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Sep 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Wednesday, Sept. 18

Comcast-AT&T review period expires

Comcast Corp. and AT&T Broadband announced that the review period during which the Department of Justice would normally challenge a merger expired Tuesday night, essentially clearing any antitrust hurdles for the companies to close on their merger.

Sources said DOJ’s inaction doesn’t represent an agency seal of approval. But the sources also said it’s highly unlikely that a DOJ challenge will now be forthcoming.

“We’re trying to come to a decision on the matter as quickly as possible,” a DOJ spokeswoman said.

The deal is on day 147 of a review at the Federal Communications Commission. An FCC source said that agency plans to complete its own review within the next 33 days.

In a statement, Gene Kimmelman, director of the watchdog Consumers Union’s Washington office, said it would be “very disappointing if the government permits this merger to go through without taking steps to protect consumers from likely abuse at the hands of the nation’s largest cable monopoly.” Comcast and AT&T said they intend to close in the fourth quarter of this year.

Crime pays for HBO: The heavily hyped and hotly anticipated return of “The Sopranos” this past Sunday whacked the broadcast competition, drawing an estimated 13.4 million viewers.

The new episode, the first in 16 months, beat all the broadcast competition in the time period, as well as in that night’s primetime, and became the single most-watched program in the pay-cable network’s history. (The previous HBO ratings champ was a 1989 boxing match that drew approximately 11.3 million viewers.)

True, “60 Minutes” and the rest of the broadcast competition were in repeats. But what made the mob hit even more impressive was the fact that HBO’s reach is about one-third that of the broadcasters. What made it more impressive still was that the debut occurred on the holiday of Yom Kippur, when observant Jewish HBO subscribers were presumed to not be in front of their sets.

The true test of “The Sopranos” popularity, however, begins on subsequent Sundays, when the broadcasters come heavy, unleashing their own heavily hyped new fall-season programming.

‘Rules,’ ‘Bonnie’ break ABC out of Tuesday ratings slumber: Kicking off its first major preseason debuts on Tuesday, ABC’s new 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. (ET) comedy tandem “8 Simples Rules” and “Life With Bonnie” set highs for the night in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers — injecting the struggling network with newfound life.

In keeping with those series, a special 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. preview of the treasure hunt drama “Push, Nevada” also registered solid year-to-year ratings improvement for ABC in the time slots.

“8 Simple Rules,” the sitcom starring John Ritter, set highs for the night in adults 18 to 49 (6.0 rating/18 share), total viewers (16.9 million) and households (10.8/18) for the 8 p.m.-to-8:30 p.m. frame, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research data. Although CBS and NBC were still in their summer repeat modes, “8 Simple Rules'” strong opening held a 20 percent margin of victory over Fox’s season premiere of “That ’70s Show” — a veteran time period winner — among the adults 18 to 49 demo (6.0/18 vs. 5.0/15). “’70s Show” dropped 12 percent from its year-ago premiere-episode average in adults 18 to 49 (5.7/16).

The special 8:30 p.m.-to-9 p.m. preview of “Life With Bonnie,” which moves into its normal 9 p.m. berth next week, also held a telling 31 percent advantage over Fox’s “Grounded for Life” in adults 18 to 49 (5.9/16 vs. 4.5/12) — and retained 98 percent of its “8 Simples Rules” lead-in. Overall, the Bonnie Hunt sitcom scored second-best tallies for the night in total viewers (15.8 million) and households (10.3/17).

Most telling is how “Rules” and “Bonnie” improved ABC fortunes in the time slots vs. year-ago programming. “Rules'” score in adults 18 to 49 marked a robust 131 percent jump over what “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” averaged in the Sept. 18, 2001 time period (6.0 rating vs. 2.6 rating), while “Bonnie” registered 127 percent improvement vs. the game show’s average. In total viewers “Rules'” and “Bonnie” are up by 65 percent and 55 percent, respectively, from “Millionaire’s” 10.2 million headcount average last year.

“Push, Nevada,” got a special preview before premiering in its normal 9 p.m. Thursday time slot this week and managed to finish a competitive third in the 9 p.m. Tuesday hour among adults 18 to 49 (4.2/11) but also won the hour in total viewers (12.0 million) and households (7.8/12). One troubling sign for “Push” was its 15 percent drop among adults 18 to 49 going from its 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. frames (4.6/12 vs. 3.9/12).

The last hour of NBC’s repeat of “Cosby: A Look Back” won the hour in adults 18 to 49 (4.5/12), followed by Fox’s “Movie’s Funniest Outtakes” special (4.4/11).

For the night, Fox’s two-hour prime-time Tuesday lineup won in adults 18 to 49 (4.6/13), while ABC came in second in the demo (4.3/12) but won in total viewers (12.1 million) and households (8.0/13). NBC came in third in adults 18 to 49 (3.7/10), followed by CBS (2.1/6).

Martial arts network planned: The martial arts, which tend to attract the tough-to-reach young male crowd, are getting their own 24/7 cable network, Blackbelt TV, scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2003.

Six of 10 major multiple system operators have agreed to carry the new network, which is backed by the producers of “Mortal Kombat,” according to a network spokeswoman, though contracts have not yet been signed. The ad-supported network will launch with a nearly 15,000-hour library, including feature films from Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures Entertainment. Films on Blackbelt will include “Enter the Dragon,” “Once Upon A Time in China,” “The Karate Kid,” “Drunken Master” and “Double Impact.” The network will also feature such television series as “Kung Fu” and “Mortal Kombat Conquest.” Blackbelt also plans to telecast kickboxing from Thailand, martial arts from Japan, boxing from Europe and America and judo from Korea, along with health and fitness and self-defense programming and Japanese anime.

“Martial arts has permeated our pop culture today,” said producer Larry Kasanoff (“Mortal Kombat”), the network’s chairman and the former president of Lightstorm Entertainment, director James Cameron’s production company. “You can see outstanding martial arts sequences in virtually every blockbuster film and hit TV show.”

Primary investors in Blackbelt TV include Threshold Entertainment, Fusient Media Ventures and Sirius Investment Corp.

Oswald new GM at KSNW: Shawn Oswald has replaced Al Buch as VP and general manager of KSNW-TV, the Emmis-owned NBC affiliate in Wichita, Kansas. Mr. Oswald most recently was general sales manager of Emmis’s WFTX-TV in Fort Myers, a position he’s had since July 2000.

In making the announcement, Emmis Television President Randall Bongarten said Mr. Oswald had “led a tremendous turnaround in Fort Myers.”

McCarthy joins law firm: Mike McCarthy, former senior executive VP for Belo Corp., has joined the law firm of Wiley, Rein & Fielding in Washington as a partner, effective Oct. 1.

Johnson named news director of WNBC: WNBC-TV has named Barbara Johnson its news director effective Sept. 23. Ms. Johnson most recently was executive producer of the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts across town at WABC-TV, where she worked for Dan Forman. Mr. Forman recently returned to WNBC as VP of news and station manager. Ms. Johnson joined the ABC flagship station in 1991 after three years at WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C.

Tucker new VP at Crown Media: Mindy Tucker has been named to the newly created position of VP, corporate development, at Crown Media Holdings, which owns and operates the Hallmark Channel.

Ms. Tucker will focus on strategic planning and special corporate projects and will be responsible for all aspects of Crown Media Holdings’ investor relations. Ms. Tucker will be based in New York and report to Bill Aliber, Crown’s executive VP and chief financial officer.

Before joining Crown Media Holdings Ms. Tucker served as corporate VP, strategic planning for
Loews Cineplex Entertainment.