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Jul 10, 2002  •  Post A Comment

ABC, affils hold productive talks

A daylong gathering of ABC executives and ABC affiliates in Chicago ended with both sides declaring that the dialogue had been positive.

“It was a very beneficial day,” said Bruce Baker, the Cox Television executive VP who is chairman of the ABC affiliate board of governors, during a conference call late Wednesday.

No negotiations were conducted, so there was no resolution of issues, which ranged from exclusivity of ABC programming to the network’s insistence that it retain the right to demand that when an ABC-affiliated station is sold, a new affiliation agreement must be negotiated. Also at hand were issues related to the soon-to-expire NFL agreement under which affiliates contribute some $45 million annually to ABC to help ease the $550 million-a-year cost of the network’s NFL contract.

One affiliate said that the NFL issue cannot be resolved without resolution of the “relationship issues,” but he said “both sides are working to get it done.”

In the conference call, ABC Television Network President Alex Wallau said the network will not be hobbled if a consensus is not reached by the end of the month on the NFL agreement, but that ABC would like to get it resolved and move on.

On the question of exclusivity, Mr. Wallau cited such examples as NBC’s operation of MSNBC when he said, “We don’t think brand confusion is an issue” if ABC repurposes network programming on the ABC Family Channel, a prospect that has concerned affiliates.

Assignment remains “a very important matter,” Mr. Wallau said, adding that the network has the option and has “chosen to exercise it in some cases.”

Still, “There were no bombs,” said one affiliate who often is at odds with the network, but who also described the day as productive. “If the spirit of cooperation remains we would hope that all issues would be resolved.”

Mr. Wallau said the network was gratified by the turnout of more than 200 affiliates.

“I think they were shocked,” said a station-group leader, who hopes the network came away with the feeling that the affiliates can be and want to be supportive partners. He said he appreciated the “candor” of ABC executives who made the trip to Chicago.

Among the executives making presentations was News President David Westin, who earned affiliate praise for improved performance by “Good Morning America.”

Freshman Entertainment President Susan Lyne talked about programming and strategy in prime time, where ABC ended the season in fourth place and is hitting all-time lows this summer. Prime time, Mr. Wallau said, is “the area of greatest need.”

He said format and commercial load within ABC News’ daylong coverage of the anniversary of Sept. 11 are still to be decided.

He said the network recognizes that the hour-long late-night show being developed for comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who worked the affiliate-filled rooms in Chicago, will launch in late January without full clearance of the second half-hour. Mr. Wallau said producing “the best show possible” will stoke affiliates’ appetite for the show.ACLU joins cable Internet access push: In a boost to watchdog groups, the American Civil Liberties Union today announced that it has joined the effort to force cable operators to open their broadband access to rival Internet access providers.

“This is perhaps the most significant free speech effort of the first part of the 21st Century,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s technology and liberty program.

Cable operators have long made clear they would prefer to control access to their high-speed data networks. But watchdog groups are concerned that control will be used to quash cable’s Internet access rivals. They want the Federal Communications Commission to require cable companies to open their networks to all Internet access service providers under the same sort of common carrier obligations that phone companies face.

Cable operators will fight efforts to force them to open broadband access. “The ACLU offers no evidence whatsoever to show that the provision by cable operators of high-speed access to the Internet is somehow stifling development of or access to any content on the Internet,” said Marc Smith, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Comcast shareholders approve AT&T purchase: Comcast shareholders today voted overwhelmingly to approve its $45 billion purchase of AT&T Broadband, according to the Associated Press.

Combined, Comcast, the nation’s third-largest multi-system cable operator, and AT&T Broadband, the largest, would service 22.3 million subscribers. Second-largest MSO AOL Time Warner has about 12 million subscribers.

The deal still requires the OK of the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice, which are expected to approve it later this year.

The combined company will be called AT&T Comcast.

Salke named to key drama post at Twentieth: Jennifer Nicholson Salke, most recently a senior drama development executive at Columbia TriStar Television, has been named as Twentieth Century Fox Television’s senior VP of drama.

In an appointment made by Twentieth Century Fox Television Presidents Gary Newman and Dana Walden, Ms. Salke will oversee the top-ranked studio’s drama department, including the production of current series “24” (Fox), “Angel” (The WB), “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (UPN), “Judging Amy” (CBS), “Boston Public” (Fox) and “The Practice,” in addition to new fall 2002 Fox series “Girls Club,” “Firefly” and “Septuplets.” She will also manage the development of a marquee roster of drama writer-producers, including Joss Whedon, Barbara Hall, Chris Carter, Jason Katims, Jeff Rake and David E. Kelley Productions.

Ms. Salke replaces Scott Vila, who recently signed a development deal with the studio.

As senior VP of drama development at Columbia TriStar, Ms. Salke developed the high-profile pilot “Everwood” (premiering this fall on The WB), with writer Greg Berlanti, and “Hack” (set for CBS’s fall lineup), with writer David Koepp and executive producer Gavin Polone. “Everwood” and “Hack” later moved production auspices to Warner Bros. Television and CBS Productions, respectively, after Columbia TriStar decided to get out of the development and talent roster business for the broadcast networks in prime time.

Previously, Ms. Salke worked at Spelling Entertainment, rising to the position of senior VP of series development. She was credited with shepherding more than 50 pilot scripts and was integral to the development of The WB dramas “Charmed” and “7th Heaven.”

All-Star Game numbers plummet: Tuesday night’s 73rd All-Star Game in Milwaukee, brought to a declared ending by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig with a 7-7 tie in the 11th inning, was the lowest-rated midsummer classic since 1953. Mr. Selig’s decision was greeted with a chorus of boos from fans at the Milwaukee Brewers’ Miller Park. Meanwhile, viewers expressed their apparent disenchantment with the sport by producing double-digit percentage declines in household ratings and total viewership from last year’s All-Star Game.

Airing from 9:07 p.m. to 12:02 a.m. (ET) on Fox, the extra-inning All-Star Game turned in a 9.5 rating/17 share household average and 14.6 million total viewers, according to final Nielsen Media Research national data, representing 14 percent and 10 percent declines in households (11.0/19) and total viewers (16.0 million), respectively, compared with the 2001 All-Star Game on Fox.

The latest rating tallies reversed the 9 percent gains the 2001 midsummer classic made vs. NBC’s 2000 All-Star Game telecast in both households (10.1/18) and total viewers (14.7 million). Ratings for the 2001 All-Star Game on Fox may have spiked because the game marked the final midsummer appearances of longtime stars Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn.

The all-time low was for NBC’s 1953 All-Star Game telecast, which drew an 8.6/32 score, according to Fox researchers. Nevertheless, the downward spiral in baseball viewing tracks back to 1970, when the All-Star Game drew a 28.5/54 household score. Ratings have since declined 67 percent. Much of the dec
line can be traced to the growing number of cable network viewing options since the late 1970s, but ratings slid 39 percent after the strike-shortened 1994 baseball season.

Despite the continuing ratings decline, the midsummer baseball classic remains the highest-rated of all-star game-related telecasts among the major sports, including the NBA, NFL and NHL. Fox researchers are quick to point out that the network’s entire Tuesday rotation — including the All-Star pre-game’s 8.0/15 household score — had Fox’s 9.3/17 average for the night 75 percent ahead of second-place CBS’s repeat drama rotation (5.3/9). And Tuesday night’s game, which averaged a top-ranked 4.9/15 among adults 18 to 49, had Fox beating second-place NBC in the key demo (4.9/15 vs. 2.9/9).

As Major League Baseball and its players are heading toward a potential breakdown in the collective bargaining agreement and another threatened strike this season, Fox is said to now be considering the potential loss of a postseason playoff schedule and World Series. Already, talks are centering on Fox considering a September rollout for the premiere of its fall 2002 prime-time series — instead of doing the staggered launches of scripted shows into October and November as in the recent past.

Krantz opens production shop at Warner: Tony Krantz, who decided to exit last month as co-partner and CEO of Imagine Television after five years at the Ron Howard- and Brian Grazer-led studio, has set up a production shingle at Warner Bros. Television. The yet-to-be-named company begins its tenure on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif., effective immediately, according to an announcement made by Warner Bros. Television President Peter Roth.

The three-year deal provides Mr. Krantz with a discretionary development fund, overhead and staffing to develop and produce prime-time television series. He will be announcing his key executive hires imminently, a statement said.

“My time at Imagine Television has been tremendously rewarding,” Mr. Krantz said in prepared comments. “Brian and Ron provided me with an opportunity to start my career as a producer, and they have my utmost respect and gratitude.”

Mr. Krantz, who left Imagine due to what sources cited as philosophical differences with Mr. Howard, Mr. Grazer and umbrella studio Twentieth Century Fox Television, was replaced earlier this month by veteran Fox programming executive David Nevins. While Mr. Krantz maintains an executive producer title on Fox’s much-heralded “24” drama (voted the best series in Electronic Media’s Fall/Winter 2002 and Spring/Summer 2002 Critics Polls), he may have been faulted for coming up with other less commercially viable back-end series, such as The WB’s departed “Felicity” and “The PJs” and ABC’s “Sports Night.”

“I hope to bring to [Warner Bros. Television] the kind of programming that is a further extension of the brand of shows we produced at Imagine, and consistent with the level of excellence that they and their team have achieved,” Mr. Krantz said.

In 2001, Mr. Krantz produced David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive,” which although released theatrically to critical acclaim, began as a television pilot project for ABC. Prior to his partnership at Imagine, Mr. Krantz was an agent at Creative Artists Agency for 15 years, packaging such series as “ER,” “Twin Peaks,” “Melrose Place,” “Beverly Hills 90210” and “The West Wing.”

O’Mara to join ‘Agency’ cast: Jason O’Mara, a co-star of HBO’s critically acclaimed “Band of Brothers” miniseries, is set to join the cast of CBS’s CIA-based drama “The Agency” beginning with its second-season premiere in September at 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. (ET) Saturdays. He will play a newly recruited CIA paramilitary officer heading the Incident Response Team from the field and reporting to Robert Quinn (Daniel Benzali), who runs the team from CIA headquarters.

Shaun Cassidy, executive producer of “The Agency,” said in a statement that Mr. O’Mara’s character will be a “part of the central dynamic affecting the CIA, FBI and all the other government agencies today as they are being challenged to work together more effectively in response to the changes resulting from the Sept. 11 tragedies.”

Mr. O’Mara’s credits include roles as a series regular in “High Stakes,” “Monarch of the Glen” and “The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries.” He has also appeared in the miniseries “Berkeley Square” and “Playing the Field.”

NBC sets Sept. 11 anniversary coverage: Sept. 11 anniversary coverage on NBC will extend from prime time on Sept. 10 into the evening of Sept. 11, all under the title of “America Remembers,” according to sources.

NBC News is expected to produce at least two hours of programming on the evening of Sept. 10. On Sept. 11, the “Today” show will be extended to six hours, a time frame that is expected to take in official memorial ceremonies. Coverage on the network will continue throughout the afternoon, right up to “Nightly News” time. After “Nightly,” the anniversary programming will resume and will extend into prime time on Sept. 11.

Court gets ‘Asylum’; Sheedy gets ‘Interrogation’: Court TV has finalized a production deal for its third original movie, “Political Asylum,” and announced star casting for its second, “The Interrogation of Michael Crowe,” which will star actress Ally Sheedy (“High Art”) as the mother of a teenage boy accused of murdering his sister.

“Asylum” will be the fact-based story of a young Afghan woman who comes to the United States to escape the oppressive Taliban regime and has to contend with American bureaucracy and injustice.

“Interrogation,” set for the fourth quarter, examines the coerced confession of a 14-year-old boy charged with murdering his 12-year-old sister. The picture is based on a Court documentary of the same name.

The casting and the new movie commitment were announced by the network at the semiannual Television Critics Association press tour, now under way in Pasadena, Calif. In other Court news from the TCA:

— “Today’s” Al Roker comes to Court with “Al Roker: Investigating Intolerance,” the working title of a one-hour special scheduled for the first quarter of 2003. The documentary, which Mr. Roker will host and executive produce, follows the investigation of a hate crime on Long Island.

— Court has given a 13-episode series commitment to “Body of Evidence: From the Case Files of Dayle Hinman,” about a Florida-based forensic profiler who has been involved with the cases of Ted Bundy, Aileen Wournos and O.J. Simpson, among others.

— Court’s forensic focus continues with “Digging for Clues: The Story of Forensic Science,” a one-hour special that will be filmed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Corrao gets key programming post at Comedy Central: Lauren Corrao has been named senior VP of original programming and head of development for Comedy Central. Ms. Corrao will be based in Los Angeles and will report to Bill Hilary, executive VP and general manager of the network.