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Jan 17, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Posted Friday, Jan. 17.

‘West Wing’ picked up for two more years

As expected, NBC picked up “The West Wing” for two more years, with an option for a third, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said Friday at the Television Critics Association press tour in Hollywood.

Mr. Zucker acknowledged that the series’ ratings have declined this season but said it is still the best show on television. “There is no show on television we’d rather have,” he said. “‘The West Wing’ is as valuable to us as it’s ever been.”

He said that as reality shows invade the airwaves, it makes quality scripted programs even more valuable to advertisers and viewers.

Season-to-date, “West Wing” is averaging a 5.0 Nielsen Media Research rating and 12 share in the 18 to 49 demo. It is NBC’s eighth-highest-rated show among adults 18 to 49 and No. 20 among all series on TV.

Mr. Zucker also said next year will be the final season for “Friends,” which was renewed for an 18-episode 10th season last month. “The door is not open after that,” he said.

On the reality front, Mr. Zucker said unscripted reality programming is “a great way to fill holes when your scripted programming fails.” That’s why NBC has scheduled its unscripted reality series for the summer. Mr. Zucker said that aside from Tuesdays from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., NBC doesn’t have a lot of troubled time periods.

This summer, however, 60 percent of NBC’s schedule will be original programming, including unscripted shows “Around the World in 80 Dates,” Dick Wolf’s “Crime & Punishment,” “Dog Eat Dog,” “The Fast and the Furious,” “Last Comic Standing,” “Love Shack,” “Next Action Star,” “Race to the Altar” and “The Restaurant.”

In other programming news, new drama “Kingpin” will premiere on Sunday, Feb. 2, at 10 p.m. and then run at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays and Sundays for three weeks. The first episode is eight minutes longer than a normal drama hour and will run with limited commercial interruptions, Mr. Zucker said. “Kingpin” will be broadcast in Spanish on the network’s secondary audio program channel. In March, the six-episode run of “Kingpin” will run in Spanish on Telemundo, and a director’s cut version will run on the Bravo cable channel, which is also owned by NBC. The director’s cut version will contain adult-themed scenes that didn’t make it into the broadcast airing.

Bravo will also run a “Boomtown” marathon on March 2 showing the first 12 episodes of the series. It will end at 10 p.m., when viewers can then switch over to NBC to see a new episode of “Boomtown.” Mr. Zucker said “Boomtown” will remain an arts and entertainment network and not turn into a channel full of repurposed NBC programming.

NBC’s February sweeps plans include supersized versions of “Friends,” “Scrubs” and “Will & Grace” airing on Jan. 30 and an hour-long “Dateline” special on Monday, Feb. 17, about pop singer Michael Jackson’s face. Mr. Zucker said “Watching Ellie” will return in March as a multicamera sitcom with a studio audience.

Mr. Zucker said “Hunter,” starring Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer, is back in production as a weekly series. It will return to the schedule with a two-hour episode on Saturday, April 12, from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Five more episodes will air on subsequent Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.

An updated version of game show “Let’s Make a Deal” will premiere for five episodes on Saturday, March 1, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., with “Access Hollywood’s” Billy Bush hosting.

In May, NBC will air a Bob Hope special marking the entertainer’s 100th birthday. Also in the works for April and May are “Behind the Camera: The Unofficial Story of ‘Three’s Company'” and a movie about Martha Stewart starring Cybill Shepherd in the title role.

While the network did take another look at 4-year-old drama “Providence,” Mr. Zucker said, it will not return next season. Daytime soap opera “Passions” was picked up for another year.

News Corp., Cablevision extend partnership: News Corp. and Cablevision Systems Corp. are continuing Regional Programming Partners, their sports partnership, for another three years. News Corp. did not exercise a put option, which expired on Jan. 17 and is not exercisable again until Dec. 2005, and so will retain a 40 percent interest in RPP at least until that date. Cablevision, through its Rainbow Media Holdings subsidiary, will retain a 60 percent interest.

RPP includes Fox Sports Net New York, Fox Sports Net New England, Fox Sports Net Ohio, Fox Sports Net Chicago, Fox Sports Net Bay Area, Fox Sports Net Florida, the Madison Square Garden Network, three Metro Channels and the Madison Square Garden properties, which include both the Garden itself and Radio City Music Hall, as well as the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers sports teams. News Corp. will, however, exercise a related “sidecar” put option affecting its separate 50 percent interest in Fox Sports Net Chicago and Fox Sports Net Bay Area, which RPP will now acquire.

“This agreement gives Fox a consistent 40 percent stake in virtually all of the regional sports networks in the Fox-Rainbow joint venture,” Tony Vinciquerra, president and CEO of Fox Networks Group, said in a statement.

The RPP assets are “among the strongest sports properties in the industry and represent important strategic assets to both Cablevision and Rainbow,” Hank Ratner, Cablevision’s new vice chairman, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with News Corp. on continuing to grow these valuable businesses.”

Bornstein suits up with the NFL: Former ABC and ESPN president Steve Bornstein has become a full-fledged member of the National Football League team. Mr. Bornstein, who became an advisor to the league on TV and new media last September and helped extend the NFL Sunday Ticket on DirecTV through 2007, has been named executive VP for media and president and CEO of the 24-hour NFL Channel scheduled to launch in fall 2003.