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Oct 10, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Posted Thursday, October 10

CBS adding Syler to ‘Early Show’

CBS News has tapped Rene Syler, a weekday anchor in Dallas but unknown on the national scene, to join Julie Chen, Harry Smith, and Hannah Storm on the revamped “Early Show,” according to executives with knowledge of the situation. CBS had no comment.

Ms. Syler currently works at Viacom-owned KTVT-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth.

CBS decided to revamp the “Early Show”‘ after Bryant Gumbel left the program in May. Co-anchor Jane Clayson was reassigned to “The CBS Evening News” last month as a correspondent. And longtime weatherman and entertainment reporter Mark McEwen also is moving on. There has been speculation that “Early” will tuck weather into the news headlines.

Wald out at ‘Today’: Jonathan Wald is being replaced as the “Today” show executive producer after less than 11/2 years at the helm of NBC News’ cash cow.

NBC News is said to be in negotiation with Tom Touchet, a former ABC News special events producer who was a key producer on “Good Morning America,” which trails rival “Today” by upwards of 1 million viewers but which shows a momentum “Today” does not. It is uncertain when there might be a deal with Mr. Touchet or what Mr. Wald will do next. There was no immediate comment from NBC News.

NBC News President Neal Shapiro put e-mailed news of the change to staffers late Thursday and said Mr. Wald would continue to run the show “as we prepare for a transition.” Mr. Shapiro said the network is taking to Mr. Wald about “other important opportunities.

Mr. Wald was coming off a successful run as executive producer of “NBC Nightly News” when he took over “Today” in May 2001.

He had a tough act to follow in Jeff Zucker, a showman who is colorful and so confident people often describe him as cocky. Mr. Zucker had been promoted to NBC Entertainment president after a stellar run as executive producer of “Today” and longtime producer and confidante of “Today” star anchor Katie Couric.

The 30-something Mr. Touchet is said to revel in big breaking stories and is described as smart, sure of himself, personable and a “terrific” voice in the ear of talent. Ms. Couric has not had that since Mr. Zucker moved West.

Though Mr. Wald’s relationship with the staff and talent of “Today” appeared to settle down and become less contentious in recent months, he never seemed to win the confidence of Ms. Couric, co-host Matt Lauer or key network executives, who thought it best to make the change while “Today” still had ratings room to spare.

“Today” remains a clear No. 1 in the morning with an average of 5.68 million viewers the week ending Oct. 4. “GMA” that week averaged 4.62 million viewers but could point to year-to-year improvements in key demos while “Today” was off in both demos and total viewers.

Lee picked to lead CBS Affiliates Board: Bob Lee, president and general manager of Schurz Communications-owned WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va., is the new chairman of the CBS Television Network Affiliates Advisory Board. Newly promoted Freedom Broadcasting President Doreen Wade is the chairman-elect and can be expected to succeed him in two years.

Elected district representatives are Scott Blumenthal, general manager of LIN Television’s WISH-TV in Indianapolis, and John Ray, general manager of Gray Television’s WRDW-TV in North Augusta, S.C. Usually there are 11 district representatives, but the group is currently minus one director due to the recent exit of General Manager Al Bova from Meredith-owned WFSB-TV. An election to fill the spot is scheduled for early 2003, but an interim director may be appointed, Mr. Lee said.

‘Craig Kilborn’ promotes Yasui, Gibbons: CBS’s “The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn” has promoted producer Todd Yasui to executive producer of the four-year-old talk show staple while head writer Mike Gibbons is getting a producer title. The appointments were announced by Rob Burnett, CEO of David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants Productions.

Mr. Yasui was rewarded with his EP stripes after less than a year with the program. Mr. Gibbons, who has been with “The Late Late Show” for three years, takes on oversight of the 12:35 a.m. to 1:35 a.m. (ET) show’s writing staff.

“It’s an old showbiz technique to give out impressive job titles without increasing salaries,” Mr. Kilborn joked in a prepared statement. “Next year, I’ll add the word ‘Senior’ to both titles.”

Cost to produce TV commercials rising: The average cost to produce national television commercials in 2001 increased eight percent for 30-second spots and five percent for commercials regardless of length, according to the American Association of Advertising Agencies’ 2001 Television Production Cost Survey.

That reversed the 2000 AAAA finding, when the average cost to produce a national spot declined three percent for 30-second spots and one percent for commercials regardless of length.

In actual dollars, the eight-percent increase represents $26,000, up to $358,000 for the average 30-second spot. For national commercials of all lengths, the five percent production cost increase represents $16,000, up to $322,000 .

Factors in the cost rises include higher production company net costs (up four percent, from $228,000 in 2000 to $236,000 in 2001) and increased directors’ fees (up 10 percent for 30-second spots to $23,000 in 2001 compared to 2000, when they fell five percent).

Sixty-nine percent, or 1,189, of the 1,725 national commercials (of all lengths) reported in 2001 were 30-second commercials.

WB’s “Birds of Prey” takes ratings flight: Wednesday is becoming another major growth night for The WB with the record series premiere of the femme-powered “Birds of Prey” last night. As the last major series rollout in The WB’s primetime schedule, “Birds of Prey” set a record for a fall premiere in scoring a 5.4 rating among the male 18 to 34 demographic-first among all six of the broadcast networks, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data.

Additionally, the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. (ET) run of “Birds of Prey” racked up 7.5 million total viewers and equally robust scores in males 12 to 34 (4.9 rating) and men 18 to 49 (4.1 rating). Among women 18 to 34, “BOP,” as its referred to at the Frog, scored 85 percent retention out of 8 p.m. lead-in “Dawson’s Creek” (4.6 rating vs. 5.4 rating).

Also, among adults 18 to 34, “BOP’s” 5.0 rating tied last year’s 9 p.m. Tuesday premiere of “Smallville.” The Batgirl-Catwoman drama also saw its 3.9 rating in adults 18 to 49 score a robust 117 percent increase over what “Felicity’s” last year’s season opener scored in the comparable week (1.8 rating).

FCC blocks EchoStar-Comcast deal: The Federal Communications Commission today dealt a blow to EchoStar Communications’ proposed acquisition of Hughes Electronics’ DirecTV unit, rejecting the deal on the grounds that the combination would be anticompetitive, resulting in higher prices and lower-quality services and hurting innovation.

The commission said during its midday announcement today that considering the “enormous potential public harms, there is no easy fix to this,” after reporters asked whether EchoStar and DirecTV can save the deal, originally valued at $26 billion, by producing a revised merger plan in the next 30 days. “They have a very steep hill to climb,” an FCC spokesperson said.

Sources said it is the first time in 30 years the FCC has blocked a deal and acted before the Department of Justice leveled a judgment on a pending transaction, although it has been hinting about its rejection. Since the FCC cannot deny the deal outright, the EchoStar-DirecTV proposal now goes to public administrative hearings, which could begin within 45 to 90 days. Hughes cannot talk to other interested suitors until the “drop dead” date of Jan. 21, 2003, when the parties, by virtue of their own merger pact, are free to part company if a deal has not been completed.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is expected to jump back into the bidding fray. For now, industry experts say they expect EchoStar to fight paying DirecTV a $600 million breakup fee or having to acquire Hughes’ 81 percent stake in PanAmSat f
or $2.7 billion, as called for in the merger pact. FCC officials told reporters that EchoStar’s “prior behavior” was considered in reviewing the case. “Based on the record, the commission cannot find that this merger is in the public interest,” FCC Chairman Michael Powell said at a news conference. “The combination of EchoStar and DirecTV would have us replace a vibrant competitive market with a regulated monopoly.”

EchoStar and Hughes have argued the deal would increase competition in the pay-television market, reduce inefficient use of spectrum to deliver programming, and give consumers more local channels and high-speed Internet service.

At today’s trading prices, the EchoStar-DishTV deal is valued at about $17 billion.

ABC confirms early shove for ‘Push, Nevada,’ ‘That Was Then’: As previously reported (EMonline, Oct. 9), struggling ABC rookie “Push, Nevada” has been canceled while frosh drama “That Was Then” has been placed on an immediate “broadcast hiatus,” the network confirmed today.

Meanwhile, ABC’s “reverse,” repurposed run of USA Network’s “Monk” will have it moving from ABC’s current 9 p.m. (ET) Thursday berth to the 8 p.m. Monday hour — leading into “Monday Night Football” — beginning Nov. 18. Long-in-the-tooth 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. Monday comedies “The Drew Carey Show” and “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” will be moving into the 9 p.m. Friday hour on Nov. 8.

Although “Drew” and “Whose Line” have averaged a 2.2 rating/6 share among adults 18 to 49 for the Monday opening hour, the comedies are off 15 percent from what the previously banished “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” averaged in the year-ago time slot. But as ABC seeks to bring a wider swath of adult demographics to “Monday Night Football,” the “Drew”/”Whose” combo was averaging just 5.5 million viewers in the 8 p.m. Monday slot — off a hefty 45 percent from the 10 million head count for “Millionaire” in the slot.

“Monk,” on the other hand, has continued on a sustained growth track in the 8 p.m. Thursday hour despite facing the cataclysmic ratings competition from NBC’s “Friends” and CBS’s “Survivor: Thailand” in the frame. Going into the opening Monday hour, ABC executives are said to keen about “Monk” bringing in a broader demo base into “Monday Night Football.”

With “That Was Then” giving way on Friday, steady reality player “America’s Funniest Home Videos” will be super-sized to a full two hours (8 p.m. to 10 p.m.) on Oct. 11 and 18. “Home Videos” will follow with an original Halloween-themed episode Oct. 25 (at 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.) — preceded by Charlie Brown and Winnie The Pooh specials at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Susan Lyne, president of ABC Entertainment, suggested in a prepared statement that “Home Videos” will provide a more compatible lead-in flow for “Drew” and “Whose Line,” which are into eighth and fifth seasons, respectively.

“We think Friday night presents a great opportunity for a strong comedy block,” Ms. Lyne said. “The pairing of ‘Drew’ and ‘Whose Line’ with ‘Monday Night Football’ made great sense from a demographic viewpoint, but clearance issues due to football really impacted their numbers. Drew has been such an important creative force on ABC — we hope longtime fans of both his series will rediscover them on Friday nights.”

As for the Ben Affleck- and Sean Bailey-created “Push, Nevada,” its seventh episode will mark the culmination of the hybrid drama/treasure hunt contest on Thursday, Oct. 24 (9 p.m. to 10 p.m.). ABC said details of the “revised rules” will be announced and posted soon on abc.com.

To buy ABC some time to decide what to do with the 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. Thursday time slots, the two-hour series premiere of “Monk” will be broadcast on Oct. 31 to temporarily fill the 9 p.m. vacancy of “Push, Nevada.” ABC officials said other November sweeps-related scheduling plans for Thursday will be forthcoming shortly.

“Both ‘That Was Then’ and ‘Push, Nevada’ are creatively very strong, but we were simply unable to attract a mass audience for them,” Ms. Lyne stated. “We want viewers of ‘Push’ to see the outcome of Prufrock’s investigation, and airing it through the seventh episode will give closure to the story line.

“As for ‘That Was Then,’ it was a good show in a bad time period. We have six remaining episodes that we fully anticipate trying in a different time slot later on.”

‘Bachelor’ driving ABC prime-time growth: Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, ABC’s revamped Wednesday comedy lineup and “The Bachelor II” sustained their growth — gnawing away at NBC’s “Ed” and “The West Wing” dramas.

In addition to winning the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. frame (ET) among adults 18 to 49 with “My Wife and Kids” (5.0 rating/15 share) and “George Lopez” (5.0/13), the 9 p.m. run of “Bachelor II” hit ratings overdrive by improving 28 percent on its lead-in hour, according to preliminary Nielsen Media Research fast national data. “Bachelor” won the 9 p.m. frame over NBC’s once untouchable “West Wing” by a 23 percent margin in adults 18 to 49 (6.4/16 vs. 5.2/13). In a troubling signal for the new season, “West Wing’s” latest outing marks a 41 percent drop from its year-ago week time-period average in the key demo (8.8/21).

“Bachelor,” on the other hand, has seen its third weekly score in adults 18 to 49 mark a 25 percent improvement from its week-ago season opener (4.9/12) and 30 percent over ABC’s year-ago average with “Drew Carey Show” and “Whose Line Is It Anyway” (5.1/12 ) for the hour. Not surprisingly, “Bachelor’s” best demo scores came from women 18 to 34 (9.6/25) and women 18 to 49 (8.5/20), but also came in a competitive second to “West Wing” in total viewers (12.8 million vs. 15.6 million).

Meanwhile, CBS’s competing 9 p.m. reality hour, “The Amazing Race,” appeared a bit stalled and dropped 8 percent week to week at a third-ranked score in adults 18 to 49 (3.6/9 vs. 3.9/10).

The stronger lead-in flow from its comedies and “Bachelor” allowed ABC’s 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. medical drama “MDs” to show new signs of life, improving 3 percent week to week in adults 18 to 49 (3.1/8 vs. 2.9/8). It also turned the table and beat CBS’s “Presidio Med,” which was down a slight 3 percent week to week (2.9/8 vs. 3.0/8).

Still, despite “Ed” also being down 20 percent year to year in adults 18 to 49 for the 8 p.m. hour (3.7/10 vs. 4.6/12) and “West Wing” sagging even worse, NBC’s trusted “Law & Order” granddaddy improved 42 percent on the “West Wing” lead-in among adults 18 to 49 (7.4/20). “Law & Order” was up 6 percent from the previous week (7.0/19) but down 12 percent from its year-ago Wednesday average (8.4/22).

NBC won the night in prime time among adults 18 to 49 (5.4/14), but that was down 26 percent from its year-ago week Wednesday average (7.3/18). ABC came in a competitive second among adults 18 to 49 (4.8/13), improving 11 percent from its score last Wednesday and 2 percent from the year-ago evening. CBS’s fourth-ranked 3.1/8 was flat against week-ago and year-ago scores. Fox, which aired game one of the National League Championship Series in baseball, turned in preliminary third-place scores in adults 18 to 49 (3.4/9) and total viewers (9.6 million) during prime time.

Sunday newsmaker ratings battle: The race for second place among Sunday newsmaker shows is looking like a rollercoaster ride. On Oct. 6, NBC’s “Meet the Press” averaged 3.69 million viewers, followed by CBS’s “Face the Nation” (2.63 million, up from the previous week’s 2.28 million). Slipping into third was ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” with 2.58 million (down from 2.72 million the previous week). “Fox News Sunday” averaged 1.17 (down from 1.4 million the previous week).

ABC News pointed out that Mr. Stephanopoulos’ four-week average of 2.8 million is up 4 percent over “This Week” in the four weeks prior to him taking over from Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts and is higher than “Face’s” 2.61 million over the past four Sundays.

Zakaria joins ABC News as analyst: Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria has been signed as an analyst for ABC News programs, including “This Week,” on which Mr. Zakaria will be a regular member of the roundtable on Sunday morni
ngs, appearing at least twice a month with ABC News’ own Michel Martin and conservative columnist George Will.

AT&T Broadband to eliminate 1,700 jobs: In anticipation of closing on its proposed merger with Comcast in early November, AT&T Broadband will eliminate 1,700 jobs and close more than half of its facilities at its headquarters in Englewood, Colo. Comcast is preparing to send teams of its own executives to especially troubled big-market AT&T system areas to start upgrading and improving margins. AT&T Broadband has 40,000 employees nationwide. Half of the announced layoffs are merger-related and will occur once the deal closes. The remainder will occur by mid-2003. AT&T-Comcast will be headquartered in Philadelphia.