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Jul 14, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Tapper Named ABC National Correspondent

ABC News has named political journalist Jake Tapper a national correspondent. He will be based in Washington. Mr. Tapper, whose work earned him inclusion in “The Best American Political Writing 2002,” was a correspondent for Salon.com, a columnist for Talk magazine and a contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post and The Weekly Standard.

He was with CNN as co-host of the short-lived “Take Five.” He was a host of The Sundance Channel’s “24 Frame News” and a correspondent for a series of VH1 news specials in 2002.

He is the author of two books: “Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency” and “Body Slam: The Jesse Ventura Story” and has drawn a political comic strip, “Capitol Hell,” for Roll Call for the past nine years.

Stewart Named MSNBC Political Commentator: Alison Stewart, the Peabody-winning MTV News political reporter who went on to anchor and report for CBS News and ABC News, has been named a political commentator for MSNBC.

In another personnel move, former TechTV producer and host Sumi Das will become an MSNBC correspondent assigned to the Laci Peterson murder case.

Charter’s Debt Rating Downgraded: Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s on Monday downgraded the debt rating of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s troubled cable operator Charter Communications to CC from CCC-plus, saying that last week’s $1.7 billion debt offering could cause more problems than it solves.

S&P’s move puts the company deeper into so-called “junk” status, in which companies borrowing debt pay among the highest interest rates and fees in order to compensate investors for taking on the risk.

The rating agency frets that the new offer, which was designed to extend the maturity of obligations that were coming due, reduces the St. Louis-based company’s financial flexibility and might force bondholders to choose between being paid back at less than their original investment or facing a potential default on some of the company’s other debt.

And the downgrading might not stop there: The company’s credit rating continues to be under review for further downgrades, S&P said.

ABC Commits to Scripted Programming: ABC executives admitted they made numerous mistakes last season, including an over-reliance on reality programming and getting caught without enough scripted midseason replacements. ABC Entertainment Television Group Chairman Lloyd Braun and ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne emphasized their commitment to scripted programming this year at a session at the Television Critics Association press tour in Hollywood.

Mr. Braun said he and Ms. Lyne promised they would remain militant with each other about exercising patience next season if new shows stumble out of the gate instead of immediately looking for a quick fix.

While reality can be a quick boost, Mr. Braun said, “Nothing is as profitable as a hit scripted comedy or drama.”

Ms. Lyne and Mr. Braun said they won’t make the same mistake of not being prepared for midseason this year. ABC has two dramas about to begin production-“Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital” and “Line of Fire”-and has ordered a third drama from “Party of Five” creators Christopher Keyser and Amy Lippman.

The Keyser/Lippman drama, produced by Warner Bros. Television and The Tannenbaum Co., is set in an exclusive apartment building in Manhattan. Mr. Keyser, Ms. Lippman, Eric Tannenbaum and Kim Tannenbaum executive produce.

ABC also ordered the sitcom “The Big House,” starring Kevin Hart. Mr. Hart will play a pampered African American man from Malibu who has to move to Philadelphia to live with his working class relatives after his father loses all his money. David Nevins, Brian Grazer and Stephen Engel executive produce the sitcom from 20th Century Fox Television and Imagine Entertainment.

ABC will also look to develop some pilots earlier than normal so it will have more options in January, Mr. Braun said. Ms. Lyne pointed out that “Line of Fire” was developed outside of the normal pilot cycle and benefited by being able to attract a stronger cast and staff because it wasn’t competing against a hundred other pilots.

Mr. Braun wouldn’t go so far as to call moving “The Practice” to Mondays last season a mistake despite the disastrous ratings results. He said “maybe” ABC made a mistake but given the other option of launching three new dramas on Monday night without an established anchor show, it still might have been the right choice.

When ABC renewed the show, Ms. Braun and Ms. Lyne said they had had talks with David E. Kelley and knew he had cast changes in mind to reinvigorate the show. While the cast changes-which included firing half the cast, including star Dylan McDermott-were “more significant than we thought early on,” Mr. Braun said ABC is excited about the direction of the show.

Also at ABC’s press tour:

Mr. Braun said he “absolutely” expects Jimmy Kimmel’s 6-month-old late-night show to make it past year one although it hasn’t been officially renewed yet.

Mr. Braun said he doubts Saturday at 10 p.m. will the permanent time slot for “L.A. Dragnet” if the show does well enough to continue. Mr. Braun and Ms. Lyne recognize that there is no flow to Saturday nights with “Wonderful World of Disney” movies leading into “Dragnet,” he said, but it was the only place on the schedule that the show could incubate while creator Dick Wolf works on shifting its direction.

PBS Leads In NATAS Nominations: Work seen on the Public Broadcasting Service amassed 31 of the news and documentary Emmy nominations announced Monday by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. The Big Three network news organizations followed in a tight cluster. CBS News earned 19 nominations, and ABC News and NBC News earned 18 nominations each.

“National Geographic Explorer” programming that appeared on MSNBC accounted for the bulk of the 13 nominations attributed to MSNBC. “CNN Presents” accounted for four of CNN’s six nominations. Discovery Channel earned five nominations, followed by History Channel (4); Cinemax, HBO and TLC (3 each); Fox Broadcasting (2); National Geographic Channel and Sundance Channel (2 each); and A&E, Animal Planet, CNBC, Discovery Health.

Plaques conveying regional honors will go to KGO-TV, KUSA-TV, WBNS-TV, WBZ-TV, WCPO-TV, WFXT-TV, WMAQ-TV, WTTG-TV and WTVF-TV (1 each) when the Emmys are dispensed during a black-tie dinner Sept. 3. At the dinner, to be held at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City, a Lifetime Achievement Emmy will go to “60 Minutes” creator and executive producer Don Hewitt, longtime executive editor Phil Scheffler, and all past and present “60 Minutes” correspondents and producers.

The “60 Minutes” team will participate in a panel discussion of its 35 years on the CBS network at a 10:30 a.m. Sept. 3 session at Fordham University. The newsmagazine’s crew and retiring Associated Press CEO Lou Boccardi also will be honored at a luncheon that day. A complete list of nominees can be found at www.emmyonline.org.

‘Big Brother’ Contestant Kicked Off Show: “Big Brother” contestant Scott Weintraub was asked to leave the house by producers Sunday morning due to concerns about some of his behavior and comments. Mr. Weintraub is one of the players who was surprised to learn that an ex-girlfriend of his would also be living in the house.

“I don’t want anyone to think that Scott is a bad guy, because he certainly isn’t,” said Executive Producer Arnold Shapiro. “He just didn’t respond well to the Big Brother experience and displayed some unacceptable behavior. We determined this was the right move to make for him and the other houseguests.”

Mr. Weintraub’s departure will be addressed in tomorrow night’s episode, which airs 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. He won’t be replaced in the house and another house guest will be voted off as planned on the Wednesday night episode this week.

Scripps Reports Q2 Profit Surge: E.W. Scripps on Monday reported a huge surge in second-quarter profit, propelled by strong results at its cable channels Home & Garden Television and Food Network. But the company warned th
at third quarter is likely to fall short of analysts’ expectations.

The Cincinnati-based company, which owns 21 newspapers, 10 television stations and a collection of cable channels, reported a 140 percent jump in profit to $64.7 million, or 80 cents a share, vs. nearly $27 million, or 33 cents a share, in 2002.

Revenue climbed nearly 25 percent to $474.8 million from a year-earlier level of $380.4 million.

Scripps said the results were helped in large part by Scripps Networks, the company’s fastest-growing business unit and the operation responsible for the company’s cable channels, which, in addition to HGTV and the Food Network, include DIY — Do It Yourself Network and Fine Living.

The unit saw its second-quarter profit jump 70 percent to $55.9 million, while revenue advanced 28 percent to $142 million. The results were offset partially by increased programming costs at DIY and Fine Living, which are attempting to build household reach from their current levels of 19 million and 17 million, respectively. By comparison, Food Network boasts 79 million households while DIY can be seen in 81 million homes.

The strength of the cable operations helped to offset losses at Scripps’ Shop At Home Network, which lost $5.6 million in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, Scripps’ television stations saw a 1 percent decline in profit to $24.5 million, hurt by increased syndicated programming costs and employee pension costs. Local advertising revenue grew 7 percent to $48 million, more than compensating for a 1 percent decline in national advertising to $26 million.

Limbaugh to Join ESPN’s ‘Sunday NFL Countdown’: Rush Limbaugh, the popular right-of-center national talk-radio personality, is joining ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown,” premiering Sept. 7. Mr. Limbaugh will provide weekly opinion pieces and will participate in impromptu debates with analysts. He will be the “voice of the fan,” sparking debate on issues of the day, according to a statement from Mark Shapiro, ESPN’s executive VP, programming and production.

“Football is like life and I know life,” Mr. Limbaugh said in a statement. “I am a big fan of the NFL and now I get to do what every football fan would love to do.”

Mr. Limbaugh knows professional sports from the inside. One of his first jobs, back in 1979, was director of group sales for the Kansas City Royals.