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Jun 2, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Return of ‘The Family’

ABC is bringing “The Family” back. A two-hour episode, “The Family Recap,” explaining what happened in the first three hours of the show will air from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Wednesday, July 30. Starting Wednesday, Aug. 6, new episodes will air from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. Six new episodes have yet to air. “The Family,” which features a middle-class family living together in a Palm Beach mansion and competing to win $1 million, originally debuted in the spring, but was pulled from the air after it tanked in the ratings.

FCC Loosens Media Ownership Rules: In a partisan 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission’s Republicans this morning adopted new media ownership rules that for the first time would permit a single company to own up to three TV stations, the daily newspaper, eight radio stations and the local cable TV system in each of the nation’s largest markets.

Over the vehement opposition of the network affiliates, the FCC Republicans also loosened the agency’s national ownership cap to permit a single broadcaster to own TV stations reaching 45 percent of the nation’s TV homes. That’s up from 35 percent mandated by the current regulation. Under the agency’s old rules, broadcasters were also barred from buying the daily newspaper in town. But under the new rules, the ban was eliminated altogether in markets with nine or more TV stations.

Under the new regulations, cross-ownership would continue to be banned in markets with three or fewer TV stations. But in markets with four to eight TV stations, a company could choose from a menu of ownership possibilities, including a daily newspaper, a TV station and up to half of the radio stations generally permitted under the agency’s radio ownership regulations. Other choices on the menu would be to merge two TV stations with all of the radio stations generally allowed or a daily newspaper and the radio stations.

In a statement, FCC Chairman Michael Powell, a Republican, said the new regulations strike a “careful balance that does not unduly limit transactions that promote the public interest while ensuring that no company can monopolize the medium.” But the agency’s two Democrats dissented, vociferously and voluminously.

“This is the most sweeping and destructive rollback of consumer protection rules in the history of American broadcasting,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. Added Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps, “It is wrong for the media industry, wrong for the public interest and wrong for America.”

In the immediate wake of the FCC’s action, agency critics, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson — who participated in a pre-vote protest in front of the FCC’s headquarters building in Washington — vowed to challenge the ruling in the courts and on Capitol Hill.

“This ruling simply allows fewer to own more, and it does violence to us culturally, politically and ethnically,” Mr. Jackson told reporters.

Even before the FCC staff had finished briefing the press on the agency majority’s action, a bipartisan coalition of key lawmakers — including Sens. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., Trent Lott, R-Miss., and Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. — announced that they would try to block the FCC’s new rules with legislation. Sen. Hollings warned that he might even try to derail the regulations with a rider on an appropriations bill.

“Dumb and dangerous,” said Sen. Dorgan, at a press conference on Capitol Hill, reacting to the FCC majority’s decision.

The Walt Disney Co. praised the FCC’s action, contending that it reflects “today’s marketplace realities.” But the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance called the decision “a giant step back from our nation’s commitment to localism.”

At a briefing for reporters after the vote, FCC staffers said the new regulations appear to clear the way for possible mergers of newspapers and TV stations in all but 31 of the nation’s 211 markets. A well-placed source said the new regulations could continue to bar duopolies in about 72 markets.

Under the new rules, triopolies would be permitted only in markets that have 18 or more TV stations, or approximately nine markets.

Also today, the FCC majority announced that it had decided to leave in effect a rule that currently allows broadcasters a 50 percent discount when determining station reach for their UHF properties under the national ownership cap. But the FCC said the discount would sunset for stations owned by the Big 4 broadcast networks when they switch to digital. In addition, the FCC announced that it had decided to leave on the books a regulation that currently bars the Big 4 TV networks from merging with each other.

Seacrest Signs On for ‘American Juniors’: “American Idol” host Ryan Seacrest has signed to host spinoff “American Juniors,” which debuts tomorrow at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Fox. “Juniors” is a talent search contest for kids age 6 to 13. It is executive produced by Simon Fuller, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick.

Fox Revamps Friday Night Lineup: Fox has revamped its Friday night lineup for the summer. Starting Friday, July 11, Fox will air “Bernie Mac” repeats from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. followed by “Boston Public” from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. On Aug. 8, “Wanda at Large” will join the lineup from 8:30 to 9 p.m. for the rest of the summer, replacing one of the “Bernie” repeats. The new lineup will offer a preview of Fox’s fall lineup, which will have “Wanda at Large” at 8 p.m., new sitcom “Luis” at 8:30 p.m. and “Boston Public” at 9 p.m.

CBS Wins Sunday With ’60 Minutes’: CBS won Sunday night in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers with its combo of “60 Minutes” and the theatrical “A Time to Kill.” “60 Minutes” won its time slot with a 1.8 rating/7 share and “A Time to Kill” built over three hours to win the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. hour in the demo, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. “The Practice” moved back to its old time slot with a repeat at 10 p.m., which finished third. “Practice” scored only a 1.4/4 in adults 18 to 49, compared with “Time to Kill’s” 4.9/13 and NBC’s “Crime & Punishment,” which scored a respectable 3.4/9.

For the night, CBS won the night in adults 18 to 49 with a 3.1/9, followed by Fox (2.9/9), NBC (2.7/8) and ABC (1.7/5). In total viewers, CBS won with 10.9 million, followed by NBC (8.9 million), Fox (6.6 million) and ABC (5.4 million).

CBS Will Not Bid on Olympics: CBS announced today it will not bid on the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games because “With all of the uncertainties surrounding two events that don’t conclude for another nine years, committing significant rights and production expenses to the 2010 and 2012 Olympic Games is not the best use for our resources.” So said the network in a statement explaining the move that will leave only ABC, Fox and NBC submitting sealed bids Thursday and Friday to the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Although the decision was a surprise, the message was that there were just too many imponderables — including where the two Games would be held and what the economic and other key climates would be seven and nine years from now — was not.

At last week’s CBS affiliates convention, CBS Sports President Sean McManus had sounded a public note of “financial restraint,” saying the network would do only what made sense for its affiliates and for CBS. He also took the position that was reiterated in Monday’s release: that with or without the Olympics, “CBS is the best-positioned network in terms of overall programming and sports lineup.”

Viacom Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin said last week that whatever Mr. McManus decided to do, he had Mr. Karmazin’s support.

Vivendi Sells Spencer Gifts: Vivendi Universal, the troubled French conglomerate that is lumbering under a mountain of debt, continued to sell assets Monday, agreeing to sell its Spencer Gifts retail chain to an investor group led by Gordon Brothers Group and Palladin Capital Group. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

The Egg Harbor Township, N.J.-based retail chain generates more than $400 million in revenue and has more than 700 stores in the United States, Canada and Great B

As part of the sale, the investment team named Steven Silverstein as CEO of the retailer.

The sale is part of Vivendi Universal’s effort to sell noncore assets in an effort to pay down debt. To that end the company has for sale its Vivendi Universal Entertainment unit, which includes a film studio, a theme park, television production operations and the world’s largest music label.

‘Scare Tactics’ Gets Nine-Episode Order: “Scare Tactics,” the weekly half-hour hidden-camera-prank show starring Shannen Doherty, has received an additional nine-episode order from Sci-Fi Channel.

The series stages stunts such as mock alien encounters and haunted-house baby-sitting capers, and has garnered a lawsuit from one disgruntled unwitting victim. The new episodes premiere June 20.

The series is produced by Hallock Healey Entertainment (“Spy TV”).

Friedman Named CTN GM: Stephen Friedman has been named general manager of CTN: College Television Network, the MTV Networks college-based outlet available on more than 750 campuses.

Mr. Friedman moves over from MTV’s Department of Strategic Partnerships and Public Affairs, which he founded. During his tenure there, he created the Fight for Your Rights campaigns, managed the Choose or Lose campaign, co-executive produced MTV’s World AIDS Day concert from Cape Town, South Africa, and Seattle and Be Heard: An MTV Global Discussion with Colin Powell, a 90-minute forum where young people from around the world participated in a conversation with the Secretary of State.

‘Amazing Race’ Premiere Scores Big: CBS’s The Amazing Race 4 kicked off Thursday night with its highest-rated premiere episode since the first edition. The 90-minute premiere scored a 3.6 rating and 12 share in adults 18 to 49 and an average 10 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. It finished second to NBC’s repeats of Friends and Will & Grace. From the first half-hour to last half-hour, Race grew from a 3.1 rating in adults 18 to 49 to a 4.2 rating.

Combined with a strong performance by a rerun of a 90-minute episode of CSI, CBS tied NBC for first place for the night in adults 18 to 49 with a 4.3/13. Fox came in third for the night with a 2.2/7, followed by ABC with a 1.7/5). CBS won the night in total viewers with 11.6 million, followed by NBC (10 million), Fox (5.4 million) and ABC (5.2 million).

Cablevision to Spin Off Rainbow, Clearview: Cablevision Systems said it will spin off its fledgling satellite company and movie theater chain into a separate company, as the company continues to pare down its debt and focus more on its cable and entertainment business.

The Bethpage, N.Y.-based multiple-system operator plans to spin off its Rainbow DBS and Clearview Cinemas chain in a tax-free pro rata transaction to Cablevision shareholders by the end of the year. As part of the separation, Cablevision will inject up to $450 million in cash into the new entity, and has received board approval to provide another $114 million investment in Rainbow directly for the balance of the year.

The arrangement reverses Cablevision’s announcement last August that it was putting Clearview up for sale.

Once the transaction is completed, Cablevision shareholders will own shares in both Cablevision and the new entity, to be called Rainbow DBS. Cablevision Chairman Charles F. Dolan will become chairman of the new company.

“This transaction will permit Cablevision to remain focused on its core entertainment and cable operations, especially in the New York area,” said James L. Dolan, Cablevision’s CEO.

Rainbow DBS is set to launch a satellite on July 17 and begin rolling out its satellite service later this year. The company said the service will be available to between 80 percent and 90 percent of the country, with more than 100 channels.

Cablevision’s move comes in the wake of its commitment late last month to join forces with Vivendi Universal Vice Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. to make a bid for Vivendi Universal Entertainment, which is for sale. Cablevision has committed to combine cable channels within its Rainbow Media unit in exchange for a stake in a new media company that would include VUE’s television, cable, music and theme park businesses.

The spinoff plan also moves the company toward its goal of reducing its debt load through sales of non-core assets. Just last month Cablevision’s Northcoast PCS unit sold 50 wireless licenses to Verizon Wireless for $750 million in cash.