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Jun 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Reilly Jumps to NBC to Oversee Development

FX Entertainment President Kevin Reilly is leaving the cable network to join NBC in a new position as president of prime-time development, which was created in a major restructuring of the network’s development department.

Mr. Reilly will oversee all aspects of the network’s prime-time development as well as oversee NBC Studios. He will report to NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker.

Mr. Reilly, whose contract at FX is up in September, said he considered staying at FX but he just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to return to NBC, where he started his career. He spent six years at the network in positions ranging from manager of creative affairs for NBC Productions to VP of drama development for NBC Entertainment.

“NBC finds itself right now [as] still the dominant network with a lot of firepower left in the schedule, but looking to that next generation of hits and needing to replace some of the biggest hits on the schedule,” Mr. Reilly said. “That’s a really opportune time to come. Some would say that’s a perilous time to come. I think that kind of peril gives you great focus.”

At FX, Mr. Reilly played a large role in repositioning the network from a dumping ground for off-network repeats to a destination for original programming. He developed series such as “The Shield,” which won a Golden Globe Award for Best Drama Series, “Lucky” and the upcoming drama series “Nip/Tuck.”

NBC also announced several other major executive moves. Angela Bromstad, who has been senior VP of drama development at NBC, will head NBC Studios as executive VP of NBC Studios. She will report to Mr. Reilly. Cheryl Dolins, who has been VP, prime-time series, NBC Studios, will become senior VP, comedy development at NBC, replacing JoAnn Alfano, who announced her departure last week to head the TV unit at Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video. She will report to Mr. Reilly. Chris Conti remains senior VP of drama development at NBC.

Mr. Reilly said he collaborated on those moves with Mr. Zucker, who made the appointments. “I completely agree they’ve all earned these jobs,” Mr. Reilly said. “I love the fact that we’ve got an energized new team in place that’s going to be very hungry to step up and take on this year ’cause we have a lot of work to do.”

Left out of the new structure is Karey Burke, executive VP, prime-time development, and NBC Studios President Ted Harbert. Both will remain at the network through the transition with Ms. Burke expected to stay until mid-July and Mr. Harbert through the end of June.

Mr. Reilly described Ms. Burke’s and Mr. Harbert’s departures as mutual decisions and said they both could remain in the NBC family with production deals.

“This was really not one of those contentious kind of things or backroom dirty deals,” Mr. Reilly said. “This just evolved. Change is always a tough thing to an organization but it’s a necessary thing. Companies must evolve and they do.”

Ms. Burke has been rumored to be considering forming a production company with former ABC Entertainment President Jamie Tarses.

Mr. Reilly said his mandate at NBC is to create great shows. “There’s a very strong lineup for next year but we’re going to be on our toes looking to see where the holes are and where the opportunity is,” he said. “We’re going to start seeding and moving very aggressively to hatch the next generation. We’re going to use all the assets we have for that including the strength of our existing schedule as well as the Olympics.”

He said he already has some projects in mind for NBC. “I’m already finding myself waking up at five in the morning with ideas running in my head,” he said.

Mr. Reilly is still working out his exact start date at NBC with NBC and his soon-to-be-former employer FX, but he expects it to be sometime in late summer.

Mr. Reilly’s appointment is widely seen in the industry as anointing him the heir apparent to the entertainment president position when Mr. Zucker leaves to move up the corporate ladder in New York. Mr. Reilly said he’s aware of the talk but “we’re going to take it one step at a time.” He said there was no promise he would be next in line for the top entertainment job but “I suppose it’s a possibility,” he said.

Other changes in the development ranks include Katherine Pope to VP of drama development at NBC from VP, prime-time series at NBC Studios, and Renate Radford to manager prime-time series, NBC Studios, from associate in NBC’s drama development department.

NCTA Panel Discussion on HDTV: Those who compare the transition from analog to high-definition with the transition from black-and-white to color television are “dead wrong,” according to Mark Cuban, president and chairman, HDNet. Unlike black-and-white program libraries, which retained value in the color era, the current libraries of taped and filmed programming will not “work” on high definition, said Mr. Cuban, who was on the senior programmers’ panel Tuesday at the NCTA’s 52nd Annual National Show, now under way in the Chicago.

Joining him on the panel were Matthew Blank, Showtime Networks’ chairman and CEO; George Bodenheimer, president, ESPN and ABC Sports; and John Hendricks, chairman and CEO, Discovery Communications. The incompatibility of present-day programming libraries and HD is one reason networks are investing tens of millions of dollars annually in HD cameras and facilities and why the race is on to create new programming for HD.

Mr. Hendricks noted that HD production adds cost to program production, but the added expense is coming down. Four or five years ago, he said, HD added approximately $50,000 to the cost of producing one hour of programming; today, that HD premium is at about $25,000 to $30,000 for an hour of HD. Mr. Blank, who pronounced himself a big fan of the HD application, nonetheless said what everyone in the cable industry already knows: High definition is a “bit of a bandwidth hog,” and he speculated that video-on-demand and high-speed data might be better applications for the bandwidth in some instances.

As for VOD, Mr. Hendricks suggested that the fast-forwarding capability should be eliminated to protect the $8.2 billion ad-supported cable business. If viewers are allowed to fast-forward through commercials, perhaps the industry should go to a subscription VOD model, he added. Mr. Cuban suggested that HD was a solution to the peer-to-peer Internet file transfer problem that vexes Hollywood and has the studios concerned about copyright protection in the digital age. Such file transfers would end “immediately” if all programming was in high definition, he said, for the simple reason that the files are much too large to readily transfer. As for the possibility that Rupert Murdoch’s expected acquisition of DirecTV will threaten the cable industry’s future, Mr. Bodenheimer at first said it was “too soon to tell.”

Challenged by the moderator, CNBC’s David Faber, who suggested that Mr. Bodenheimer was unconcerned by the Murdoch threat, Mr. Bodenheimer shot back: “I didn’t say it doesn’t concern me, I said it was too soon to tell,” to which Mr. Blank quickly responded: “This is not the headline everyone wants in the trades tomorrow.”

NATPE Schedule Change: Due to scheduling conflicts, NATPE 2004 is being moved back a week and shortened a day. The market is scheduled to return to Las Vegas this winter for what is likely to be an extended stay.

But NATPE officials discovered that they would be unable to get the required hotel and exhibition facilities for original dates Jan. 13-16 at the Venetian Hotel and Sands Expo Center. Now the conference will be held from Jan. 18-20.

“Rather than make a significant change from our January 2004 conference next year, we elected to make this slight change of date,” said Rick Feldman, president and CEO of NATPE. “The only major accommodation NATPE needed to accept was shortening the conference by one day, which we feel is a worthy compromise.”

Binford Senior VP of ABC Communications: Longtime television communications executive Sue Binford is rejoining the Hollywood fold as senior VP for communications for the A
BC Television Network and ABC Broadcast Group. Her appointment fills a vacancy created 13 months ago by the promotion of Zenia Mucha to senior VP of communications for The Walt Disney Co.

Ms. Binford will report to Ms. Mucha and Alex Wallau, president of the ABC Television Network. She will develop, implement and oversee internal and external communications and will serve as chief spokesperson for the network and the broadcast group, which includes the network-owned TV stations and ABC Radio. She will also supervise public service campaigns, audience information and internal publications.

Ms. Binford will be based in Los Angeles, where she ran corporate and media relations for NBC West Coast before leaving in 1993 to take a similar position with Turner Broadcasting System. She shifted to oversight of CNN’s news groups in 1998 and relocated in Washington, before leaving the organization in late 2001 during one of its restructurings.

‘Ambush Makeover’ Set to Air: “Ambush Makeover” is preparing for a summer tryout with select Fox owned-and-operated stations set to air the new syndicated series later this month. Although details of the initial rollout will be announced next week, distributor Twentieth Television has tapped the talents of famous celebrity stylists William Whatley, Gigi Berry, Mary Alice Haney, Rob Talty, Nancy Brensson and Nicole Williams to rotate on-screen during the course of the show. “Ambush Makeover” will be produced by Banyan Productions (“Trading Spaces”) in association with Twentieth Television.

Showtime to Select Programming Head: Showtime will select a new president of programming within the next 30 days, Matthew Blank, chairman and CEO, Showtime Networks, told TelevisionWeek, while he was in Chicago for the National Cable & Telecommunications conference.

The new executive will replace Jerry Offsay, the current programming president, who in March announced his intention to step down at the end of this year.

The new programming executive will come from a group currently under active consideration, whom Mr. Blank declined to identify or characterize.

‘CSI’ Comes Through for CBS: Reality programs on NBC and Fox did well last night in the adults 18 to 49 demo but not well enough to beat repeats of CBS’s regular lineup of sitcoms and “CSI: Miami.” From 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. CBS scored a 4.1/12 in adults 18 to 49, edging out NBC, which had a 3.9/11, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data.

NBC had the highest-rated show of the night with a “Dateline” special featuring Katie Couric’s interview of the parents of murder victim Laci Peterson. From 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. “Dateline” scored a 4.8/13 in adults 18 to 49. The second episode of “For Love or Money” finished second in its 9 p.m-to-10 p.m. time slot with a 4/11, dropping from last week’s 4.7/12. A special episode of “Fame” from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. scored a 2.9/9, ranking third in the time slot.

Fox’s two-hour IQ test “Test the Nation” pulled a 3.1/9 in the demo from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., finishing third in adults 18 to 49 but first in adults 18 to 34.

The deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals on ABC finished last for the night with a 2.8/8 in adults 18 to 49 and only 6.1 million viewers.

For the night, in adults 18 to 49, CBS won with a 4.1/12, followed by NBC (3.9/11), Fox (3.1/9) and ABC (2.8/8). In total viewers, CBS won the night with 11.9 million, followed by NBC (9.1 million), Fox (7.2 million) and ABC (6.1 million).

Powell Addresses Digital Revolution at NCTA: Michael Powell, the deregulation-minded chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, gave the cable industry a glimpse of the legislative stick behind the deregulatory carrot when he addressed the NCTA National Show today.

“This industry is in full-scale revolution at every level,” Chairman Powell told attendees at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association event, citing an “extraordinary increase” in high-definition television adoption rates during the past few months. But cable has to reach agreement with the broadcast industry, the content providers and the consumer electronics industry over a broad array of matters and standards, including such contentious issues as spectrum allocation and dual analog-digital must-carry during the digital transition.

If cable and the other parts of the telecommunications industry don’t find agreement on the way ahead toward the digital future, Mr. Powell said, regulators and legislators will step in and do it for them. “We’ve got to stop the food-fighting [over HDTV and other issues],” he said. “We won’t wait forever” for the industries to come together.

As for the increased costs to consumers that may result from the digital transition, Mr. Powell noted, “People are still looking for the value proposition” to justify the expense of broadband. He recounted a cautionary conversation with his father, Secretary of State Colin Powell, to illustrate consumers’ price-value skepticism:

“I don’t have a darn … IT department in my house!” he quoted the exasperated-sounding Secretary Powell as saying. “I’ve got a $400 communications bill. … I only need to talk to your sister one way, and I’ve got 15 ways to do it!”

Peace in the Middle East and peace in the fractious telecommunications industry are “similarly intractable repositions,” Chairman Powell said, expressing the hope that his father will achieve Middle East peace first.

Chairman Powell’s final message to the cable industry was the same one he delivered a year ago, at the 2002 National Show in New Orleans. “Don’t blow it,” he said. “Be careful what you ask for,” he said about the must-carry dispute. “There’s no surgical legislation in America anymore.”

Spike TV Launches Product Licensing: Spike TV, Viacom’s network for men, is launching its consumer-products licensing division at this year’s Licensing Show, under way in New York.

Properties that Spike is offering include “Ren & Stimpy,” the cult ’90s animated series that Spike is reprising with new episodes as “Ren & Stimpy’s Adult Party Cartoon”; and “Gary the Rat,” a new animated series starring Kelsey Grammer.

The first “R&S” licenses have gone to Palisades Toys, which will produce action figures, PVC figurines and resin statues, and Balzout, which is expected to produce T-shirts. Products are expected to be in stores in the fall.

BOB Makes Deal with Hypnotic: BOB: Brief Original Broadcasts, a Littleton, Colo.-based new cable and satellite network expected to launch later this year and dedicated to broadcasting short-form content under eight minutes in length, has cut an agency-of-record deal with Hypnotic, which also will supply BOB with programming from its library of short films from “emerging” filmmakers.

Those shorts include films from the American Film Institute, as well as other short films from the independent film community, film festivals and film schools.

Hypnotic’s investors include Vivendi Universal, among others. The company, a division of Enigma Media, describes itself as a branded-entertainment production, acquisition, distribution and talent-management company.

Microsoft Introduces Digital TV Software: As Microsoft continues to look for ways to penetrate the cable business, the company introduced a new digital TV software platform, Microsoft TV Foundation Edition, at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual show in Chicago. The software solution for thin client set-top boxes is designed to facilitate better packaging and promotion of on-demand services and to be more user friendly with its interactive program guide. The company said that Comcast plans to trial Foundation Edition.

Hynninen Joins National Geographic Channel: Kiera Hynninen, former VP of marketing for the Weather Channel, has been named senior VP of marketing for the National Geographic Channel. The announcement was made today by the 2-year-old network’s Chicago headquarters.

“As the fastest-growing cable network, which garnered its first Emmy Award last year, the channel has set itself apart from the competition,” said Ms. Hynninen. “It is a privilege to be working on behalf of the l
egacy of the National Geographic brand and with such tremendous talent.”

Ms. Hynninen was at The Weather Channel for four years and was responsible for creating the network’s first original series, “Storm Stories.”

HD Platforms Introduced at NCTA: Following on National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s promise that high-definition would be the buzz at its annual convention, several cable players announced new HD platforms. Time Warner Cable said it will carry HD content from iN Demand, Discovery Networks and several Fox Sports Net’s regional channels. The cable operator has previously carried only broadcast and premium channels in HD. The company also formalized its HD pricing strategy and said it will not charge additional fees for the HD counterparts of standard-definition channels, but it will charge incrementally for new premium HD programming.

Starz! Encore plans to offer starting in the fall some titles in HD on its SVOD service at no additional charge as well as Sharper Movies HD, a new tier of HD services that includes movies in HD from Starz!’s library and HD versions of ad-supported cable channels. The tier will be priced at about $10 per month and will be available later this year for cable and satellite providers.

Also, iN Demand plans to introduce a second HD channel in September with movies, sports and general entertainment content. The company previously announced its first HD channel, iNHD, in April and will now launch both linear 24-7 HD channels at the same time to meet operators’ needs for HD tiers. Comcast said it plans to rollout HD service in Chicago today, its 18th HD market.

The falling prices of HDTV sets has spurred industry growth, and now 7 million homes will have one by the end of this year, according to a new study by Leichtman Research Group. An HDTV set is becoming the norm for high-end TV buyers, who will drive growth of the segment. The firm predicted the number of HDTV-capable homes will reach 33 million by the end of 2007.