Breaking News Archives

Jun 19, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Jennifer Aniston Tops Forbes Top 100

“Friends” star Jennifer Aniston has popped to the top of Forbes magazine’s annual Top 100 Celebrities List, which is based on earnings, publicity and public interest. She displaces pop singer Britney Spears, who fell off the list altogether.

The only other TV star in the top 10 this year is Oprah Winfrey, whom Forbes ranks eighth even though her earnings are higher than Ms. Aniston’s. According to Forbes Ms. Aniston made $35 million last year, while Ms. Winfrey took home $180 million.

The difference in rank is based on the way Forbes judges the top celebrities. Ms. Aniston scored 339,000 Web hits, 8,552 press mentions and 187 TV and radio appearances and was on 13.5 magazine covers.

By contrast, Ms. Winfrey had 182,000 Web hits, 8,759 press mentions, 428 radio and TV appearances and 2.5 magazine covers, according to the New York-based business publication.

Ms. Aniston makes $1.25 million for each episode of “Friends.” Others on the show ranked lower.

Lisa Kudrow was No. 30, Courteney Cox was No. 41 and the only male co-star to make the list, Matthew Perry, ranked 25th.

Ms. Aniston’s husband, actor Brad Pitt, is one of the highest-paid movie stars, but didn’t make the list at all this year.

Others in the top ten were (2) Eminem and Dr. Dre, (3) Tiger Woods, (4) Steven Spielberg, (5) Jennifer Lopez, (6) Paul McCartney, (7) Ben Affleck, (9) Tom Hanks and (10) The Rolling Stones.

Viacom Loses Spike TV Appeal: Director Spike Lee scored a major victory in his fight against Viacom today when a New York appellate court upheld an injunction barring the company from renaming TNN “Spike TV.” The court also ruled that Viacom could appeal in September.

In a prepared statement, a Viacom spokesman said the case “is far from over.”

“We think today’s ruling perpetuates a flawed and perplexing decision with far-reaching First Amendment implications that go well beyond the significant financial damage our network has incurred,” read the statement. “We intend to appeal vigorously and still expect to be vindicated ultimately. We firmly believe we have an absolute right to use the common word ‘spike’ as the name of our network.”

Viacom has claimed it had already lost $16.8 million in the first week due to the injunction. The network was first barred from using the name earlier this week by New York Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub when he granted Mr. Lee’s request for an injunction halting the planned brand change.

In papers filed with the appellate court, Viacom said that complying with the injunction has created “confusion, expense and disruption” and will likely cost the network hundreds of millions of dollars in lost advertising revenue.

Mr. Lee filed suit against the network June 2. He claimed the Viacom-owned network intentionally chose the name to capitalize on his reputation as a popular director and celebrity. In the complaint, Mr. Lee noted that previous news articles have referred to his television directorial work as “Spike TV,” and that he recently launched an advertising agency called “SpikeDDB.”

More important, according to Justice Tolub, was the allegation in Mr. Lee’s complaint that TNN President Albie Hecht admitted in media interviews that the affinity with Mr. Lee was one reason the defendants chose the name, and that Mr. Hecht has stated Spike TV “refers to a ‘guy’s name’ that has an ‘attitude’ and a ‘personality’ that is ‘aggressive,’ ‘irreverent, unapologetically male’ and is ‘smart and contemporary.'”

Benson, Provencio to Run ABC Marketing: Mike Benson and Marla Provencio will jointly run ABC Entertainment’s marketing, advertising and promotions department. Their exact titles, duties and lines of reporting are still to be determined.

Mr. Benson most recently has been senior VP of the department and has twice helped run it on an interim basis, first in 2002, between the departure of Alan Cohen in January and the arrival of Steve Sohmer in June. Mr. Sohmer left ABC in March 2003, and Mr. Benson split the leadership duties with Geoff Calnan and Paul Wang, who were recruited by Mr. Sohmer in fall of 2002.

The award-winning Mr. Benson joined ABC in 1998 after stints at VH1 and KCBS-TV. Los Angeles. Ms. Provencio has been with ABC since 1980 in a variety of capacities.

NBC Agency Hires Marketing Executives: The NBC Agency has tapped two marketing executives to seek out marketing partners for the network. Senior Marketing Director Jodi Flicker and Marketing Services Director Sharon Merle-Lieberman will report to Barbara Blangiardi, VP for marketing and special projects at The NBC Agency. Both positions are new.

Ms. Flicker’s duties will include developing marketing partnerships with companies outside NBC and creating highly visible off-network exposure for NBC programming. She comes from Saatchi & Saatchi.

Ms. Merle-Lieberman will focus on NBC Entertainment and will work with Bravo and NBC sales marketing. She comes from GetMusic.com.

‘Gilmore’ Spinoff Canceled: The “Gilmore Girls” midseason spinoff for which there had been such high hopes has been killed because of high costs associated with plans to shoot six episodes of the hour without any soundstage and all on location in Venice, Calif., and Los Angeles.

Jess, the “Gilmore” heartthrob played by Milo Ventimiglia, was to have moved to Venice to live with his long-lost father (Rob Estes). Sherilynn Fenn had been cast as the father’s girlfriend.

There was no word on the fate of Mr. Ventimiglia’s character Jess but the actor is known to be popular with The WB executives.

“After thorough analysis, we have determined that the costs to produce six episodes of an ambitious series, filmed totally on location in Venice, Calif., were simply prohibitive,” said Jordan Levin, president of The WB, and Peter Roth, president of Warner Bros. Television, in a joint statement.

“I should have listened to what my mother told me when I was a little girl: ‘If you set a show in Venice, no one’s gonna pay for it,’ ” said Amy Sherman-Palladino, creator and co-executive producer of Gilmore Girls with her husband Daniel, in a statement. “This was a great project with a great cast.”

Burke, Tarses to Form Production Company: Rumors came true with the announcement today that NBC prime-time development executive VP Karey Burke and former network executive Jamie Tarses will form a production company that has a first-look development deal with NBC Studios.

The two-year deal was announced by NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker.

Ms. Burke will make her switch in mid-July after helping reorganize NBC Entertainment in advance of the arrival of Kevin Reilly from FX to take the newly created position of president of prime-time development, a role that will include oversight of such deals as the Burke-Tarses arrangement.

Ms. Burke’s NBC career started in 1988 as an assistant to Ms. Tarses, then manager of current programs for NBC Entertainment.

Ms. Burke rose through the NBC programming ranks and in 1991moved across town to become director of ABC Productions. She came back to NBC two years later as Ms. Tarses’ director of comedy development.

Ms. Tarses, meanwhile, jumped to ABC in 1996 and for three stormy years was president of the Entertainment division. She has been president of James Burrows’ Three Sisters Productions for the past three years.

Senate Committee Votes to Overturn FCC Ruling: In a stinging rebuke to the Federal Communications Commission, the Senate Commerce Committee voted today to overturn an agency ruling raising the cap on national broadcast ownership to 45 percent. In addition, the committee axed the FCC’s decision to relax a rule that barred broadcasters from acquiring daily newspapers in their markets.

Under the ruling approved by the committee, the ownership cap would be rolled back to bar broadcasters from acquiring TV stations reaching more than 35 percent of the nation’s TV homes.

The committee’s vote would resurrect the ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, but would provide for waivers for combinations in the nation’s 60 smallest markets when those are in the public interest.

rulings were a particularly harsh swat at the major TV networks, which led the charge to raise the national ownership cap. If the legislation becomes law, Viacom and Fox could be especially hard hit because they’re the only companies that own stations reaching more than 35 percent of TV homes. The committee rejected an amendment that would have spared them the necessity of divesting enough stations to comply with the cap’s ceiling.

In another development that could impact the networks, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., announced that he and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., have agreed to broker talks with industry representatives to consider the demands of independent producers for more representation on the prime-time schedules of the major TV networks.

The Commerce Committee’s vote also came as a slap at the National Association of Broadcasters, which had been lobbying committee members to roll back the national ownership cap but to leave unmolested other deregulation the FCC provided.

“Today’s votes show that cynical and wrongheaded NAB advocacy driven by a few newspaper-owned affiliates has produced a disaster for all broadcasters — TV, radio, networks and affiliates,” said Preston Padden, executive VP, government relations, The Walt Disney Co. “It is past time for NAB to change course and stop attacking broadcasters.”

One of the more unusual provisions included in the legislation came in the form of an amendment from Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, carving out an exception in the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule to provide for waivers in markets ranked No. 150 and smaller.

As the legislation was approved, an interested party in one of those markets would first seek clearance for a deal from the state public utilities commission. Under the provision, the FCC is then supposed to approve the merger within 60 days “unless there is compelling evidence that such transaction would be contrary to the public interest.”

In the wake of the committee vote, NAB President and CEO Eddie Fritts announced that the association would “strongly oppose this legislation.” In addition, Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said he has asked the agency to stay its regulations.

“In light of the very real possibility that Congress will reverse the commission’s vote to loosen its media ownership limits, I believe the FCC should defer to today’s congressional action and stay its decision until the people’s elected representatives complete their deliberations on media concentration,” Mr. Copps said. “This strong and bipartisan committee action should flash the orange light of ‘slow down and prepare to stop’ for those media companies rushing to buy, sell or swap stations all across America.”

Some industry lobbyists were predicting that the legislation would fall of its own weight because it is loaded down with a variety of provisions. But one well-placed industry source said the initiative appeared to be gaining momentum and could prove to be particularly dangerous for the industry now because Sen. Stevens voiced support for the provision resurrecting the newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership rule.

As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Stevens can always attempt to attach the legislation as a rider to an appropriations bill, assuming the measure is otherwise stymied. “Given our momentum, even Billy Tauzin may not be able to save the industry,” said Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy.

Gemstar-TV Guide Suit Against EchoStar Thrown Out: A federal judge threw out a copyright infringement lawsuit filed by Gemstar-TV Guide International against satellite company EchoStar Communications over electronic program guide technology that Gemstar claimed it owned, EchoStar said today.

The ruling by a U.S. District Court Judge in Atlanta determined that Pasadena, Calif.-based Gemstar did not fully own a patent that relates to the program guide technology. The judge also denied Gemstar’s motion to amend its pleadings to fix its interpretation of its ownership of the patent.

In a statement, Gemstar said it is “disappointed in the court’s ruling and believes that it and its subsidiaries have all the necessary rights required to pursue enforcement [of the patent] against EchoStar and others.” The company said it would appeal the ruling.

The legal tussle dates back to December 2000, when Littleton, Colo.-based EchoStar accused Gemstar of violating antitrust laws with respect to the program guide patents. Gemstar countersued with the patent infringement claims.

That antitrust lawsuit is slated to go to trial sometime in 2004.

AMC Prez Fired in Accounting Probe: American Movie Classics President Kate McEnroe was one of 14 staff members fired Wednesday from the cable channel following an accounting probe that identified $6.2 million in marketing expenses that were improperly accrued in 2002 instead of 2003.

The firings were the result of a five-month investigation of AMC’s books from 1999 through 2002 by internal auditors at Cablevision and its Rainbow Media Holdings unit, which runs AMC, and external auditors from the accounting firm of KPMG. The company said it has notified government authorities of the situation.

According to the company, “Certain employees of the national services division” improperly accelerated the accrual of marketing expenses from 2003 and put them on the 2002 books. In some cases, employees also fabricated invoices as part of their accounting scam. Cablevision officials said they found no evidence of improper revenue recognition.

As a result of its internal probe, Cablevision said it returned all but $1.7 million of the improperly accrued expenses to the correct books before the company’s release of its full-year 2002 results.

Cablevision added that it believed improper accruals in 2000 and 2001 were approximately the same amount discovered in the 2002 books, but added that “these numbers are insignificant with respect to its previously issued financial statements.” As such, Cablevision said it had no plans to restate earnings for those years, a move it said that KPMG supports.

The revelation about the accounting problems comes as Cablevision is preparing to join Vivendi Universal Vice Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. in a bid for Vivendi Universal’s U.S. entertainment assets. As part of that plan, Cablevision would contribute three cable channels, including AMC, to a new company that would be run by Mr. Bronfman in exchange for a 25 percent to 33 percent stake in the new company.

A person close to Mr. Bronfman said the Bronfman investment team knew about the accounting troubles and the revelation or any potential probe by federal regulators would not derail plans to bid for the assets by Vivendi Universal’s June 23 deadline.

Stewart Trial Scheduled for Jan. 12: A federal judge on Thursday scheduled Jan. 12 as the date Martha Stewart will stand trial on charges arising out of her sale of ImClone Systems stock, according to wire reports.

Ms. Stewart’s lawyers are set to present oral arguments Nov. 18 before U.S. District Court Judge Miriam Cedarbaum.

The trial stems from a five-count indictment leveled against Ms. Stewart earlier this month in connection with what federal investigators claim was an illegal sale of nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone stock in December 2001. She faces charges of fraud, conspiracy and making false statements to federal agents.

Ms. Stewart, who was forced to step down as chairman and CEO of her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, has pleaded innocent.

RIAA’s Rosen to Become CNBC Commentator: The Recording Industry Association of America’s loss will be CNBC’s gain. After Hilary Rosen’s five-year reign as CEO comes to a close at the end of the month, she will become a commentator for various CNBC programs.

She will appear once weekly on weekday programs “Squawk Box” (7-10 a.m.) and “Open Exchange with Tyler Mathisen” (2-3 p.m.) and the 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday show “Capital Report with Alan Murray and Gloria Borger” to discuss political and regulatory is
sues as they relate to the media, entertainment and the information industries.

“Hilary is a recognized and respected authority on media, politics and the information industries,” said CNBC President Pamela Thomas-Graham.

Her new gig is “extremely part time,” said Ms. Rosen, whose reasons for making the career change included spending more time with her young children.

“Capital Report” originates from Washington, where Ms. Rosen lives. With “my love of politics and experience in politics,” that assignment was a natural, said Ms. Rosen, who was the recording industry’s head lobbyist on such hot-button issues as digital sharing on the Internet. “It’s just a great opportunity,” she said.

TNN Claims Spike Suit Cost Net $16.8M: TNN claimed it will lose 16.8 million this week due to an injunction halting the network from changing its name to Spike TV. The network was barred from using the name last week by a New York Supreme Court judge who granted director Spike Lee’s request for an injunction halting the planned brand change. In papers filed in an appellate court, the network said that complying with the injunction has created “confusion, expense and disruption” and will likely cost the network hundreds of millions in lost advertising revenue.

Mr. Lee filed suit against the network June 2 and claims TNN intentionally choose the name to capitalize on his reputation as a popular director and celebrity personality.

Viacom attorneys have argued that Mr. Lee cannot prove ownership of the name Spike, citing other figures who use the moniker, including director Spike Jonze, musician Spike Jones and writer Spike Milligan.

The rebranding was scheduled for last Monday, but the network has remained “The New TNN” due to the injunction.

USA Interactive Getting New Name: Barry Diller’s USA Interactive will change its name Monday to InterActiveCorp (IAC), a move the company says better reflects its business as a stakeholder in or owner of several high-profile e-commerce Web sites.

As part of the change, the company will change its stock ticker symbol to “IACI” from its current “USAI.”

Mr. Diller said in a statement the company kept the USA name following the 2002 sale to Vivendi Universal of its entertainment assets — which included TV production operations for such shows as “Law & Order” and for cable channel USA — because it wanted to minimize confusion during what he called the company’s transition into an interactive company.

IAC’s operating businesses include Expedia, Citysearch, Ticketmaster, Hotels.com and the recently acquired LendingTree.