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Apr 12, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Friday, April 12, at 9 a.m. (PT); last updated at 5:20 p.m.

Tannenbaum files breach-of-contract suit against Ovitz

Eric Tannenbaum, the former head of the now-defunct Artists Television Group series production unit, brought a lawsuit against Michael Ovitz and his Artists Management Group Thursday, claiming breach of contract and that the one-time uber agent fraudulently claimed to have $1 billion in backing from J.P. Morgan.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims Mr. Ovitz made “gradiose promises” to Mr. Tannenbaum about reportedly securing a $1 billion line of credit from J.P. Morgan in order to entice Mr. Tannenbaum to leave his longtime post of president of Columbia TriStar Television. From the time Mr. Tannenbaum joined ATG in May 1999, there had been widespread speculation in the media, including in an Electronic Media feature story (May 1, 2000), over the shrouded sources of AMG’s funding until the TV unit was folded in early 2001.

Upon “terminating” Mr. Tannenbaum’s employment in November 2001, the suit claims the longtime studio executive had a “written agreement” (offered as an exhibit in the filing) calling for him to be paid $1.5 million annually over an alleged five-year deal. The suit contends that when Mr. Ovitz “refused to honor the guarantee” and terminated his salary as of Nov. 28, 2001. Mr. Tannenbaum had about 21/2 years left on his pact and is seeking $3.8 million in compensatory damages. The suit is seeking another $5.8 million in other compensatory damages to where it compels the court for a total of more than $9.6 million in total compensatory damages. The suit is also seeking unspecified punitive damages.

Starting with the 2000-01 season, ATG, under Mr. Tannenbaum’s guidance, launched four series on the networks: ABC’s “Madigan Men,” NBC’s “Cursed,” Fox’s “The $treet” and The WB’s “Grosse Pointe.” However, after those shows failed to produce sufficient ratings and were canceled, chinks in ATG’s financing began showing, with only “The Ellen Show” (CBS) and “Lost in the USA” (WB) picked up for the start of the 2001-02 season. In fact, The WB had filed suit against ATG claiming it was owed about $1 million in advance license fees on “Lost in America,” which Mr. Ovitz later settled out of court.

It was believed that Mr. Tannenbaum and attorney Melvin N.A. Avanzado, who authored the suit, held talks with Mr. Ovitz’s representatives on a settlement, but negotiations broke down on Thursday.

Mr. Avanzado, who is a partner in the firm White O’Connor Curry Gatti & Avanzado, declined to comment. Representatives for AMG and Mr. Ovitz were unreachable at press time.

NBC officially owns Telemundo: NBC took ownership of Telemundo Communications Group on Friday, three days after getting FCC approval of the $2.7 billion deal that ranks as the largest in the history of the Peacock Network. “Not only is this the largest acquisition by NBC, it is one of the biggest commitments made by any corporation to the dynamic Hispanic population,” said NBC Chairman and CEO Bob Wright. Jim McNamara will continue as CEO of Telemundo, which last year boosted network ad sales by 25 percent, and will report to NBC President and Chief Operating Officer Andy Lack. Telemundo assets include a Spanish-language network that reaches 90 percent of the country’s Hispanic population, two younger cable networks and 11 broadcast stations.

FCC approves Granite’s KNTV sale: Granite Broadcasting Corporation announced today that it has received Federal Communications Commission approval for the sale of San Jose, Calif., station KNTV to NBC. “We are extremely pleased with this news and look forward to closing the sale of KNTV,” said W. Don Cornwell, Granite chairman and CEO.

WCAU hires McElroy, Negovan joins KYW: NBC-owned WCAU-TV, Philadelphia, hired Tiffany McElroy to anchor the two-hour 5 a.m. newscast and the new 10 a.m. morning newscast, which launches April 29, her first day on the job. She comes from KATU-TV, Portland, Ore., and replaces the vacancy left since March when the station sent out a terse press release stating that morning anchor Sharon Reed was no longer an employee at WCAU. Ms. Reed made local newspapers there after allegedly posting threatening and harassing Internet message directed at colleague Alicia Taylor, a WCAU reporter.

Across town, rival CBS-owned KYW-TV hired Tom Negovan from Canada as co-anchor of its morning news beginning April 15.

MTV making satirical ‘Real World’ movie: Reality programming is ripe for satire, and MTV, which has just gone into production on “The Real World — The Lost Season,” an original telefilm that will poke fun at its own “Real World” franchise, would agree.

In fact, the co-creators and producers of “The Real World,” Mary-Ellis Bunim and Jon Murray, will be executive producing the telefilm too.

“Lost Season” will tell the story of what happens when a new group of “Real World” participants is hijacked by an obsessed would-be player who has been rejected by the show. The movie is set to debut on Aug. 6.

‘Wild Kingdom’ joins Animal Planet: “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom,” a precursor of today’s reality and nature programming, will return to television in six one-hour specials, debuting in September on Animal Planet.

The original “Wild Kingdom” debuted in 1963 and ran on network and in syndication through the mid-1980s.

“Wild Kingdom” is an “icon of American television,” said Michael Cascio, executive VP and general manager of Animal Planet, in a statement. Original “Wild Kingdom” hosts Jim Fowler and Peter Gros will serve as advisors on the new specials.

Animal Planet is looking to telecast the “Wild Kingdom” specials on a monthly basis, with the first show this September probably about the elephants of Timbuktu, though plans have yet to finalized.

One other aspect of the “Wild Kingdom” deal is a co-branding effort, which will include ad collaboration, possible talent sharing and inclusion of the program in the insurance company’s outreach and educational efforts.

FCC reps say agency too easy on EchoStar: Federal Communications Commission regulators Kevin Martin, a Republican, and Michael Copps, a Democrat, think the agency is going too easy on EchoStar. The FCC ruled last week that EchoStar is violating the law with a policy requiring customers to request a second satellite dish to see some local television signals and recommended steps the company can take to correct the situation. But the commissioners said the FCC left EchoStar with a giant loophole: It can continue to require a second dish as long as customers are informed they’ll need it. “EchoStar can easily continue its two-dish policy and make some local broadcast channels inaccessible to consumers as a practical matter,” they wrote.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications