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The Insider

Jul 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The Insider must be forgiven for all style, logic and informational lapses today, because she is feeling just a tad dehydrated, headachey and otherwise out of it due to a few too many rounds of her personal MSNBC drinking game. Every time one of MSNBC’s shows booked another MSNBC show’s host (or NBC News, NBC Sports or CNBC personality) as a guest last week, The Insider bottomsed up, so to speak. Ditto every time an MSNBC show host introduced a guest as “My good friend.” By week’s end, the set and title graphics for “Nachman,” starring The Insider’s onetime editor Jerry Nachman, had begun to seem so evocative of Matt Drudge’s late-`90s Saturday night show on Fox News Channel that The Insider half expected a stagehand to race out mid-segment to slap a forgotten fedora on Mr. Nachman’s head. At that point, The Insider assembled all her surviving brain cells and packed them off for a 12-step weekend.
Gone but neither forgotten nor retired
Meanwhile, across the Hudson River, at NBC headquarters, there was a different kind of hangover last week. NBC suits were feeling the aftereffects of WNBC-TV’s wonder worker Dennis Swanson’s defection to the in-need-of-a-miracle Viacom stations group, where he’s now the No. 2 executive.
While people familiar with the situation at 30 Rock insist that neither NBC stations President Jay Ireland nor NBC Chairman Bob Wright wanted Mr. Swanson to leave, The Insider hears that Mr. Swanson handed in his resignation at the end of June, after laying out a list of issues/demands for Mr. Wright and Mr. Ireland and being told, essentially, No can do.
Although Mr. Swanson told his bosses he was “retiring,” they half expected he would show up somewhere else-just not a few blocks away only one business day after he walked out of WNBC, taking with him Lew Leone, who was to have been promoted to head of sales for the NBC O&Os but who instead was named general manager of WCBS-TV.
Neither Mr. Swanson nor Mr. Leone was under contract. That’s been the habit at NBC-owned stations for as long as most folks can remember-which is to say at least since the General Electric era started. A source insists that not all NBC-owned general managers are working sans contract. Numerous sources who suspect Mr. Swanson’s talent-raiding days aren’t over tell The Insider they are counting the days until NBC waves a piece of paper under the nose of contractless station managers.
Many people have spent much energy on the question of whether the beginning of the Swanson-Leone era means the end of the Joel Cheatwood era at Viacom. The Insider wouldn’t need to blow money on Megamillions lottery tickets if she could just get a dollar for every time someone claimed to have seen Mr. Cheatwood’s name in the handwriting on the wall.
So The Insider these days tends to hang out at water coolers, where the wags pose snarky questions such as: As long as Ernie Anastos is the defining news personality, is any attempt to turn around WCBS news like trying to keep an eight-track tape player working in a CD world?
Best Damn Promo Protest Period
When it comes to Fox Sports Net’s “Best Damn Sports Show Period,” the pitchmen at Fox Sports have done their job well. An “All-Star Summer” promotional blitz started in June with the arrival of a snazzy soft minicooler packed with a highlight tape, two bottles of Mike’s Hard Iced Tea and a press kit that included what already had been written about the year-old show that bills actor-comedian Tom Arnold as “the voice of the fan” and an implicit plea to write more about “BDSSP.”
Unable to open any publication or watch any celebrity-obsessed TV show or turn on the radio for the past few weeks without bumping into yet another piece about “BDSSP,” The Insider had rashly assumed that the beginning of Mr. Arnold’s delayed honeymoon would mean an end to the tidal wave of ink about the sports show for viewers (mostly men) who want comedy without having to exert the energy it takes to click to the Comedy Channel.
Alas, a contingent of 12 or so writers was scheduled to break out of the Television Critics Association compound in Pasadena, Calif., for a field trip to “BDSSP” on the eve of Mr. Arnold’s Best Damn Hawaiian Honeymoon Period. So The Insider is going to studiously avoid reading any of those writers’ newspapers for the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, The Insider is told that the Best Damn Sports Pitchmen Period produced significant ratings and demo upticks for the weeks of June 24 through July 5: an average of 335,000 homes per night (including the prime-time and late-night telecasts), up 22 percent from its average of 274,000 homes for the second quarter through June 24. Tune-in among the demographic target group of men 18 to 49 is up 55 percent in late-night and up 28 percent in prime time.
Still, The Insider wonders whether “BBDSP” isn’t a sign of impending apocalypse for niche programming. Of course, she also wonders whether a “lemon clear malt beverage” isn’t a sign that the end of imbibing is here.