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Jul 19, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Friday, July 19

Pittman out, Bewkes and Albrecht elevated at AOL TW

Robert Pittman has resigned as the chief operating officer of AOL Time Warner, the company said Thursday when it announced an operation restructuring that elevates HBO Chairman Jeff Bewkes to head of a newly formed Entertainment & Networks Group and names HBO original programming President Chris Albrecht to succeed Mr. Bewkes as chairman and CEO.

Mr. Bewkes’ group includes HBO, New Line Cinema, The WB, Turner Networks, Warner Bros. and Warner Music. Another new division, the Media & Communications group, will be headed by Time Inc. Chairman Don Logan and will consist of America Online, Time Inc., Time Warner Cable, Time Warner Book Group and Interactive Video unit.

Mr. Pittman’s primary charge was the company’s America Online division. His resignation follows weeks of speculation that he would leave the company as a result of America Online’s continuing financial problems and AOL Time Warner’s dismal stock performance and missed growth targets. In a prepared statement, Mr. Pittman said he would stay on at AOL Time Warner until a new CEO is named.

Bill Nelson, HBO’s executive VP in charge of finance, information and operations, has been promoted to HBO chief operating officer.

Chi-town blackout for the Bears?: With the Chicago Bears football team forced to temporarily play its home games in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., next season, and the National Football League poised to uphold its blackout policy for nonsellout games, Fox and the other networks are said to be lobbying heavily for a potential exception to the long-standing rule.

The specter of home-game TV blackouts in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest market (counting over 3 million TV households), would find Fox — a carrier of National Football Conference teams and beneficiary of four Bear home games next season — negatively impacted by losing 3 percent of U.S. coverage in the national ratings.

If the Bears were unable to sell out the University of Illinois’ 70,000-seat Memorial Stadium, CBS (a carrier of the American Football Conference) could see its two inter-league home games set for Champaign (New England Patriots visiting Nov. 10; New York Jets Dec. 15) similarly blacked out in Chicago.

ABC also has one “Monday Night Football game (Green Bay Packers vs. the Bears) on Oct. 7, while sister Disney cable network ESPN has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers heading into Champaign for a Sunday night showdown Dec. 29. As has been the case since 1995, the broadcast network rights holders have been suffering some ratings erosion because the NFL still lacks any home-market team in Los Angeles — the nation’s second-largest market (at 5.5 million TV homes).

A spokesman for Fox Sports confirmed that the network had been in discussions with NFL executives, but nothing has yet been hashed out as to whether the league would exempt the Bears from its home-market blackout rule. He also noted that Fox still has some time before the Bear’s regular season home opener Sept. 8 (vs. the Minnesota Vikings) to try to resolve the situation.

There was no immediate word if CBS and ABC are similarly lobbying the NFL for an exception, and an NFL spokesman was unreachable for comment as of late Friday.

Chung beats Donahue: After three straight nights of ratings decline, MSNBC’s “Donahue” was decisively whipped by CNN’s Connie Chung Thursday night. Ms. Chung, whose show focused on the Samantha Runnion kidnapping and the Inglewood, Calif., police brutality case, attracted 957,000 viewers. Phil Donahue, who on his show waged an extended debate with caustic conservative writer Ann Coulter, drew 523,000 viewers. He debuted on July 15 to 1.1 million viewers and lost 40 percent of his audience the second night. Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly outdrew his two competitors combined with 2.395 million viewers.

Marenghi VP at WCBS: Julio Marenghi is in and Greg Schaefer is out as VP and station manager at WCBS-TV in New York. Mr. Marenghi was sales manager at WNBC-TV in New York before joining the Viacom stations group as senior VP of sales in March 2002. He’ll report to new WCBS general manager Lew Leone, who jumped from the NBC stations team with Dennis Swanson, the former WNBC general manager who just completed his first week as chief operating officer of the Viacom group.

‘Ellen Show’ co-creator sues ATG: Add series producer Mitchell Hurwitz, the co-creator of “The Ellen Show” (formerly on CBS), to the list of litigants suing Michael Ovitz’s once wholly owned Artists Management Group.

Mr. Hurwitz’s production company (The Hurwitz Co.), which filed suit July 11 in the California Superior Court of Los Angeles, is seeking $759,874 of $8.5 million in producer fees it claims Mr. Ovitz’s now-shuttered Artists Television Group was contractually obligated to pay.

The suit, submitted by attorney Mark Hurwitz (his father), alleged that ATG paid roughly $6.87 million in biweekly producer fees on the Ellen DeGeneres-led sitcom, which aired on CBS from September 2001 until its cancellation last January.

The brief indicates that ATG’s “guaranteed” payments stopped as of Oct. 23, 2001, and Mr. Hurwitz seeks applicable interest for The Hurwitz Co. CBS Productions, which took over production of “The Ellen Show” after Mr. Ovitz closed down Artists Television Group in August 2001, is not named as party to the Hurwitz suit.

The latest round of litigation comes on the heels of former ATG President Eric Tannenbaum’s filing a fraud, breach of contract and defamation suit against the company last April. Mr. Tannenbaum, a longtime Columbia TriStar Television network production head, claimed he had been deprived on the balance of a five-year guaranteed contract and seeks $9.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Mr. Ovitz ‘s attorney’s filed an answer last May claiming Mr. Tannenbaum was “engaging in a highly publicized smear campaign” against the former partner and founder of the Creative Artists Agency.

Attorneys for Mr. Hurwitz and Mr. Tannenbaum were unreachable for comment on the status on the suits. A representative for Artists Management Group did not return phone calls as of press time Friday.#