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Mar 19, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Brokaw First to Report Attack On Iraq

Tom Brokaw was first on the air last night to report that the United States had attacked Iraq.His report was broadcast at 9:32 p.m. (ET) over both NBC and MSNBC.

As Brokaw made his report, an early morning silence over Baghdad was broken by the sound of explosions that rolled like thunder over the Iraqi capital. The scene was eerily heightened by the live video beamed from unmanned cameras set atop the Ministry of Information as international journalists moved to safer locations in the Baghdad area or across the border in Jordan over the last two days.

One by one, the other networks and news channels began broadcasting about the short attack at “a target of opportunity,” according to reports. CBS News, CNN, Fox, and finally, ABC News, reported the attack. ABC News, which has been criticized for being behind the eight-ball recently, started its special report with standby anchor Chris Wallace reporting from Washington, D.C., until Peter Jennings took up his seat in the ABC studio in New York.

Karmazin Contract Extension Close: Viacom Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin is close to a deal to extend his contract beyond its expiration at the end of the year, The Wall Street Journal Online reported today. The story, which was attributed to people close to the situation, said that the Viacom board of directors had a meeting on the matter today.

Mr. Karmazin has long been reported to be in conflict with Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone over control of the company, and the terms of the new deal are expected to be a compromise between the two executives.

Diller Resigns From VUE: Barry Diller resigned as chairman and CEO of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, saying he has “no ambition” to take over VUE. But Mr. Diller did not rule out that he would make such a move eventually if, as expected, parent company Vivendi Universal, awash in red ink, sells all or some portion of the VUE joint venture.

During an analysts’ conference call today, Mr. Diller called his continued role as CEO “inappropriate,” given his and USAI’s status as shareholders in VUE and Vivendi’s intention to sell its American entertainment properties.

“There is, of course, a natural conflict when the CEO of a joint venture is a … minority shareholder of that joint venture” and the various interests in that joint venture are not “commonly aligned,” he said. “Vivendi has said that they are going to look at their options … all sorts of things relative to selling pieces, parts of the assets. … My role as a CEO in that kind of a process is just inappropriate.”

Mr. Diller said he had “no ambition” to take over VUE and was motivated only by his “$2-plus billion” investment in the company. “We are part of no group. We are part of no plot, and we will see what we will see,” Mr. Diller said of the prospects that when Vivendi does sell off its U.S. entertainment assets he will once again be running the company, which includes such assets as Universal’s television production operations and such cable networks as USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel.

“My executive role was never intended to be permanent,” Mr. Diller said in a statement. “Now that Vivendi Universal has begun a formal process in reviewing options for its entertainment assets, it is appropriate to step aside from any direct management responsibility. USA Interactive and I remain shareholders of Vivendi Universal Entertainment, and we are all hopeful for a speedy resolution of its future.”

Earlier this month, French parent company Vivendi posted the biggest loss in French corporate history, reporting a loss of 23.3 billion euros for 2002 vs. 13.6 billion euros for 2001. That huge loss in turn increased long-standing speculation the French firm would sell all or part of its American assets.

Marvin Davis, the one-time oil mogul who formerly headed Twentieth Century Fox, has already put a $20 billion offer for VUE, plus Universal Music Group, on the table, and parent company Vivendi is reported to be in talks with other potentials buyers, including Viacom.

USAI includes the Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster and Expedia, among other properties. Together, Mr. Diller and USAI hold almost 7 percent of VUE’s shares.

‘Idol’ Scores Big for Fox: A two-hour American Idol edition steamrolled Fox to a victory in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers last night. Idol drew 21.2 million viewers and scored a 10 rating and 25 share among adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data.

New episodes of recently renewed ABC series Life With Bonnie and Less Than Perfect sunk to third place in adults 18 to 49 in their time slots. Bonnie scored a 2.7/7 in the demo and was fourth in total viewers with 6.8 million. Perfect had a 2.7/6 in the demo and a fourth-place total viewer finish of 6.1 million viewers. NBC’s midseason sitcom A.U.S.A didn’t fare any better, with a fourth place finish in adults 18 to 49 with a 2.5/6 and 6.6 million total viewers.

ABC’s reality show The Family was a distant third place from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., with a 2.4/6 in adults 18 to 49 and 5.2 million total viewers.

For the night, in adults 18 to 49 Fox won with a 10/25, followed by NBC and CBS (tied with a 3.2/8) and ABC (2.8/7). In total viewers, Fox won with 21.2 million viewers, followed by CBS (13.3 million), NBC (8.8 million) and ABC (7 million).

HBO and Gandolfini End Dispute: Sopranos fans can fuhgeddaboutit and relax. The bitter contract dispute between HBO and actor James Gandolfini, which threatened to derail the much-lauded show’s new season, is over.

Mr. Gandolfini, who plays New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, has dropped his lawsuit against the premium cable network and agreed to return to work, while HBO has dropped its $100 million countersuit.

At one time the network had voluntarily offered to double Mr. Gandolfini’s per-episode salary for the new season. Depending on the source his previous salary was reported to be either $400,000 per episode, including bonuses and other additions, or a $325,000-per-episode base. But Mr. Gandolfini held out for much more, originally asking for $27 million for the new season before settling on a claim for $16 million, according to an informed source. Mr. Gandolfini based his suit on a contention that HBO had missed a deadline for apprising him in writing that his services were required for a fifth season.

HBO countered by not only suing Mr. Gandolfini, but also informing the show’s other cast members that the future of the show and their participation in it were in doubt.

Now, Mr. Gandolfini has agreed to return to work, with production scheduled to start in the first week in April, under this old contract at its old terms, and the doubled salary offer has been withdrawn.

“We are delighted that the great Jim Gandolfini will be back at work in the role he has created with such distinction,” Chris Albrecht, HBO’s chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

HBO attributed the dispute’s successful conclusion to the intervention of Brad Grey, veteran Hollywood talent manager and one of the show’s executive producers, who held private talks with Mr. Gandolfini over the past weekend.

While the dispute raged, both sides hurled mostly anonymous invective at each other, and the show’s legions of fans feared the end was near for Tony and his colorful family. But Hollywood insiders knew better, expecting all along that despite the tough talk a deal would certainly be done to keep the Sopranos franchise alive.

Those same insiders now expect that Mr. Gandolfini will eventually end up with a hefty pay increase as well. As legal analyst Harvey Levin of Celebrity Justice put it on CNN last week, Mr. Gandolfini will come away from this dispute with “beaucoup bucks.”

CBS crew exits Baghdad: CBS News ordered its crew of five, including correspondent Lara Logan, to leave Baghdad overnight. By late this morning (ET) they had safely crossed the border into Jordan, where they will hang out until it is safe for them to return to the Iraqi capital, said a CBS News spokeswoman. The spokeswoman said the a
ir of “escalating” danger in an increasingly battened-down Baghdad led CBS News executives to make the call. She also said CBS News has arranged to get reports from a number of unidentified people who remain in Baghdad.

The CBS evacuation leaves CNN as the only U.S. network with regular employees able to file live reports from Baghdad. Former CNN star Peter Arnett is on assignment in Baghdad for National Geographic Explorer but is filing numerous live reports each day for MSNBC. Mr. Arnett today estimated the international press corps still in Baghdad at more than 100.

Barbara Walters special postponed: A day after the announcement that the Oscars would be toned down, ABC said it will delay the traditional Barbara Walters Oscar special until a date still to be chosen. “With such serious issues facing the nation it was the right decision to postpone the special,” Ms. Walters said in a statement this morning.