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Feb 25, 2003  •  Post A Comment

MSNBC draws protests over conservative host

MSNBC is feeling heat from an increasing number of organizations that are angry that the news network owned by NBC and Microsoft has given a weekend show to conservative San Francisco-based talk show host and author Michael Savage, whose habit of saying things such as Hispanics “breed like rabbits,” women “should have been denied the vote” and “The gay and lesbian mafia wants our children” has earned him a reputation as a hate monger and not the “compassionate conservative” he calls himself.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is expected to announce Wednesday morning that it will mobilize protest of MSNBC’s decision to give Mr. Savage an hour-long show on Saturdays (starting at a date still to be announced).

The National Organization for Women is expected to notify NBC parent company General Electric and Microsoft on Wednesday that “It is very important that the corporations that own the media get the message: Profiting from hate will cost them the business of thinking consumers. That applies to GE, as well as Microsoft.”

With the cancellation Tuesday of Phil Donahue’s show and the recent hiring of former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the conservative Republican Texan whose long term in Congress ended in January, as a regular contributor of commentary, MSNBC has “created a situation that makes it impossible to get a moderate message out,” NOW President Kim Gandy said.

“We’ve done our homework on this,” said Cathy Renna, news media director for GLAAD, which applied similar pressure in 2000 when Paramount built a short-lived syndicated TV show around conservative Dr. Laura Schlessinger, whose comments on gays became a lightning rod. “There are a lot of different organizations concerned about giving a platform to Michael Savage.”

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting senior analyst Steve Rendall said FAIR is disturbed by the message from MSNBC that “They can’t be held responsible for what he has said in the past,” only for what he says on MSNBC’s air. “That sounds a lot like Dr. Laura’s people at Paramount. Isn’t that why they hired [Mr. Savage]? It is what he said in the past that is getting him in the door.”

NBC and GE were unavailable for comment. Microsoft had no immediate response.

In a statement, MSNBC said, “The addition of Michael Savage to the MSNBC lineup was made with the full awareness of his reputation for controversy and confrontation. We respect the right of those who wish to protest. However, we also strongly defend his new show as a legitimate attempt to expand the marketplace of ideas. By bringing our viewers a wide range of strong, opinionated voices, MSNBC underscores its commitment to ensuring that its perspective programming promotes no one single point of view. We encourage debate and we would neither expect, nor want, our audience to agree with everything on our channel.”

WB announces key demo growth, midseason series: The WB executives touted 20 percent to 30 percent growth this February sweeps in their key demos of persons 12 to 34 and adults 18 to 34. That growth was achieved based on the strength of regular scripted programming, not short-term reality series, WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin told reporters in a conference call.

“The measure of long-term success is going to be your performance of scripted series,” Mr. Levin said.

He said with all the other networks’ loading up on unscripted reality series will just further differentiate the WB. “It makes our brand more distinct,” he said, and therefore more valuable to advertisers who want to reach young demos with a consistent, quality environment.

Mr. Levin said The WB has also achieved significant growth in the male demos, meeting one of the network’s goals before the season started.

Mr. Levin announced several midseason moves: “On the Spot,” a partially scripted/partially improvised half-hour comedy series starring Tim Conway will debut on Thursday, March 20 from 9:30 p.m. (ET) to 10 p.m. with “The Jamie Kennedy Experiment” as its lead-in; “Black Sash,” starring Russell Wong as a martial arts expert, will premiere Sunday, March 30 from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., following “Charmed”; and Fox cast-off “Grounded for Life” starts its WB run this Friday. “Greetings From Tucson” will get a new slot an hour earlier at 8:30 p.m., with WB executives hoping it is a better fit with “What I Like About You” as its lead-in.

While The WB is focused on scripted programming during the regular season, it will use variety and unscripted shows in the summer. The WB has been working on tie-ins to several of them with Pepsi, including a still-in-development music chart show, for which Mr. Levin said they are close to signing a producer. “Live From Tomorrow,” a commercial-free live show that will focus on pop culture and music produced by Michael Davies; and a two-hour event show, also produced by Mr. Davies, that will award a billion dollars to one winner.

WB executives said they are looking for ways to incorporate music into their summer programming. “We’ve had so many advertisers come to us looking for an alternative to MTV,” said Jed Petrick, president and chief operating officer of The WB.

The WB will also air this summer the previously announced surfing reality lifestyle show “Boarding House North Shore” from Carsey-Werner-Mandabach and an eight-episode run of the leftover midseason scripted series “The O’Keefes.”

NBC News Radio launches in March: NBC News and Westwood One will launch NBC News Radio, showcasing NBC News personalities in one-minute hourly radio reports from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays starting March 31.

On that day the similarly formatted CNBC content will go on the radio under a separate deal with Westwood One announced Feb. 11. Financial details were not announced, but a spokeswoman for NBC News said the radio deal is more about extending the reach of the NBC News personalities and brand than it is about money.

Strong premiere for ‘Greek Life’: The premiere of CBS’s midseason sitcom “My Big Fat Greek Life” Monday night was the most-watched sitcom debut on any network in five years. With “Everybody Loves Raymond” as its lead-in, “Greek Life” won its time slot in total viewers, averaging 22.7 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate ratings. “Greek Life” finished a strong second in its time slot in adults 18 to 49 with a 7.4/16, building on “Raymond’s” 7.1/16 lead in. The second-half of Fox’s “Joe Millionaire: The Aftermath” special won the half-hour with a 10.7/23. “Greek Life,” based on the surprise hit movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” moves to its regular time slot Sunday at 8 p.m. (ET).

Fox won the night in adults 18 to 49 Monday with a 7.2/17, followed by CBS (6.4/15), NBC (5.0/12) and ABC (2.6/6). In total viewers, CBS took the night with 18.9 million, followed by Fox (15 million), NBC (12.6 million) and ABC (6.4 million).

MSNBC cancels ‘Donahue’: On Tuesday morning MSNBC dropped the ax that had been hanging over the weeknight show that brought Phil Donahue back to talk TV last July. The final original show aired Monday night. For the rest of the week, “Donahue” repeats will fill the hour. For the foreseeable future, “Countdown Iraq,” anchored by Lester Holt will double in size to fill the hour. “Countdown” will be telecast from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays starting Monday.

“We’re proud of the program, and we’re disappointed that the show was not able to attract the viewership we had hoped for and expected,” said MSNBC President Erik Sorenson in a statement. “We thank Phil and his staff for their dedication, commitment and passion. They worked extremely hard to deliver the best possible show night in and night out, and for that they have our deepest appreciation.”

“Donahue” had premiered to an audience of more than 1 million viewers, but its viewership had dropped precipitously with each passing night. In November “Donahue” was moved from MSNBC studio space in Secaucus, N.J., to NBC headquarters in Rockefeller Center, where Phil Donahue could interact with a studio audience, as he had in his syndicated heyday of the ’70s and ‘8
0s. Since moving, Mr. Donahue had improved his program’s performance in the key news demographics-often outperforming other NSNBC programs-but he ran a distant third in total viewership, with an average of 446,000 per night in February.

Lowe hitting miniseries high: Actor Rob Lowe is winging to Turner Network Television, where he will star in “Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot,” an original four-hour miniseries to be co-produced by TNT and Warner Bros. Television. Mr. Lowe, soon to depart NBC’s “The West Wing,” also stars in “Framed,” an upcoming TNT telefilm, and is also expected to star in “Lyon’s Den,” an NBC legal-drama pilot under fall-season consideration.

Kids’ WB ad sales shifted to Cartoon Network: Cartoon Network will take over responsibility for national ad sales in Kids’ WB programming in September. The unification of sales efforts under Kim McQuilken, Cartoon Network’s executive VP for ad sales and marketing, will not affect program development efforts by the sister units of AOL Time Warner, which will remain separate. “This [decision] didn’t come down from on high,” said The WB President Jed Petrick.

Bill Morningstar, executive VP for media sales at The WB, said the consolidation would allow Cartoon Network to put more energy into packaging ad sales for both platforms while enabling The WB sales staff to “focus on prime time and dig deeper.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Morningstar said this morning at a New York upfront at which Kids’ WB executives talked nearly as often about about their competitor, Nickelodeon and the Nick Jr.-on-CBS Saturday morning lineup, as they did about new programming.

“Look out, Big Orange. We’re going to turn you into pulp,” said John Hardman, senior VP of programming for Kids’ WB. He said Kids’ WB will continue its strategy of freshening its lineup throughout the yearlong season. Joining the lineup for the summer will be “MegaMan: NT Warrior,” a show about a fifth-grader with a virtual superhero alter-ego that arrives with 15 years of success in Japan and with six new video games scheduled for release this year.

In fall, Kids’ WB will rejigger its Saturday lineup to add “Xiaolin Showdown” at 10:30 a.m., in between popular veterans “Yu-Gi-Oh!” at 10 a.m. and “Pokemon,” which will effectively have a whole new cast of Pokemons and pals, at 11 a.m. “Showdown” is about a group of kung fu-trained monks.

Cartoon Network announced its major programming initiatives last week.

BET to debut ‘Monie’: BET is debuting “Hey Monie,” billed as the first time that an African American woman has been featured as the protagonist of an adult-themed animated series. The series is produced in conjunction with Oxygen Media and Soup2Nuts Prods. The series debuts March 4.

‘Free for All’ gets Showtime green light: Showtime Networks has greenlighted a seven-episode order of “Free for All,” an animated series from Film Roman (“The Simpsons”) about two Gen Y-ers and their strung-out ferret. Celebrity voices for the show, which is based on a syndicated newspaper comic strip, include Juliette Lewis, Jonathan Silverman and Jeremy Piven. “Free” will debut this summer.

Rather scores exclusive Saddam interview: “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather has scored an interview with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. In the interview, conducted in Baghdad Monday, Saddam challenged President Bush to a debate to be carried live on international TV and radio. Mr. Rather prepared reports on the interview for CBS News radio and on the “Evening News.” Excerpts from the interview were scheduled to air Tuesday on “The Early Show.”

Ad buyers like what they hear at SNTA: The first Syndicated Network Television Association pre-upfront marketplace for Madison Avenue’s buyers and planners got under way today in Manhattan with a genre-by-genre and daypart-by-daypart Syndication 101 presentation by SNTA head and agency veteran Gene DeWitt.

That presentation, which Mr. DeWitt previewed for Electronic Media readers last November, was aimed particularly at young planners who might not even know that their own favorites, from “Friends” in late night to the guilty pleasures of “Blind Date,” are syndicated shows. “I’m here to tell you [syndication] is network television,” Mr. DeWitt said, pointing to the fact that syndication consists of 132 weekly shows, 24 movie packages and 29 specials, and that in aggregate syndication has reach and ratings comparable to the biggest networks.

Citing remarks by Viacom’s Mel Karmazin and NBC’s Bob Wright that forecast double-digit broadcast upfront price increases this year, Mr. DeWitt pointedly told potential syndication buyers, “This is the year you really want options.”

By that informational standard, the presentation got the SNTA event off to a rousing start. In an informal sampling, buyers said either that they would now give greater consideration to syndication for their clients or, in the case of those whose agencies already are heavy syndication buyers, that they had heard nothing to change their opinions of syndication’s value.

For example, Chris Conderino Davi, senior VP, media director, Zenithdirect, said after the presentation that she had “picked up opportunities” about possible buys in syndicated programs that reach 18-to-34 viewers for her pharmaceutical, computer and fitness-center clients.

For Peter Olsen, senior VP, manager, national broadcast, Mediacom/Grey Global Group, a heavy syndication buyer, the conference was “more for planners and people who don’t know syndication.” Mr. Olsen was one of several buyers who predicted that few if any deals would be done at the conference, for the simple reason that clients hadn’t released budgets yet.

Mr. DeWitt reiterated that deal-making wasn’t the purpose of the SNTA conference. “Deals aren’t done. Deals aren’t supposed to be done. Deals aren’t done at the network [upfront] premieres,” he said. “Hundreds of people in the media community have showed up [at the SNTA conference] because they’re interested in syndication. They need to know more about syndication in this difficult broadcast year, so this is already a success.”

Mr. DeWitt predicted that in this year’s upfront, “Syndication will move with the networks. … There’s no question about it. Cable will move later, because cable has all the inventory in the world.”

Mr. DeWitt addressed one major criticism of the event, namely that it is too focused on Madison Avenue to the exclusion of out-of-town agencies. “I think that this will be a much bigger event next year,” he said. “There wasn’t an intention to not bring in people from out of town. What happened was we were surprised by how quickly … we filled up. … Next year we’ll have room to invite people from around the country.”

SNTA’s eight member companies represent approximately 80 percent of all syndication dollars, according to Mr. DeWitt. Its members are Buena Vista, The Heritage Network, King World, Paramount, Universal Domestic Television, Tribune Entertainment, Twentieth Television and Warner Bros. NBC/MGM also participated in the SNTA event. Sony, which syndicates “Seinfeld,” is not currently a member of the organization, but held a pre-conference dinner for buyers.