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Jul 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Monday, July 15

Swanson named to Viacom station group post

Dennis Swanson, who announced his “retirement” as head of WNBC-TV, New York, last Friday, has been named executive VP and chief operating officer of Viacom’s group of 39 owned-and-operated CBS and UPN stations. He will report to group President Fred Reynolds.

Electronic Media reported July 12 that Ray Rajewski had left the position of executive VP of the Viacom stations group. At the time a spokesman had indicated that Mr. Rajewski had retired and that the parting was amicable. (Mr. Rajewski was unavailable for comment.)

The spokesman insisted Monday that Mr. Rajewski’s exit and Mr. Swanson’s hiring are not directly related, arguing that Mr. Rajewski had in recent months focused on the smaller stations in Viacom’s group.

Mr. Swanson will be based in New York and will focus on the group’s biggest markets, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, where longtime problems have weighed on stations.

Mr. Swanson helped launch Oprah Winfrey’s talk show career as head of ABC-owned WLS-TV in Chicago. He had a successful run as president of ABC Sports and made WNBC the top-rated station in New York during his six years at the flagship station — which a CBS announcement noted generated the highest revenue of any station in the country during Mr. Swanson’s tenure.

Frank Comerford, who has been head of sales and marketing for the NBC-owned stations group, was named president and general manager of WNBC Friday, in the same announcement that said Mr. Swanson was retiring from NBC.

Mere hours after he was named the No. 2 executive in the Viacom stations group, Mr. Swanson boosted WCBS-TV, New York, general manager Tony Petitti to senior VP for station operations for the group and named Lew Leone the VP and general manager of WCBS.

For the past three years, Mr. Leone had been Mr. Swanson’s top sales executive at WNBC, a position Mr. Swanson resigned Friday, and Mr. Leone resigned Monday, leaving many people in shock. Mr. Leone also served a stint as VP of NBC Sports and Olympic sales.

Mr. Petitti, who took the reins of WCBS in 1999, was a member of Mr. Swanson’s management team at ABC Sports. Mr. Leone also worked for Mr. Swanson at ABC Sports.

Meanwhile, Peter Dunn, the former WNBC sales executive, is being promoted from senior vice president of sales for the NBC station group to executive vice president of sales for the NBC stations group, succeeding Mr. Comerford.

TNT movie scores big: Sunday night’s premiere of Turner Network Television’s first Johnson & Johnson Spotlight Presentation, “Door to Door,” scored a 6.6 metered-market overnight rating and a 10.3 share. That number topped all broadcast networks in the 53 metered markets from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Tauzin drafting digital TV bill: Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., told lobbyists today that he has directed his staff to begin drafting omnibus legislation to expedite the transition to digital television. Sources reported the lawmaker said the bill would include provisions on such key issues as DTV cable carriage and the inclusion of DTV tuners in TV sets. The lawmaker also said, according to the sources, the bill would be introduced shortly after lawmakers return from their August recess.

CBS’s Moonves confident of dramas: Despite consternation expressed by some TV critics over CBS’s heavy scheduling of crime dramas next fall, CBS Entertainment President and CEO Leslie Moonves expressed confidence that each of the shows would attract new viewers-particularly in the crucial local news-adjacent 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. (ET) hour.

“There is no question that all of our new dramas speak from different points of views and will each appeal to various segments of the audience,” Mr. Moonves said, following CBS’s portion of the Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena, Calif., Monday. “We think that with ‘CSI’ leading into [Jerry Bruckheimer’s companion drama] ‘Without a Trace’ on Thursday we might be able to take some viewers from [NBC’s] ‘ER.’ I’m not saying we’re going to win, but we nip away at ‘ER’s’ commanding lead in the 10 o’clock time slot. And we think that ‘CSI: Miami’ will be a home run out of the box [against NBC’s “Crossing Jordan” on 10 p.m. Mondays].”

To that end, Nancy Tellem, president of CBS Entertainment, announced that Kim Delaney, who previously starred in ABC’s short-lived “Philly” drama and “NYPD Blue” before that, has been added to the bulked-up cast of “CSI: Miami.” She also announced that Ving Rhames is joining the cast of CBS’s returning Saturday tentpole drama “The District” in a recurring role as a U.S. district attorney.

Mr. Moonves announced that the entire CBS prime-time lineup will premiere the week of Sept. 23, which Nielsen Media Research is recognizing as the start of the 2002-03 season. Mr. Moonves also said CBS will re-air the “9/11” documentary on Monday, Sept. 9, two days before the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Some other special programming-not of the nostalgia kind that CBS had success with this past season-raised the curiosity of TV critics at the tour. Ms. Tellem announced that CBS acquired the rights to the “Victoria Secret’s Annual Fall Fashion Show,” which ABC previously found to be a big ratings-getter with both male and female viewers.

“This is not your grandmother’s CBS,” joked Ms. Tellem, in reference to CBS’s past perception as largely a 50-plus-adults network.

The CBS programming honchos also announced a two-night four-hour miniseries on the pre-World War II rise of Adolph Hitler.

Gollust elevated at NBC News Communications: Allison Gollust has been named VP of NBC News Communications. Ms. Gollust succeeds Alex Constantinople, who has been named general manager of corporate and marketing communications for NBC parent company General Electric in Fairfield, Conn.

Ms. Gollust, who has represented the “Today” show for four years, joined the network’s corporate communications department in 1997 after stints as an anchor and a reporter for Jones Intercable Television’s JTV Channel 3 in Denver and as the director of public relations for Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids. The change takes effect July 22.

No product placement for CBS: Don’t look for a can of Coke-Cola or other products to be placed in episodes of “CSI” or any of the other dramas airing on CBS next season. That’s the message from CBS Television President Leslie Moonves, who had once toyed with “virtual” product placements in off-network syndication repeats of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

While conceding that the product placement could be a more accepted practice in the future, Mr. Moonves said it is still something that usually does not fit into the natural storytelling of dramas.

“I just doesn’t seem to make sense to have a can of Coke in [an episode of] ‘CSI,’ while they are doing an autopsy,” said Mr. Moonves, who drew a chorus of laughs from TV columnists attending CBS’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., on Monday. “We are fighting [product placement] because it takes away from the purity of certain shows. It may work better with comedies, but doing it with dramas is another story.”

Also regarding advertising, Mr. Moonves did not agree with Turner Broadcasting System chairman/CEO Jamie Kellner’s assertion that the increased use of personal video recorders for ad skipping could mean the death of ad-supported television as we know it.

“We just came off of registering $2 billion in upfront ad sales, so I don’t think [PVRs] had any negative impact on our bottom line,” said Mr. Moonves, who was referring to CBS and UPN’s combined sales results. “I know that Jamie Kellner likes to make bold statements, but I don’t think [PVRs] will mean the death of broadcast television. We are looking at [PVRs] carefully. If it becomes a problem, that is the day you see a Coke can in ‘CSI.'”

UPN season debuts announced: Flush with the success of newcomers “Buffy” and “Enterprise” last season, UPN honchos Les Moonves, president of CBS Television (and has oversight of UPN), and Dawn Ostroff, UPN presiden
t of entertainment, met with the press Sunday for the network’s portion of the Television Critics Association tour, hoping to sustain the momentum but wary of challenges ahead.

The UPN duo announced premiere dates for the fall lineup, which includes one new and three returning comedy series and two new and two returning drama series. The majority of the network’s lineup will premiere the week of Sept. 23, with the exception of its Wednesday night dramas.

On Sept. 18, sophomore “Enterprise” and newcomer “The Twilight Zone” will hit the screens. The following Monday, Sept. 23, UPN’s sitcom night will be unveiled with “The Parkers,” “One on One” and “Girlfriends” all returning to join freshman “Half and Half.”

Tuesday, Sept. 24, will see the new season debut of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” followed by the series debut of “Haunted.”

As for expanding into Saturday and Sunday night prime time, Mr. Moonves acknowledged that the company was exploring the matter but would have to talk with its affiliates, noting that Fox ownership of about a dozen UPN stations could make expansion difficult.

Battle of the network rankings: Senior executives at The WB, coming off a stronger-than-expected May sweeps and a warm reception from advertisers for its 2002-03 prime-time schedule, think the network deserves to be considered among the “Big 5” broadcast networks, preferring not to be lumped into the “weblet” or “netlet” category anymore.

At last weekend’s Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, Calif., that notion raised the ire of UPN and CBS executiveswho contend UPN should be considered the fifth network, ahead of The WB.

Citing growth among its core young-adult demos, Turner Broadcasting Chairman/CEO Jamie Kellner and WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin at the WB presentation on Saturday claimed The WB’s second- or third-place ranking among the six major broadcast networks in such key demos as females 12 to 34 and adults 12 to 34 and 18 to 34 merited consideration for The WB as the “fifth network.”

However, during UPN’s succeeding TCA session on Sunday, CBS Entertainment President and CEO Leslie Moonves claimed UPN beat The WB in adults 18 to 34, adults 18 to 49 and total viewers last season. He also noted that UPN was up in “double-digit” percentages in adults 18 to 34, adults 18 to 49 and total viewers, while he claimed The WB was down 5 percent in adults 18 to 34 and flat in the other two categories.

“Yes, they did beat us in 12-year-old girls, but I understand that’s no longer their target demo,” Mr. Moonves said in a playful jab at The WB. “After all the nice things they said about us [Saturday], I just wanted to set the record straight. They’re right, we should be included in the top five and they should not be included at all. Now, I told you this was going to be fun. It’s great to have somebody else to pick on besides ABC and NBC. … I’m really enjoying this.”

NATPE adds two to board: The National Association of Television Program Executives has appointed Emerson Coleman, VP of programming at Hearst-Argyle Television, and Stephen Davis, president and CEO of Carlton America, to its board of directors.

CTAM focuses on branding, HDTV, Rigas family: The CTAM Summit’s first full day featured high-profile sessions on branding and high-definition television, but the hot-button issue du jour continued to be the prospect of imminent criminal indictments of members of Adelphia Communications’ founding family.

Asked whether Court TV would televise any prospective trial of members of the Rigas family, Court TV Chairman and CEO Henry Schleiff mused, “Outside of the industry, will it play” with viewers? He suggested that viewers wouldn’t be interested in the dry details of a trial about financial issues and “financial skullduggery,” and said that assessment extends to Enron and other high-visibility corporate cases that may end up in courtrooms accessible to Court TV’s cameras.

Time Warner Cable is “always looking to expand our footprint,” but is not specifically focused on acquiring any Adelphia systems that may come on the market, said John Billock, TWC’s vice chairman and CEO.

After Adelphia, the talk of the cable world, gathered in Boston, has been about these subjects:

— So-called reverse repurposing, which Court TV has undertaken by licensing a handful of episodes of its “Forensic Files” to NBC for what Mr. Schleiff called an “honorarium license fee.” More important than the license fee, however, are the two 15-seconds spots that Court gets on NBC’s Sunday night schedule.

— The threat of TiVo and personal video recorders, which has been viewed with alarm by AOL Time Warner’s Jamie Kellner, among others. TiVo did not worry FX President and CEO Peter Liquori, who called the technology “Switzerland. It’s neither friend nor foe,” particularly given its low level of penetration. In any case, he said, “It’s incumbent on Madison Avenue to create more interesting ads.”

— Product placement, which has been generally welcomed in television. That was something that Court TV turned down when a major computer manufacturer wanted to put a visibly branded computer on Catherine Crier’s desk. In any case, placement money is a “hobby,” Mr. Schleiff said, not a substantive revenue source.

— High-definition television, which is finally coming, said Discovery Chairman and CEO John Hendricks, who is prepared to invest heavily in the technology. First to adopt it will be viewers who value the home theater experience, he said. “Within 10 to 20 years we’re confident that high-definition television will have a great penetration within the U.S. and within the world marketplace.”

Attendance levels at this year’s CTAM are on par with last year’s session, which attracted 2,430 people. As of last Sunday night, CTAM had 2,246 registered attendees. By close of business Monday, the convention was expected to meet its goal of 2,400 to 2,500 summiteers, according to organizers.#