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Jun 26, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Schwartz to Join Cablevision

AOL Time Warner’s deputy general counsel, Jonathan Schwartz, is leaving his post at the media giant after less than a year to join Cablevision as the multiple-system operator’s top lawyer.

An AOL spokeswoman confirmed that Mr. Schwartz was leaving the company, but declined to be more specific. A Cablevision spokeswoman declined to comment.

Mr. Schwartz’s arrival at Bethpage, N.Y.-based Cablevision comes as the company recovers from the firing of 14 executives at its Rainbow Media unit last week. The terminations, which included AMC Networks President Kate McEnroe, stemmed from the discovery that marketing expenses were improperly booked in other years.

A former federal prosecutor who held several top positions within the Justice Department, Mr. Schwartz joined AOL in August 2002, after having served as general counsel at file-swapping company Napster.

For its part, the AOL spokeswoman said that the company, which is embroiled in investigations by both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission over accounting practices at its America Online unit, has a team of lawyers in place to work with the government in its probe.

Viacom Considering Vivendi Assets: Viacom may not be abandoning its desire for some of Vivendi Universal’s U.S. entertainment assets after all.

Despite having not submitted a bid on Monday for a collection of assets that includes Vivendi Universal Entertainment’s television production operation, Universal film studio and cable channels USA and Sci Fi, plus Vivendi Universal’s music group and theme park business, a person familiar with Viacom’s thinking said the company is not out of the game entirely.

The company this week expressed interest – as it has long done – in the cable assets, and apparently left the door open for Viacom to swoop in later and ink a deal, this person said.

A Viacom spokeswoman declined to comment.

One possible scenario is Viacom partnering up with one of the parties that has already signaled an interest in the entertainment assets. Those parties include Liberty Media, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, an investment group headed up by Vivendi Universal Vice Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. and a second investor team that includes oil billionaire Marvin Davis.

General Electric’s NBC unit has submitted a letter of interest, though no formal bid.

A potential partner for Viacom could be Liberty Media, which is making a play for all of Vivendi Universal’s U.S. entertainment properties. Liberty Chairman John Malone two weeks ago said that while he currently wasn’t teaming up with anyone – including Viacom – to make a bid, he “wouldn’t rule out any bizarre combination or outcome.”

Cablevision Adds New SVOD Service: Cablevision continues to bang the SVOD drum and will add its seventh subscription video-on-demand service July 1 when it launches Anime Network on Demand. The service will be available to Cablevision’s more than 505,000 digital customers. Priced at $6.95, the offering joins the lineup of Cablevision SVOD packages including HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Fox, Disney Channel and Playboy.

Initial programming will consist of more than 20 hours of content, refreshed monthly, including anime series and films in four genres: action, science fiction, martial arts and comedy. The amount of content will double in a few months.

The deal is significant for Anime because it is the fledgling network’s first SVOD launch. Comcast carries the service free in Philadelphia, Northern New Jersey and Boston. Anime hopes to prove demand for its network through VOD rollouts and then mushroom into a linear channel.

WBBM Hires Former Police Officer as Reporter: Chicago’s CBS O&O WBBM continues to make noise in the Windy City, this time with the bold and risky step of hiring a reporter with no journalism experience to cover issues impacting people with disabilities. But, Jim Mullen, a former Chicago police officer who became a quadriplegic when he was shot in the face in the line of duty in 1996, has ample personal experience.

WBBM introduced Mr. Mullen today as the newest member of the rebuilding news shop. He will cover the disability beat with stories slated to air at least once a week and probably more, said Joe Ahern, the station’s general manager.

Though Mr. Mullen has never reported for a news outlet before, Mr. Ahern said he was willing to take a chance. “He was a police officer. Who knows better how to investigate and search out a story?” Mr. Ahern asked. In addition, through the Jim Mullen Foundation, Mr. Mullen has been a public speaker and has talked to companies and organizations to sensitize them to issues relating to disabilities. Mr. Mullen is a native Chicagoan, which should serve him well in the parochial town.

Cynics and critics may say WBBM made the hire to go for heartstrings and publicity. To the potential naysayers, Mr. Ahern’s response was: “I feel sorry for them. If you can find something negative out of this, I pray for you.”

Mr. Mullen’s first on-air appearance will be this Sunday on “Eye on Chicago” with Antonio Mora, when he will be introduced to WBBM viewers. His coverage should start next week. Story topics could include new technology to help people with disabilities and a restaurant in violation of accessibility laws, Mr. Ahern said. “What better way to cover it than to go rolling up and say, ‘I can’t get in here,'” Mr. Ahern said. The GM is taking a page from the WLS playbook from his days with the local ABC O&O powerhouse. WLS in 1991 hired deaf reporter Karen Meyer, who covers disability issues for the station.

Other disabled broadcast journalists include wheelchair-bound meteorologist Pam Daale at McGraw-Hill-owned ABC affiliate KMGH in Denver and Adrienne Alpert at ABC O&O KABC in Los Angeles. She was injured on the job in 2000 and continues to report for the station, though her focus is largely on longer interviews.

There are 54 million Americans with disabilities, and more than 400,000 are in Chicago, WBBM said.

NFL Network Puts Key Execs in Place: NFL Senior Director of Broadcasting Charles Coplin has moved into the post of VP of programming at the NFL Network, and YES Network Director of Programming Daniel Margulis is moving over to become the NFL Network’s director of program acquisitions.

The NFL Network, which is scheduled for a fall launch, has an initial carriage agreement that will put it on DirecTV’s basic service, seen in more than 11.4 million homes.

20th, CBS, Kelley File Suit Over Series Title: 20th Century Fox, CBS and Kelley Productions have filed a lawsuit against a New-Hampshire-based production company that has been trying to prevent them from using the name “The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire” for a fall series about three brothers living in a small town in New Hampshire. The series was created and executive produced by David E. Kelley.

MJM Productions has claimed in numerous letters to 20th and CBS that the title infringes on the title of a movie MJM produced called “Brotherhood,” which was about five college-age friends who return to their small town in New Hampshire, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The movie was written by a 19-year-old film student. MJM also claims that the show’s producers have violated copyright laws based on the similarity of the two works, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit accuses MJM of threatening to sue the producers and network to prevent them from using the title.

In a pre-emptive action against MJM, 20th, CBS and Kelley Productions are asking the court to quickly rule that “The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire” does not infringe on any of MJM’s trademark rights related to the movie “Brotherhood” and affirm their copyright on “The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire.”

“We believe that MJM’s claim that it has any monopoly on the use of the word ‘brotherhood’ in film or television series titles is ludicrous and is unsupported by the law or the facts in this situation,” 20th, CBS and Kelley Productions said in a statement. “Given MJM’s meritless demands for compensation and threa
ts to ask a court to enjoin the use of our title, we have filed this complaint for declaratory relief to protect our copyright, our First Amendment rights, and our ability to move forward unhindered in the production, promotion and broadcast of David E. Kelley’s eagerly anticipated new series, ‘The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire.'”

Cartoon Network Greenlights ‘Venture Brothers’: Cartoon Network has given the late-night green light to 13 episodes of “The Venture Brothers,” the latest addition to its Adult Swim block. The comedy series, from New York-based Noodlesoup Productions, will debut in March 2004, but the pilot episode will air July 27 at 11 p.m.

The half-hour series follows the adventures of two dim-witted brothers, their scientist father and his bodyguard.Drug Ad Restrictions Fail in Senate: The U.S. Senate has defeated an attempt to limit direct-to-consumer drug advertising as part of a new Medicare prescription program.

Wednesday’s vote was 69 to 26 against the proposed amendment offered by U.S. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

Ad groups had said passage of the amendment would effectively kill broadcast DTC ads, which represent $2.3 billion in advertising annually, most of it broadcast. According to a report on AdAge.com, ad groups Wednesday said they were pleased by the vote but weren’t entirely sure the threat of direct-to-consumer curbs had ended.

Ambrosini Leaving BET: Black Entertainment Television Chief Financial Officer Bob Ambrosini will leave the cable channel on July 1 to “pursue other professional endeavors,” the cable channel announced today.

“I plan to take some time off and then see what’s out there,” Mr. Ambrosini said in an interview. “It’s a brave new world out there. I have no one thing targeted.”

Mr. Ambrosini’s departure comes after three years with BET, during which he worked on Viacom’s $2 billion acquisition of BET in late 2000 and the ensuing integration into the Viacom fold.

He joined the Washington-based channel after having served as CFO of Texfi, a New York-based textile company that he helped turn around.

Before that, Mr. Ambrosini worked with what he described as several high-net-worth individuals who owned cable systems in the Midwest.

“Bob immersed himself quickly into the critical workings of BET,” said BET CEO Robert Johnson in a statement. “He has served as an important member of our executive team during his tenure.”

NBC Wins Wednesday: “Law & Order” reruns led NBC to a nightly win in adults 18 to 49 last night, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. From 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., “Law” won the time slot with a 3.4/10 in adults 18 to 49 and from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., it won with a 4.5/13. ABC won the 8 p.m.-to-9 p.m. hour in the demo with a combination of reruns of “My Wife and Kids” (2.6/10) and “George Lopez” (3.1/11).

“Drew Carey” returned to ABC last night with back-to-back episodes from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., including the show’s 200th episode. Both episodes finished third in their time slots.

On the reality front, in adults 18 to 49, NBC’s “Fame” finished in third place in its time slot with a 2.4/9; Fox’s “American Juniors” results show finished tied for second in its time slot (2.5/9); Fox’s “Paradise Hotel” finished second in its time slot (3.3/10); and the debut of ABC’s “Dating Experiment” finished second (2.4/7) in its time slot.

In adults 18 to 49, NBC won the night with a 3.4/11, followed by Fox (3.0/10), ABC (2.8/9) and CBS (1.9/6). NBC also won the night in total viewers with 9.7 million, followed by CBS (7.8 million), ABC (6.5 million) and Fox (6.4 million).