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Jun 30, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Banner Named Executive Producer of ‘World News Tonight’

A year after he became executive producer of “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” Jon Banner has, as expected, been named executive producer of ABC’s “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings.”

The move is a homecoming of sorts. The Emmy-winning Mr. Banner started his ABC News career in 1989 as a desk assistant on the network’s flagship newscast. His subsequent assignments included stints as Washington-based associate producer in the early ’90s, senior producer of weekend “World News Tonight” and senior broadcast producer of the weeknight editions.

After his assignment to the Washington bureau, he was based in the network’s bureaus in Atlanta (bringing home a duPont-Columbia Award for coverage of the U.S. intervention in Haiti) and, from 1995 to 1999, in Dallas. Subsequent assignments included his role on the team that would win a Peabody Award for ABC News’ coverage of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

During their freshman season at the helm of “This Week,” which started with the handoff from Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts, Mr. Banner and Mr. Stephanopoulos frequently hit the road for interviews with newsmakers ranging from French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin to Jordan’s King Abdullah. But after a seesaw ratings race for months with CBS’s “Face the Nation With Bob Schieffer,” “This Week” finished the key portions of the season in third place.

Mr. Banner will, by later this summer, be reporting to Rick Kaplan, who recently returned full time to the network as the senior VP in charge of the division’s news shows and political unit. Mr. Banner is succeeding Paul Slavin, recently promoted from “World News” to senior VP in charge of newsgathering operations.

“Nightline” executive producer Tom Bettag is still considered the leading candidate to take over “This Week.”

After nearly three years as an executive producer of “The Early Show,” Lyne Pitts is moving to CBS’s “Evening News” as senior broadcast producer. She replaces Wayne Nelson, who will move to “60 Minutes II” as a producer for correspondent Vicki Mabrey. The switch takes place later this month.

Chiklis, Kaczmarek to Announce Primetime Emmy: Michael Chiklis, star of FX’s “The Shield” and Jane Kaczmarek, star of Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle” will participate in the announcement of the 55th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards nominations on Thursday, July 17, with Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman Bryce Zabel.

The nominations will be announced live at 5:38 a.m. at ATAS’ Leonard H. Goldsen Theatre in North Hollywood, Calif. The Emmys will air Sept. 21 on Fox live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Game Show Network Broadens Platform: This fall the Game Show Network will broaden its platform to include video game-related programming. The lineup will include two U.K. programs: “Game Sauce,” a twice-weekly look at the latest video game releases; and “Gamer TV,” a weekly half-hour series covering video game news and events. The programming will air in a Thursday afternoon block and will rerun on weekends.

To kick off the new programming, GSN will produce a documentary about video games. GSN’s first documentary, “Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal,” garnered the network’s highest ratings ever.

‘Animal Kidding’ Debuts July 18: Kids say the darnedest things about animals is the premise behind “Animal Kidding,” a one-hour Animal Planet family series debuting July 18.

The series will be hosted by Dave Coulier, the actor/comedian best known for his role on ABC’s long-running “Full House,” and will feature kids debating such age-old questions as, Why does a dog chase his tail, and why does a camel have a hump?

The series is a production of Animal Planet and LMNO Productions.

‘Confessions’ Returns to NYC: “Taxicab Confessions” says goodbye to drunk showgirls and philandering conventioneers as it leaves Las Vegas for NYC and says hello to chorus girls and philandering conventioneers.

The popular HBO series was conceived as a New York documentary in 1995. Then the program relocated to Vegas for its last seven outings, where it struck backseat confessional pay dirt. Katherine Oliver, commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, praised HBO’s decision to relocate the program.

“A green light for yellow cabs means more jobs for New Yorkers in production,” Ms. Oliver said. “We are delighted that HBO continues to demonstrate its commitment to the city by bringing the ‘Taxicab’ series back to its original home.”

The show resumes production in July.

Viacom and Sundance Concoct ‘TV Lab’: Sundance Channel and Viacom Productions will produce a new reality show in the vein of “Project Greenlight.” Titled “TV Lab,” the show will select a handful of television program ideas submitted by viewers for potential development.

The pilot, produced by Jim Czarnecki (“Bowling For Columbine”), will have finalists showing their “mini-pilots” and pitching their ideas to the audience. Sundance Channel is currently holding an open call for submissions, looking for concepts that “re-invent existing television formats or devise entirely new ones.”

“Sundance Channel hopes that TV LAB will unearth some terrificideas for television programming,” said Larry Aidem, President and CEO of Sundance. “Additionally, we are very pleased to be working with Viacom Productions.”

Viacom will have the first rights to produce and distribute any concept featured on the show.

Sheen to Narrate Bravo Doc: Martin Sheen will record narration today for an upcoming Bravo documentary on the movie-viewing habits of former U.S. presidents. Called “All the Presidents’ Movies,” the three-hour documentary gives a behind-the-scenes look at White House and Camp David film screenings and details the reactions of former presidents to popular films. Some of the commentary is provided by a projectionist who has screened films in the White House for 33 years. The program airs August 7.

Messier to Get $23.7 Million Severance: Deposed Vivendi Universal Chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messier is entitled to a e20.6 million ($23.7 million) payment in connection with his dismissal nearly a year ago, a New York arbitration panel ruled. The ruling came despite objections by his former employer, which said a severance agreement between the company and Mr. Messier was never approved.

Vivendi Universal said today it will go through legal channels to void the tribunal ruling.

“After reviewing the tribunal findings, Vivendi Universal intends to challenge this decision through all available legal actions, both in France and in the United States,” the company said in a statement.

Some of those options will be explored during a Tuesday board meeting, the company added.

A Vivendi Universal spokeswoman declined to elaborate.

The arbitration ruling is the latest development in a legal tussle between the Paris-based French conglomerate, which owns Universal Studios and cable channels USA and Sci Fi, and Mr. Messier, who was booted in July 2002 after his acquisition spree put the company on the brink of bankruptcy.

Mr. Messier claimed that on July 1, 2002, he and Vivendi Universal inked a severance agreement in which he was due the payment. However, Vivendi Universal said the severance package was never approved by the company’s board of directors.

Cablevision Up Stake in Channels: Cablevision Systems agreed today to purchase the 20 percent stake in cable channels American Movie Classics, Independent Film Channel and WE: Women’s Entertainment that it didn’t already own from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $500 million. The agreement effectively clears the way for both MGM and Cablevision to go after entertainment assets owned by Vivendi Universal.

As part of the deal, Cablevision’s Rainbow Media Holdings unit, which controls the three cable channels, will pay MGM $250 million in cash. The balance will be in the form of a note issued by Cablevision set to mature in five months, when Cablevision has the option to pay the note in the form of cash or Class A common st
ock.

“We are turning an asset for which the financial community gave us little credit into over $2 per share in cash,” said MGM Chairman and CEO Alex Yemenidjian. He added that upon the completion of the sale the company will be debt free and have “more flexibility in pursuing other value-creation opportunities for our shareholders.”

Los Angeles-based MGM purchased the 20 percent stake in April 2001 for $825 million in cash. At that time the holdings included the three channels plus the Bravo cable network. When Rainbow sold the Bravo channel to NBC earlier this year, MGM received a $250 million payment as part of that sale.

MGM said today’s agreement will result in the company booking a $93 million loss in the second quarter.

The sale unhinges two companies that are making separate bids for the U.S. entertainment assets of Vivendi Universal, the debt-laden French conglomerate that is putting up for sale media assets that include Universal Studios, a TV production operation that produces the “Law & Order” franchise, cable channels USA and Sci Fi and theme parks.

Cablevision several weeks ago agreed to commit the three cable channels to a bid put together by Vivendi Universal Vice Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. in which Cablevision contributes the channels in exchange for a stake in a newly formed entertainment company that would include Vivendi Universal’s entertainment assets and the Cablevision properties.

Meanwhile, MGM is making a bid for the Vivendi assets as well, with billionaire Kirk Kerkorian expected to contribute to the studio’s offer.

Vivendi Universal is currently examining the offers, with its board of directors expected to take up the bids during its monthly board meeting Tuesday.

A Vivendi Universal spokeswoman declined to comment.

Beahrs steps down at Court TV: Dick Beahrs, Court TV’s president and chief operating officer, will retire at the end of this year.

Until then, he will serve as an advisor to the network. Additionally, he plans to spend more time on public service initiatives and other personal interests, according to a network statement.

Mr. Beahrs joined the network in 1992 as COO, adding the president’s portfolio seven years later.

Formerly, Mr. Beahrs was president of the Comedy Channel, which later became Comedy Central. He served at HBO as Senior VP of sales and marketing at Cinemax and Senior VP of new business development, introducing the Spanish language enhancement of HBO.

The departure was announced by Court TV Chairman and CEO Henry Schleiff, who said of Mr. Beahrs that his “leadership and unbridled passion helped Court TV develop into a must-have network.” The departure was characterized as a “normal” and amicable retirement by a network spokeswoman.