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Apr 10, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Wednesday, April 10, at 12:05 p.m. (PT); last updated at 4:40 p.m.

AOL Time Warner stock slides to $20

More problems are surfacing for AOL Time Warner and its CEO-elect, Richard Parsons. The company’s stock slid to $20 a share Wednesday, the lowest level since its January 2000 merger, on more concerns about the company and news of an 18 million-share block sale of the stock by CS First Boston. Trading volume of the shares was more than three times the norm. One analyst called it “panic selling.”

The stock, which is down nearly 40 percent this year, was down about 7 percent on Wednesday’s news. It comes a day after putting Co-Chief Operating Officer Bob Pittman back in charge of its troubled AOL unit that he headed before the merger. He temporarily replaces Barry Schuler, who now will head a newly formed digital unit. The company is expected to name a permanent head of the AOL unit within six months. More analysts issued reports Wednesday pointing to the weakness of AOL subscriber and advertising growth. Merrill Lynch’s Jessica Reif Cohen told clients that growth at America Online appears to be “even weaker than expected.”

‘Osbournes’ continues to gain fans, ratings: “The Osbournes,” MTV’s genre-bending reality sitcom, is a bona fide hit that is still building popularity as of Tuesday night’s episode.

Here are the head-banging numbers for the latest installment in the continuing saga of former Black Sabbath rocker Ozzy, his wife (and manager) Sharon and their kids, Kelly and Jack, at home in Beverly Hills and out on the road: Episode six clocked in with a 5.2 household rating and a 6.8 for persons 12 to 34. By comparison, episode five did a 4.4 in households and 5.5 with the 12 to 34 demo. The premiere episode of the series earned a 2.8 in households and a 3.4 with 12- to 34-year-olds.

FCC approves NBC’s acquisition of Telemundo stations: The Federal Communications Commission approved NBC’s acquisition of the 11 Telemundo TV stations, granting the Peacock 12 months to hold three TV stations in Los Angeles.

UPN sets ‘Roswell’ final curtain: UPN is bringing an end to “Roswell,” setting its series finale for 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. (ET) Tuesday, May 14. Completing its third season, “Roswell” moved over with sister 20th Century Fox TV-produced “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” from The WB to UPN at start of this season.

Through 15 airings this season, the extraterrestrial, teen-oriented “Roswell” has been averaging a 1.4 rating/3 share in adults 18 to 49, retaining about 64 percent of its “Buffy” lead-in (2.2/6), according to Nielsen Media Research national data. Similarly, “Roswell’s” 3.0 million total viewer count is off 36 percent from “Buffy’s” 4.7 million average head count this season. By comparison with “Buffy’s” prior season’s run on The WB, its sister 20th Century Fox drama “Angel” virtually held even with its lead-in (2.1 rating vs. 2.0 rating).

“Roswell” is a production of Jason Katims Productions in association with Regency Television and 20th Century Fox Television. The other executive producers are Kevin Kelly Brown, Jonathan Frakes and Lisa Olin.

Media reps ask for softer rules on televised political debates: A coalition of media interests led by CBS asked the Federal Election Commission Wednesday to clarify whether or not a news outlet that sponsors a debate between political candidates and doesn’t precisely follow the agency’s rules will be penalized.

Under the FEC’s rules, a news organization’s sponsorship of a debate can be considered an illegal campaign expenditure – and be punishable as a crime — if debate participants are not chosen according to FEC criteria. For example, the FEC rules might be violated if certain politicians — in some cases fringe candidates — are not allowed to participate. Other signatories to the petition are ABC, NBC, News America Inc. (owner of Fox News programming), Belo, Cox Enterprises, Gannett, National Association of Broadcasters., Post-Newsweek Stations, Radio and Television News Directors Association, Society of Professional Journalists, Tribune Co. and the New York Times Co.

Discovery reveals programming plans for new season: Discovery Networks unveiled ambitious new-season programming plans at an upfront press briefing Wednesday in Manhattan. The projects include five new original prime-time series on Discovery, the group’s flagship channel, and the next “Walking With” computer-generated-animation special, this time “Walking With Cavemen,” and a special following director James Cameron (“Titanic”) on an underwater quest to find the sunken German battleship Bismarck.

Discovery’s Animal Planet unveiled “Baaad Dog,” its first ever sitcom, presenting a pooch’s-eye-view of a typical Los Angeles family, as well as “The Future Is Wild,” another CGI-laden special, in this instance an exploration of the future evolution of animals.

All in all, the networks will be producing 3,000 hours of original programming in the new season and spending $370 million to do it, said Judith McHale, president and chief operating officer, Discovery Communications. Discovery Channel itself has budgeted $150 million for original programming in the new season, Ms. McHale said.

The new prime-time series at the flagship network are:

— “Hi-Tech History,” which uses modern techniques to reconstruct and explain historical events, among them the battle of the Alamo and the battle of Gettysburg.

— “Monster Garage,” which brings in a team of custom-motorcycle and car designers to transform common vehicles into super machines, for example turning a Ford Mustang into a 100-mph lawnmower.

— “People Watch,” which examines the natural history of everyday human behaviors.

— “Building Big,” which uses the computer-animation techniques of “When Dinosaurs Roamed America” to investigate the construction of the Great Pyramid and Hoover Dam, among others.

— “Moments in Time,” which focuses on the key events that changed the world.

In addition, Discovery is debuting one daytime series, “Surprise by Design,” in which home makeovers happen while one unsuspecting family member is out of the house. Meanwhile, Discovery’s The Learning Channel is debuting “While You Were Out,” another surprise makeover show, this time with game-show elements.

Learning Channel specials will include “Charriot Race 2002,” a modern re-creation of what the network calls the “NASCAR of ancient Rome.”

Other programming highlights at the other Discovery Networks include:

— At the Travel Channel, four new “American Icons” specials, including the Vietnam Memorial and Kennedy Space Center, and “Movie Road Trip,” a visit to the sites of famous movie locations.

— And at Discovery Health, “Fantastic Voyage,” a look at the medical future, nano-technology and micro-robots, and “At Sixes & Sevens,” a special about life with septuplets and in other multiple-birth households.

Midseason shows hitting ratings plateaus: Midseason blues have struck the broadcast networks, particularly on Tuesday evenings. In the diminishing returns department, NBC’s “Watching Ellie” and Fox’s “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” had no visible week-to-week growth but battled to a tie for first in the adults 18 to 49 demo in the 8:30 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) time slot Tuesday.

“Watching Ellie,” which tied “Andy” with a 3.5 rating/10 share average in adults 18 to 49, held the edge in total viewers (7.6 million vs. 7.3 million) over the Fox sitcom, according to Nielsen Media Research fast national data. However, on a week-to-week basis, “Ellie” was down 7 percent in adults 18 to 49 for the frame, although it did increase 9 percent over a limp repeat of “Will & Grace” (3.2/10) in the lead-in 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. slot.

“Andy Richter” held even week to week in adults 18 to 49 for its fourth outing but is still down 28 percent from its debut score (4.9/13) on March 19. However, “Andy” still had 80 percent retention from its winning 8 p.m. lead-in from “That ’70s Show” (4.4/14), which was up 12 percent in adults 18 to 49 over a repeat the previous week (3.9/11).

Those midseason returns were not as bad as they were for ABC’s opening 8 p.m. hour with “Dha
rma & Greg” (1.9/6) and “Spin City” (2.7/9), which — aside from approaching personal lows in adults 18 to 49 — were down 32 percent and 27 percent, respectively, from week-ago time period averages. The poor opening hour also spelled trouble for a repeat of “NYPD Blue” (2.7/7) at 9 p.m., which came in last in adults 18 to 49 for the hour and was down 10 percent week to week.

NBC’s original episodes of “Frasier” (6.1/16) and “Scrubs” (5.3/13) took the 9 p.m. hour (5.7/14)and improved 11 percent week to week. Fox’s “24,” completing its 18th hour of the real-time drama, saw its 4.3/11 score in adults 18 to 49 and 8.6 million total viewers hold even week to week. CBS’s “The Guardian” won the hour in households (8.8/14) and came in third in adults 18 to 49 (3.2/8), improving 11 percent in the key demo score.

“Dateline NBC” won the 10 p.m. hour in adults 18 to 49 (4.2/11), holding even week to week, while CBS’s “Judging Amy” came in second in the demo (3.9/10) but won the hour in households (9.9/16). ABC’s midseason Sally Field drama “The Court,” having been formally canceled on Monday, finished its last airing with a fourth-ranked 2.1/6 in adults 18 to 49, down 16 percent from its previous week’s personal-low score (2.5/7).

Scientist attacked during ‘Shark Week’ filming: A veteran shark expert is in a West Palm Beach, Fla., hospital after emergency surgery following a shark attack April 9, during filming of a segment for “Shark Week 2003,” a Discovery Channel project.

Dr. Erich Ritter and host Nigel Marven were wading in waist-deep cloudy water on Walker’s Cay in the Bahamas when the attack occurred, according to a Discovery statement. “Dr. Ritter was bitten when a bull shark apparently mistook his leg for another shark or fish,” the statement said. Dr. Ritter was bitten on the lower leg, and while the bite was not life-threatening it did require surgery, according to the statement.

Dr. Ritter’s research is controversial because he uses chum to attract bull sharks, and some experts believe that his method associates human beings with food and contributes to turning sharks into human eaters, said John Ford, president, content group, Discovery Networks U.S.

Mr. Ford said he did not know whether cameras were rolling at the time of the accident. If such footage exists, it will only be used in the upcoming documentary if it’s “integral to the story and explains shark behavior — in cloudy waters, at dusk time, that’s when sharks are most likely to accidentally bite humans, thinking that we’re something else,” Mr. Ford said.

Weitz named Endeavor partner: Richard Weitz, who has been head of the Endeavor talent agency’s TV literary department for the past five years, has been named a partner in the Hollywood talent agency. Mr. Weitz’s elevation marks the first time a partner has risen through the ranks of the 7-year-old agency.

A spokesman said Mr. Weitz’s elevation to partner was in the works for some time and is unrelated to last week’s previously announced departure of co-founding partner Marty Adelstein, who left to form a production partnership (called Original) with filmmaker Neal Moritz.

Mr. Weitz joined Endeavor as an agent in 1997, then quickly moved up to head the agency’s television literary department. Mr. Weitz started his entertainment industry career in 1991 in the mailroom of InterTalent and later worked for current Endeavor partner David Greenblatt, during the latter’s days at International Creative Management. Mr. Weitz was promoted to agent at ICM — where he worked with future Endeavor partners Rick Rosen and Ariel Emanuel — and served in that capacity for three years before joining Endeavor.

Mr. Weitz’s other Endeavor partners are John Lesher, David Lonner, Steve Rabineau, Tom Strickler, Brian Swardstrom, Adam Venit and Patrick Whitesell.

Syndicated ‘She Spies’ to premiere with NBC prime-time kickoff: NBC Enterprises and MGM Worldwide Television are continuing their spy games with upcoming syndicated action hour “She Spies” (formerly known as “BAIT”). The studios have signed Natasha Henstridge to play the lead agent and have confirmed that the series will have a four-episode summer prime-time run on NBC prior to its syndicated launch. Under the terms of an NBC/MGM production and distribution agreement for the show, MGM will produce 20 episodes of the series and will also handle its U.S. distribution, which already includes the country’s NBC-owned stations as well as most Hearst-Argyle stations, covering more than 50 percent of the country.

Arrar·s signs on with Telemundo: The Telemundo Network has signed anchorwoman MarÌa Celeste Arrar·s, a 10-year news fixture on competing Spanish-language network Univision, to host a newsmagazine and other news/information programming for the network as well as for soon-to-be parent company NBC.

Ms. Arrar·s’ debut on Telemundo is scheduled for Monday, April 29, when the U.S.-based Spanish-language broadcaster premieres a new hour-long newsmagazine, “Al Rojo Vivo con MarÌa Celeste.” The show will air at 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. (ET) weekdays. Ms. Arrar·s will serve as anchor and managing editor of “Al Rojo Vivo.” As part of her deal, Ms. Arrar·s also will be executive producer of several Telemundo specials, and will make occasional appearances in various NBC productions. Peter Jones will be senior executive producer of “Al Rojo Vivo.”

Last October, NBC agreed to acquire 100 percent of the equity of Telemundo Communications Group from Sony Pictures Entertainment and Liberty Media Group. The Federal Communications Commission approved the transaction Wednesday.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications