixty-eight percent of the nation’s commercial TV stations don’t expect to meet the government’s May 1 DTV buildout deadline, putting them behind schedule for 2006. Many stations will hang onto to their analog spectrum well beyond 2006 because most consumers in their markets won’t have access to their digital signals. The statement from the senator, the ranking minority member on the influential Senate Commerce panel, comes as broadcasters are gathered this week in Las Vegas for the annual National Association of Broadcasters confab.

Peacock takes another weekly key demo victory: NBC maintained its winning ways for the week ended April 7, capturing its 21st weekly victory in the key adults 18 to 49 demographic out of 28 weeks this season, according to Nielsen Media Research final national data. NBC’s 5.0 rating/14 share in adults 18 to 49 marks 4 percent growth week to week and its winning 8.3/14 household score posted 6 percent growth.

Much of NBC’s renewed push last week came from “ER” re-taking the adults 18 to 49 crown from its Thursday companion “Friends” (13.8/34 vs. 11.2/30) as the Peacock placed 7 out of the top 10 ranked shows in the demo for the week. “ER’s” 28.8 million total viewers last Thursday also marked its second highest head count for the season to date. For the entire week, NBC’s 12.63 million total viewer count was up 7 percent week to week and second only to CBS’s 12.66 million head count (up 1 percent) last week.

Most notably, since the end of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics telecast (Feb. 8-24), NBC is ahead or even on 34 of the last 43 evenings. Including the Olympics, NBC’s top-ranked 5.3/14 average in adults 18 to 49 this season is up 10 percent over its year-ago average in the demo (4.8/13).

However, when excluding the Olympics and other sports- and event-related specials, NBC’s 5.2 rating with regularly scheduled series programming is still 4 percent ahead of its year-ago 5.0 rating average. Surprisingly, CBS’s second ranked 4.0 rating this season in adults 18 to 49 marks 5 percent improvement over last year (3.8 rating). Fox, similarly excluding its ratings spikes from Super Bowl XXXV and the 2001 World Series, is down 22 percent year-to-year with regularly scheduled programming (3.8 rating vs. 4.9 rating) while ABC is down 20 percent (3.7 rating vs. 4.6 rating).

Among the weblets, which do not air sports-event programming, UPN’s 1.9 rating average in adults 18 to 49 this season is up 19 percent from same year-ago frame (1.6 rating) while The WB is flat in year-to-year comparisons (1.6 rating).

Powell offers little hope that FCC will speed review of ownership rules: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell said Tuesday that the agency may be prepared by year’s end to decide whether to relax a rule that bars daily newspaper owners from buying broadcast stations in their markets. “I think judgments will be made as to that rule this year,” Mr. Powell said during a session at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. But Mr. Powell offered little hope for relief for industry representatives who want him to speed up the pace of agency deregulation.

“I’m not an industry representative,” Mr. Powell said in a follow-up briefing with reporters. Mr. Powell also told reporters that it was “haste” on the agency’s part that led the court to throw out several key agency ownership rulings during the past couple of years, a factor that has complicated the agency’s review now. “We don’t have time [for] do-overs every year on these things,” Mr. Powell said. “It’s time to get the right answers.” Added the chairman, “We have to figure out what are the unifying themes for all of them [the rules] — and to do that well is going to take a little time.”

CEA considering support of DTV transition plan: Sounding retreat, Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, said Tuesday that his organization is reconsidering its opposition to a Federal Communications Commission plan to expedite the digital TV transition. Under a proposal unveiled last week, FCC Chairman Michael Powell asked key industries to share the DTV transition pain by committing to a series of voluntary actions. While the broadcast and cable industries offered support, the CEA vehemently opposed a proposal obligi
ng manufacturers to include DTV tuners in TV receivers. But Mr. Shapiro told reporters at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas Tuesday morning that CEA may change its mind. “We recognize the chairman’s statement is something we should spend some time thinking about,” Mr. Shapiro said.

Mr. Powell told reporters at the convention that the FCC had not threatened retaliation. “There is no expressed threat of rules but … the big caveat that the government is a regulator and always has authority. Eddie Fritts, NAB president and CEO, was also warning that absent voluntary industry commitments, the Powell proposal could always become a blueprint for congressional legislation.” Added Preston Padden, executive vice president of The Walt Disney Co., “I think they [CEA} will come on board because they’ll conclude that’s the politic thing to do.”

Pittman steps into CEO role at AOL: Barry Schuler will step aside as CEO of AOL Time Warner’s America Online division, and the title will be assumed by Bob Pittman, AOL TW co-chief operating officer, the company announced Tuesday.

Mr. Schuler will now report to Mr. Pittman as head of a new division, the digital services development group. That group will launch and advance new interactive products supported by the AOL service, such as home networking and a “smart box” being developed in partnership with Sony.

Mr. Pittman, in assuming the dual title of co-chief operating officer of AOL TW and chief executive officer of AOL, takes on the duties he had before the AOL Time Warner merger more than a year ago. He will assume direct responsibility for the company’s AOL service at a time when its slowing subscriber growth and profitability are a big concern for Wall Street. Mr. Pittman will be sole chief operating officer of AOL TW when Richard Parsons takes over as CEO from the retiring Jerry Levin in May.

UBS Warburg analyst Christopher Dixon said the top management changes will “improve the company’s ability to grow advertising and commerce revenues in a difficult economic and advertising environment.” The moves “align management skills with company needs,” he said.

Gregory to co-host ‘Other Half’: Actor Dorian Gregory, who has co-starred on The WB’s “Charmed,” has been named co-host of the nationally syndicated talk show “The Other Half,” from NBC Enterprises. Mr. Gregory’s debut episode of “The Other Half” airs April 15. He replaces Dr. Jan Adams, who was dropped from the strip last year.

Former “To Tell the Truth” host John O’Hurley, who previously co-starred on NBC’s “Seinfeld,” had made occasional guest-host appearances on “The Other Half,” but NBC syndie executives were interested in filling a fourth host slot going into May sweeps.

Mr. Gregory currently co-stars as Detective Darryl Morris on “Charmed.” He began his television career in recurring and guest-starring roles on series such as “Lois & Clark,” “The Wayans Bros.,” “3rd Rock From the Sun,” “Moesha” and “The New Adventures of Superman.”

“The Other Half,” which debuted Sept. 10, 2001, is also hosted by Dick Clark, Danny Bonaduce and Mario Lopez. Susan Winston, Dan Funk, Mark Stendal and Alan Winters are executive producers for “The Other Half,” an NBC Studios Production in association with Blanki & Bodi Productions and Fisher Entertainment, distributed by NBC Enterprises Domestic Syndication.

The show, currently cleared in more than 85 percent of the country, is from the partnership of NBC, Gannett Broadcasting and Hearst-Argyle Television.

‘The Court’ gets docked by ABC: It appears to be two-and-out for ABC’s highly touted midseason drama “The Court,” starring Sally Field. Tuesday night’s third weekly airing of “The Court” at 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET) will be its last, with Steven Bochco’s legal drama “Philly” set to return to the time slot on April 16.

After debuting March 26 to a 3.5 rating/9 share among adults 18 to 49, “The Court” dropped 28 percent to a 2.5/7 average in its most recent airing on April 2, according to Nielsen Media Research national data. A spokeswoman for ABC confirmed that the decision to put the Supreme Court drama on hiatus was based on poor ratings. ABC, through its sister Disney-owned ABC Family Channel, did its best to give “The Court” heavy advance promotion, airing Ms. Field’s former “Gidget” and “Flying Nun” sitcoms in viewer marathons the weekend before “The Court’s” premiere.

In addition to airing on April 16, “Philly” will air back-to-back episodes at 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23. For the first Tuesday of May sweeps (April 25-May 22), ABC will feature hour-long season-ending episodes of “Dharma & Greg” and “Spin City” to be followed by “NYPD Blue” being moved an hour later to 10 p.m. on April 30. “Blue” will again air at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7, with nostalgia-oriented specials “Entertainment Tonight’s Laverne & Shirley Reunion” and E! Entertainment’s “Favorite Stars: Then and Now” filling the 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. slots. “Blue” is then set for a two-hour season-ending run on May 21, preceded by a “That’s Incredible” reunion.

One more original episode of “Philly” is left to be scheduled, but the ABC rep said it is likely to air after May sweeps. She also said it was undetermined whether the three remaining episodes of “The Court,” produced by Carol Flint and John Wells for Warner Bros. Television, would be rescheduled for a post-May sweeps run.

Showtime to launch gay programming block: As expected, Showtime Networks has announced the launch of a weekly programming block that will target gay viewers.

Debuting May 22 on Sho Too, one of the Showtime digital channels, the four-hour block will include a feature film; an episode of “Queer Duck,” the short-form animated series that originated on the Internet; and a reprise of that week’s “Queer As Folk” episode.

Films in the block, dubbed “Night Out on Sho Too,” will include “Chuck & Buck,” “Kiss Me Guido,” “Jeffrey,” “Bent” and “In Thru The Outdoor.”

The gay-block programming will be hosted by such personalities as New York actress and performance artist Tammy Faye Starlite, downtown New York denizens Kiki and Herb, and Five Lesbian Brothers, a theater company.

G4 announces programming slate: G4, the soon-to-launch Comcast-owned cable network dedicated to the world of gamers and their electronic games, has unveiled a slate of original programs. They are:

— “Arena,” a multiplayer games highlights show

— “Players,” a talk show focused on celebrities and the electronic games they play.

— “Filter,” a video-game countdown show

— “Icons,” a show profiling the people, characters and companies that have shaped the digital landscape

— “Game On,” a reality show in which the co-hosts compete in game-related stunts as they journey cross-country in search of games and arcades

— “Cinematech,” a show about the art and technology behind the games

— “Blister,” a show about action and adventure games

— “Cheat,” a show about puzzles and puzzle games

— “Portal,” a show about fantasy worlds and multiplayer online games

— “Pulse,” a news show for gamers

— “Sweat,” a look at sports games

— “Judgement Day,” a review show about the latest games

— “G4TV.com,” an interactive talk show

G4 is set for an April 22 launch.

HBO acquires presidential-race-themed documentary: “Journeys With George,” a documentary about life on the 2000 presidential campaign trail with then-candidate George W. Bush, has been acquired by HBO.

The 76-minute documentary was shot with a camcorder by NBC television producer Alexandra Pelosi, the daughter of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House minority whip. A debut date has not yet been scheduled, according to an HBO spokeswoman.

Liberty looking for spending opportunities: Liberty Media Group won’t stop spending with its announced $325 million share repurchase, since it is obliged under a tax-free spinoff agreement with the Internal Revenue Service to issue $500 million in equity by August 2003. In the wake of its collapsed discussions with NTL Inc. and other potential acquisitions abroad, Liberty also is considering a cash refinancing injection into its
part-owned Japan-based Jupiter Cable, according to a Standard & Poor’s report issued Tuesday.

Liberty has $2.5 billion in cash and equivalents available for acquisitions. It also has told the Federal Trade Commission it plans to increase its 4 percent stake in AOL Time Warner once the commission approves conversion of its shares to voting status.

Del RincÛn to anchor TeleFutura’s ‘Noticias al Minuto’: TeleFutura, the recently launched sister network to Univision, has named seasoned journalist Fernando Del RincÛn as the new anchor of its daily news briefs, “Noticias al Minuto.” Mr. Del RincÛn joins co-anchor Edna Schmidt.

Prior to joining TeleFutura, Mr. Del RincÛn served for three years as the principal host and reporter for the No. 1 nationally rated news program in Mexico, “Duro y Directo,” and as a features reporter on the investigative program “Fuera de La Ley” for the Televisa Network. He also produced and hosted his own weekly political analysis show, “En Directo con Fernando Del RincÛn,” on XEW radio in Monterrey, Mexico.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications