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Jul 16, 2003  •  Post A Comment

‘Queer Eye’ Breaks Bravo Ratings Records

The premiere of Bravo’s “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” was the highest-rated show in the network’s history, with a 1.61 household rating.

The program, which has garnered rave reviews from national media outlets, improved the time period by 804 percent over Bravo’s 2002-03 season average in the 25 to 54 viewers. During the hour Bravo was the No. 2 ad-supported cable network, behind MTV and its “The Real World” and “The Osbournes.” The airing broke Bravo’s previous record by 68 percent.

A second hour of “Queer Eye” immediately following the premiere became Bravo’s second-highest-rated program.

House Panel OKs Ownership Cap Rollback: In a major defeat for the TV networks, the House Appropriations Committee voted 40-25 Wednesday to approve a rider to an appropriations bill that would roll back the cap on the national TV ownership to 35 percent. In its controversial June 2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission’s GOP majority raised the cap to allow broadcasters to acquire TV stations reaching 45 percent of the nation’s TV homes. But the rider, offered by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., the appropriation’s committee’s ranking minority member, would knock the cap back by barring the FCC from spending any money to authorize acquisitions that would exceed the old limit. The committee vote crossed party lines, with such leading Republicans as Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., voting in favor of the measure.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla., voted against the amendment, warning that White House officials had threatened to recommend a presidential veto of the appropriations bill if the cap amendment were attached. Before taking its historic roll-call vote on the cap issue, the committee rejected by voice vote an amendment offered by Rep. Anne Northrup, R-Ky., that would have extended the rollback to resurrect an FCC rule that bars broadcasters from acquiring daily newspapers in their markets.

Rep. Obey said that while he personally supports the idea of overturning all of the FCC’s media ownership deregulation, he believes that widening the rollback beyond the cap at this point would kill the rollback rider altogether. “My head overruled my heart when I found out where the votes were,” Rep. Obey said. “The way to win this argument is to take this on a piece at a time.”Like several of his committee colleagues, Rep. Obey argued that a rollback is crucial to preserve local media diversity. “We’re in danger of shutting off the blood supply to democracy,” Rep. Obey said.

In their debate on the measure, some committee lawmakers made clear that they had scores to settle with major media companies. Rep. Wolf, for instance, said he was upset that NBC “literally shut us out” when the Peacock Network announced a short-lived initiative to run hard liquor ads a couple of years ago. “I can’t believe the level to which commercial television has sunk,” added Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio. “It’s literally a garbage pit.”

Leading the charge for the networks at the session was Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., who argued that the regulations were unwarranted in the face of the diversity of sources of information now available to the public on TV and the Internet. “We have almost unlimited sources of information today,” Rep. Kolbe said.

The committee vote came as a vicious slap to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin, R-La., who was reportedly lobbying Appropriations Committee members personally to kill the amendment before the vote, in part on grounds that media ownership issues are under the jurisdiction of the Commerce Committee. Rep. Obey said Rep. Tauzin had made clear that he would block any effort to roll back the FCC’s deregulation, even though a majority of his Commerce Committee members have publicly endorsed rollback initiatives.

The Appropriations Committee vote was also a blow to the National Association of Broadcasters, which recently announced that it had joined forces with the networks to fight any rollback legislation. NAB, which previously supported a rollback to 35 percent, said it feared that so much sentiment had built up against the ownership deregulation on Capitol Hill that it wouldn’t be able to prevent lawmakers from approving rollback legislation that included provisions targeting elements of the FCC’s deregulation moves that NAB’s members support.

Despite NAB’s bailout, the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance, representing 600 affiliates of ABC, CBS and NBC, has continued to support legislation to reinstate the 35 percent cap. Rep. Obey cited the group’s position while arguing in favor of his rider amendment. In the wake of the vote, Fred Reynolds, president of the Viacom Stations Group, said that because of the way the rider was written, it might not require his company to divest any TV properties-even though Viacom currently holds stations reaching about 40 percent of the nation’s TV homes. He also said it appeared clear that the broadcast networks were getting hurt by the grudges that Republican lawmakers harbor against CNN news coverage and Democrats hold against Fox News Channel. “This issue is very confusing because a lot of people don’t understand where your cable system ends and TV station begins,” Mr. Reynolds said. Before the appropriations bill can become law, it must be approved by the full House and the Senate and signed by the president.

The leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee have already publicly endorsed rollback initiatives. In an alert Wednesday afternoon, Legg Mason Equity Research said the Appropriations Committee vote “markedly increases the chances that some form of the legislation will ultimately be enacted.” Added the firm, “We are skeptical the president would veto the spending bill over this amendment, given that support seems to be spreading like a prairie fire.”

In the wake of the vote, Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Rep. Tauzin, said the lawmaker would continue to fight.

“This limits our options but does not eliminate all of them,” Mr. Johnson said. “This fight is far from over. Unfortunately to some people this was more about settling old scores than it was on setting a sound telecommunications policy for America. This was their chance to use the networks as a punching bag.”

Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the NAB, said, “Given the actions already taken in the Senate, our concern remains that it is unlikely, if not impossible, to limit congressional re-regulation of broadcasting to a 35 percent rollback of national TV ownership rules.”

Harbert to Open Production Company: Former NBC Studios President Ted Harbert is opening his own production company based at Twentieth Century Fox Television. The new entity will be named Ted Harbert Television, and already has script commitments from NBC, CBS and The WB. The two-year deal has an option for a third year and allows Mr. Harbert to hire a development executive. Mr. Harbert left NBC Studios earlier this summer in a reorganization that brought FX President Kevin Reilly to NBC to oversee development at the network and studio. Mr. Harbert is a former ABC Entertainment chairman.

Sherman Renews Contract with ABC: Thom Sherman, ABC’s senior VP of drama series, has signed a contract that will keep him at the network for two more years. He has been head of drama at the network for the last two years.

Rosanna Arquette Gets Sitcom: Rosanna Arquette has signed a deal with ABC Family Channel to star in a half-hour, scripted comedy based on her life. The show will co-star her real-life best friend, Kimberly Beck Clark, and will be shot documentary-style with a single camera.

“Rosanna Arquette is such a great, unique talent with a very interesting life,” said Linda Mancuso, ABC Family’s head of programming. “We know this show can be water-cooler television and we believe that we have all the elements required for a breakout hit.”

The show is currently untitled and ABC Family has not announced an airdate.

Charter Orders All-in-One Set-Tops from Digeo: Charter Communications has ordered 100,000 next-generation set-top boxes from Digeo. The boxes, called “media center
s,” are made by Motorola and are based on Digeo’s design and Moxi service, which includes advanced service capability such as personal video recorder functionality, HDTV, VOD and dual-TV tuner to power services to two TVs. Charter had tested a companion box from Digeo and Motorola over the past year with the Moxi service capabilities.

This is the first order for the all-in-one integrated set-top box, said Gina Bender, spokesperson for Digeo. Charter plans to begin commercial deployment in the fourth quarter in Rochester, Minn. If the product gives the operator a competitive advantage over satellite, Charter will roll out to other markets. The box is “a fully integrated media center where you have a central repository in the house for storing any type of content movies, photos, TV shows, and the consumer has access to all that content easily throughout the home,” Ms. Bender said. “It’d almost like a media server inside the consumer house.”