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Feb 18, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Kent Turner chairman as Kellner returns to The WB

Jamie Kellner is going back to The WB, which he launched, and will serve as its CEO and chairman until his contract runs out in the summer of 2004. At that point, he will leave the AOL Time Warner. He is being replaced as chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting System by Phil Kent, the former Turner executive who was one of the first casualties during the Kellner Era at CNN News Group, the Turner entertainment network and the Turner sports properties. When the contract is up in 2004, “It is my intention to end my career at that point,” Mr. Kellner told a telephone press conference, in which Mr. Kent and Jeffrey Bewkes, chairman of AOL Time Warner’s Entertainment and Networks Group, also participated. Mr. Kellner will continue, however, as CEO and chairman of Acme Communications, The WB’s third-largest station group, and he also expressed the hope that from time to time he would be called on as a kithchen-cabinet-style advisor to the network.

In his new position, Mr. Kent will report to Mr. Bewkes. When he resigned in 2001, Mr. Kent had been president and COO of the CNN News Group for little more than a year — a year of deep cutbacks and multiple executive realignments, including the appointment of Time magazines veteran Walter Isaacson as CNN chairman. Mr. Isaacson himself is leaving AOL TW in the next few months to run the Aspen Institute think tank. Mr. Kellner and Mr. Isaacson had pushed last year for a merger of ABC News and CNN, a deal officially declared dead by AOL Time Warner Chairman Richard Parsons last week because it was too complicated. Mr. Kellner said he was “disappointed” by the failure of the merger proposal, but that it had nothing to do with his resignation, which he attributed to a desire to spend more time with his family. “I’m ten years older and I need more sleep than I think I’d get if I tried to do another network,” Mr. Kellner said, referring to the fact that he’d been a senior member of the teams that started both The WB and, before it, Fox Broadcasting. “That’s enough for me,” he said.

Asked to say what Mr. Kellner’s legacy would be, Mr. Kent replied that Mr. Kellner had “raised the bar on all the presentational aspects” of CNN and the other Turner networks, and specifically pointed to the new CNN studio facility in New York City. Mr. Kent also said that he would “absolutely” keep the current CNN leadership team. Mr. Bewkes said that Ted Turner, long-regarded as an opponent of Mr. Kellner’s leadership at Turner Broadcasting, “did not have a role in Jamie’s decision.” According to Mr. Bewkes, Mr. Turner is “quite happy” with Mr. Kent’s ascension.

Mr. Kent recalled that he had resigned in 2001 because his job at CNN had been “marginalized” after he was turned down for the top spot at CNN, and that he “didn’t agree” with the decision to put a journalist, i.e., Mr. Isaacson, in the top spot. “I just felt the right thing to do was take myself out of the picture,” he said.

On the question of whether or not CNN is for sale for the right price, Mr. Bewkes told a questioner, “I can’t answer that yes” CNN is for sale, because that would incite press speculation about a change in the company’s position vis a vis the cable news network. He did add that the AOL TW board and management had a responsibility to take serious “motivating” offers seriously. He concluded by telling the questioner, “If you’re asking if we’re putting [CNN] up for sale, the answer is no.”

There was no immediate word about the future status of such key Kellner lieutenants as spokesman Brad Turell, and Garth Ancier and David Neuman who, despite having no news background, had helped Mr. Kellner make major changes in CNN’s on-air look and talent lineup. Mr. Kellner referred a press conference question about their future to Mr. Kent, who did not address the issue directly. Veterans of the Time Warner side of the corporate family cheered the return of Mr. Kent, who had a reputation as being very collaborative and who, as a former Creative Artists agent himself, is practiced in many of the areas Mr. Kellner had overseen, especially talent.

Both Mr. Kellner and Mr. Bewkes agreed that the programming and promotional cooperation between The WB and Cartoon Network would continue. “It’s working well for them,” Mr. Kellner said, adding, “I think you’ll see more cooperation,” to which Mr. Bewkes agreed. Mr. Bewkes saluted Mr. Kellner’s accomplishments at TBS as a “very clear success. Mr. Kellner replied “definitely” when asked if his inability to convince Madison Avenue to raise cable costs per thousand somewhere closer to parity with broadcast was a source of frustration and he discounted press speculation that he and Mr. Bewkes were at odds. “Jeff and I have never had a bad word, ever,” Mr. Kellner said.

Trouble for new Sci-Fi series: Upcoming Sci-Fi Channel series “Scare Tactics” has already drawn fire. The hidden-camera series, set to debut later this year, is being sued by plaintiff Kara Blanc, according to a filing in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Ms. Blanc claims during surreptitious filming of an episode of “Scare Tactics,” the car in which she was being driven by an actor employed by the show “stalled” on a remote road and that a costumed “alien” then attacked and apparently seriously injured the other two passengers in the car, inciting the plaintiff to flee and causing physical damages, emotional distress and invasion of privacy, among others. The lawsuit names Tri-Crown Productions, the Sci-Fi Channel and series creators Scott Hallock and Kevin Healey among the defendants.

NATPE sets March deadline for president/CEO: The National Association of Television Program Executives’ (NATPE) Search Committee created to find a new president/CEO of the organization has named March 7 as the deadline for applicants. Beginning March 8, the Search Committee will review all candidate applications, followed by in-person interviews. It is the committee’s objective to present its final candidate to the NATPE Board of Directors for approval during the association’s spring meeting in Los Angeles April 23.

Williamson returns to ‘Dawson’s Creek’: Series creator Kevin Williamson will return to “Dawson’s Creek” to write the two-hour season finale of the show. The episode, which he will write with co-producer Maggie Friedman, will focus on the show’s original cast members: James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson and Michelle Williams. The episode will take place a few years after college graduation when all of them return to Capeside for a memorable event. It will air Wednesday, May 14, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.

‘Joe’ finale draws big ratings for Fox: The finale of “Joe Millionaire” gave Fox its highest ratings ever for an entertainment programming among adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. An average 34.6 million viewers tuned in to see Evan Marriott choose Zora over runner-up Sarah. The two-hour “Joe” finale scored a 17.6 rating and 36 share in adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data.

Part 2 of “Joe” from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. was the highest-rated entertainment programming in adults 18 to 49 (20.4 rating) on any network since the “Survivor 2” premiere airing after the Super Bowl on Jan. 28, 2001. In that hour, Fox held a 325 percent 18 to 49 advantage over its closest competitor NBC’s “Dateline: Michael Jackson Unmasked,” which pulled a 4.8 demo rating.

The two-part “Joe” finale built on every half-hour, reaching a high of a 21.8/42 in adults 18 to 49 and 42.6 million viewers from 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. In the last half-hour, after Evan chose Zora and told her that he really didn’t inherit $50 million, she said she would be willing to continue a relationship with him despite the lie. In the much talked about surprise twist, Paul, the butler, then presented Evan and Zora with a check for $1 million, which stunned them both.

Fox easily won the night in the adults 18 to 49 demo with a 17.6/36, followed by NBC (5.7/12), CBS (5.2/11) and ABC (3.4/7). In the battle of Michael Jackson, NBC’s “Dateline: Michael Jackson Unmasked” (6.2/13 in adults 18 to 49 and 14.6 milli
on viewers) beat ABC’s repeat of “20/20: Living With Michael Jackson” (3.5/7 and 9.5 million viewers).

Tribune TV names Vitanovec regional VP: John Vitanovec has been named regional VP of Tribune Television. Mr. Vitanovec, who has been VP and general manager of WGN Television since May 1999, will add oversight of Tribune-owned WXIN-TV and WTTV-TV in Indianapolis, Ind., and WXMI-TV in Grand Rapids, Mich., to his portfolio. The three stations had been overseen by Steve Carver, who last week was named VP and general manager of Tribune’s WATL-TV in Atlanta.#