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Apr 16, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Tuesday, April 16, at 4:45 a.m. (PT); last updated at 5:28 p.m.

Robert Urich dies

Actor Robert Urich, best known for his roles in “Vega$,” “Spenser: For Hire,” “S.W.A.T.” and “Soap,” has died at the age of 55 after a long battle with cancer.

Mr. Urich passed away Tuesday morning at a Los Angeles area hospital. His TV career began with “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” in 1973 and most recently included a role in NBC’s “Emeril.”

Mr. Urich won an Emmy for his narration of “U-Boats: Terror on Our Shores,” a documentary, and a Cable ACE award for National Geographic’s “On Assignment,” which he hosted. He is survived by his wife, Heather; his three children, two brothers, a sister and his mother.

Bass to replace Friedman as ‘Early’ executive producer: In addition to a new anchor, “The Early Show” will get a new senior executive producer in May. “Early” architect Steve Friedman will leave the CBS morning show at the end of the month and will be replaced by Michael Bass, who spent the better part of the past decade with NBC’s “Today.”

Mr. Bass, whose “Early” start date is still to be determined, left “Today” last year after serving as interim executive producer for several months only to see Jonathan Wald get the position and the crucial vote of Katie Couric. Mr. Bass, who conceived the annual “Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?” stunt on “Today,” launched the short-lived “Later Today,” which became the third hour of “Today” in 2000. He was executive producer of “Weekend Today” for a year before that. Mr. Bass’ name has been floated regularly since then for positions on shows that include CNN’s “American Morning With Paula Zahn.”

Mr. Friedman had only recently signed a new three-year contract. But he said Tuesday that after longtime collaborator Bryant Gumbel decided to pack it in, Mr. Friedman suggested that CBS News President Andrew Heyward talk to potential replacements.

Mr. Friedman said he told Mr. Heyward on Tuesday that he wanted to leave and didn’t want his staff, already waiting to hear who will succeed Mr. Gumbel, to have to wait for another shoe to drop, so the announcement of Mr. Bass’ hire was made.

“It’s dark when I come in and dark when I go home,” Mr. Friedman said. “You’ve got to really want to do this.”

After May, he said, he plans to go to baseball games, go to the gym and go to lunch with members of the press for whom he has been a never-ending supply of colorful and combative quotes.

“I’m not in any great hurry to work,” he said. “On the other hand, I’m not done. I’m still what I think is a very good producer. My instructions to [agent Jim Griffin] are, ‘Hey, let’s see what happens.'”

Mr. Heyward said he’d he had a good sense of which fork in the road Mr. Friedman would take. The CBS News president said the combination of Mr. Bass’ experience in morning television and his track record “is a good one.”

He said that because Mr. Gumbel’s exit will mean such a big difference in “The Early Show” it is good to add “a fresh perspective” to the show.

Though there has been much speculation about whether radical decisions might be expected in the choice of Mr. Gumbel’s successor or the post-Gumbel format.

Mr. Heyward said, “I don’t think we will or should be” revolutionary, although he described Mr. Bass as “open to new formats. He’s open-minded, as am I.”

“There’s a basic diet of what people expect in the morning, and I think I have a good sense of that,” said Mr. Bass.

He said he is “incredibly excited” about returning to the most competitive and profitable news daypart and he tipped his hat to Mr. Friedman, who had done two turns as executive producer of “Today” and is “one of my mentors,” for making “The Early Show” more of a factor than CBS’s earlier attempts at morning shows.

“There’s a basic diet of what people expect in the morning and I think I have a good sense of that,” he said.

Schwartz is GM at WGCL: Sue Schwartz was named the general manager of Meredith-owned WGCL-TV, Atlanta. She was the general manager at Belo-owned independent KTVK-TV, and WB affiliate KASW-TV, Phoenix.

Grossi leaves Columbia TriStar Television: As expected, Len Grossi has left his post as president of Columbia TriStar Television.

Mr. Grossi said he wishes to pursue other business opportunities, including providing consulting services to the studio through his company, Baseline Media and Entertainment. His departure from Columbia TriStar comes approximately six months after Sony Pictures Entertainment cut back Columbia TriStar’s television operations and mandated the end of its program development for the networks. Analysts at the time cited both the unfavorable economics of the TV production business and the fact that Sony is not aligned with a broadcast network, as are other major-studio program providers, as reasons for the cuts.

Mr. Grossi is also understood to have had conversations with three diversified media companies about a senior role. And although Baseline is unlikely to participate in the upcoming network upfront, its first TV projects are likely to be in kids TV and in the reality genre, Mr. Grossi said.

In addition to being responsible for Columbia TriStar’s network television division, Mr. Grossi also oversaw Sony Pictures Family Entertainment Group and was the SPE executive responsible for managing the company’s investment in Telemundo (which since has been sold to NBC) and Game Show Network.

‘Bachelor’ provides bright spot in ABC Monday lineup: A lone emerging bastion or ratings hope for ABC on Monday night, “The Bachelor,” reached a personal-best 4.5 rating/11 share among adults 18 to 49, finishing a tight second to CBS’s established sitcoms during the 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. (ET) hour. Still, even with “Once & Again” making its series-ending run Monday night, ABC still finished fourth in adults 18 to 49 (3.3/9), although that was up 3 percent over the previous week, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data.

The reality-based “Bachelor” started out the 9 p.m.-to-9:30 p.m. frame at a 4.0/10 share in adults 18 to 49, spiked 122 percent from a limp 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. lead-in repeat of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” (1.9/6). Although it finished second in the first half-hour against CBS’s repeat of “Everybody Loves Raymond” (5.3/14), “Bachelor” won the 9:30 p.m.-to-10 p.m. frame over the CBS’s “Becker” (5.0/12 vs. 4.2/10) — increasing 25 percent from its own lead-in half-hour.

“The Bachelor” also came in second to CBS’s comedies in households (7.6/12 vs. 9.5/15) and total viewers (10.9 million vs. 14.0 million) for the full 9 p.m. hour. “The Bachelor’s” strongest demo score came among the coveted women 21 to 49 demo set, where the show averaged a 6.2/14 for the hour.

Again chalking up week-to-week growth, 7 percent in the latest outing among adults 18 to 49, ABC is now scheduling the sixth episode, season finale of “The Bachelor” for 9 p.m. Thursday, April 27, to be preceded by a reunion (“The Bachelor: The Women Tell All”) at 8 p.m. — the first night of the May sweeps.

Unfortunately, the series-ending episode of “Once & Again” did not generate much increased interest and was off 28 percent from its “Bachelor” lead-in, scoring a second-ranked 3.6/10 in adults 18 to 49 — about on par with its season-to-date average. “Once & Again” also finished last in the 10 p.m. hour in homes (5.6/9) and total viewers (8.7 million).

Also on Monday, for the second week CBS experimented with moving “Yes, Dear” temporarily into “King of Queens'” opening 8 p.m. time period. “Yes, Dear’s” 3.4/11 in adults 18 to 49 represents a 19 percent decrease from last week’s 4.2/12 in the half-hour.

Lead-out midseason entry “Baby Bob” showed holding power in adults 18 to 49 (3.4/11), improving 5 percent on its lead-in. Typical to form, NBC’s “Fear Factor” easily won the 8 p.m. hour in adults 18 to 49 (5.7/17), also keying NBC’s win for the night in the demo (4.7/13). Meanwhile, Fox’s back-to-back episodes of “Ally McBeal,” scoring 3.5/10 and 4.0/10 averages, were off by up to 25 percent from its prior season-to-date average (4.7/11) on Monday nights this year. Fox tied CBS in adults 1
8 to 49 on the night (both at 3.7/10 averages).

CBS’s Zaks takes UPN post: Synergy at CBS’s sister network UPN is now coming in the form of senior programming executive moves. Laurie Zaks, a longtime programming executive at CBS, is moving over to UPN as its senior vice president of current programs. She will assume her new post effective next Monday.

In an announcement made by Dawn Ostroff, UPN’s president of entertainment, Ms. Zaks will now oversee current programming responsibilities for all comedy and drama series on UPN.

Previously, Ms. Zaks served as VP of current programs for CBS, where she oversaw “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “King of Queens” and “The Guardian.” She joined CBS as director, current programs, a position she held for three years. Prior to joining CBS, Ms. Zaks was vice president of comedy development at Comedy Central for six years and was one of the executives originally hired to launch the network in New York. During her tenure at Comedy Central, Ms. Zaks was relocated to Los Angeles in 1996 to create a West Coast presence for the cable network. Before that, Ms. Zaks served as the executive in charge of talent for NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” from 1982 through 1986.

Twentieth signs up more stations for ‘Good Day Live’: Twentieth Television has added 17 metered markets to the ongoing rollout of “Good Day Live.” Stations now set to air the show in June include KPIX-TV, San Francisco; KMAX-TV, Sacramento, Calif.; WCCB-TV, Charlotte, N.C.; and WRAZ-TV, Raleigh, N.C. In San Francisco, the fifth largest metered market, Viacom-owned KPIX will air the strip at 3 p.m. KMAX is scheduled to air the show at 10 a.m. following “Good Day Sacramento,” and WCCB will air the show at noon.

In addition to the 12 Fox O&Os currently airing “Good Day Live,” 13 more stations in the group are scheduled to begin airing the show on June 3. Those stations are in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas, Minneapolis, Tampa, Denver, Orlando, Baltimore, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Memphis and Greensboro.

Discovery launching HD Theater net: Discovery Communications is launching Discovery HD Theater, a 24-hour high-definition television network that will roll out on June 17. HD Theater, which will be advertiser-supported, will telecast the nature, history, travel and other programming offered on the various Discovery networks, but in a high-definition format.

Currently, Discovery has about 115 HD titles ready for the new service and new HD productions have been commissioned for it.

Discovery also will be inaugurating Discovery on Demand, a subscription video-on-demand service that will offer, at any given time, up to 500 titles from Discovery’s programming library. In addition, Discovery is offering Choice 10 Discovery, which it calls an “entry-level, free VOD content service.” It will offer 10 to 25 hours of Discovery content, and will include advertising and menu sponsorships. Discovery is in discussions with cable MSOs about the new high-definition service, but no agreements have yet been reached, according to a Discovery spokeswoman.

McCain commissions report on cable TV rates: GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona on Tuesday asked the General Accounting Office, the independent investigative arm of Congress, to prepare a report examining why cable television rates keep rising. He also instructed the Federal Communications Commission to assist the GAO with the report. “There are two sure signs of spring in Washington: the arrival of tourists to enjoy the cherry blossoms and the release of the FCC report that cable rates have risen during the previous year,” the senator said.

The FCC said this month that average monthly rate for cable programming and equipment grew 7.5 percent over the 12-month period ending July 1, 2001. It also said that cable rates are 6.3 percent higher, on average, in markets where there is no cable overbuilder, i.e., a direct cable competitor. The senator, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, cited information provided by the watchdog Consumers Union showing that cable rates have increased 36 percent since passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which was intended to lower rates by spurring competition.

ATAS to honor AIDS-related programming: The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ activities committee will honor excellence in HIV/AIDS related television programming and personal commitment in the area of AIDS education and awareness at TV CARES: Ribbon of Hope Celebration 2002.

The event will take place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at ATAS’ Leonard H. Goldenson Theater, 5230 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, Calif. This year’s honorees include actress Tyne Daly, BET, CBS’s “The Bold and the Beautiful” and Showtime’s “Queer as Folk.” In addition, a Most Effective PSA winner for outstanding work and dedication to AIDS awareness will also be announced.

Grammer, Anderson, Lee on board for TNN animation projects: Add Kelsey Grammer and Pamela Anderson to the voice talent and Stan Lee and Klasky Csupo to the production talent behind TNN: The National Network’s push into prime-time animation for adults.

Mr. Grammer (“Frasier”) will voice the title role in “Gary the Rat,” an animated series about a New York attorney so intent on winning the rat race that he turns into an actual rodent.

Ms. Anderson (“V.I.P.”) will voice the title role in “Stripperella,” an animated series in development from Stan Lee (the co-creator of “Spider-Man”), about a “stripper by night who is a superhero by later at night,” as the network characterizes it.

Klasky Csupo Productions (“Duckman”) is in development on a half-hour series about two immigrants, one from Russia, the other from Mexico, who band together to pursue the American dream in Hollywood.

Additionally, TNN is bringing back “The Ren and Stimpy Show,” animator John Kricfalusi’s 1990s cult-hit cartoon series about the comic misadventures of a chihuahua and a cat. Additional new episodes of “Ren and Stimpy” also are under discussion, according to network executives.

TNN expects to have a two-hour prime-time animation block ready for April of next year, said Diane Robina, executive VP and general manager, TNN, at the network’s pre-upfront press presentation. The block most likely will be telecast on Tuesdays, though Saturdays are also under consideration.

Ad forecast gloomy for 2002: The upfront will bring low single-digit increases in ad spending to the major networks, according to the latest forecast from the Zenith Optimedia Group. Overall 2002 advertising expenditures in the seven countries (United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Spain) that together account for 74 percent of the world’s advertising spending will shrink by 1.9 percent, after shrinking by an estimated 5.4 percent in 2001, according to Zenith Optimedia’s latest quarterly forecast. “Ad markets are becoming more gloomy just as economists have started to revise their forecasts upwards,” the forecast said. Advertising tends to fall more sharply than the general economy during a recession and take longer than the general economy to come back. “This is the price ad markets pay for outperforming the economy during periods of confidence and growth,” the forecast noted.

(c) Copyright 2002 by Crain Communications