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Jul 18, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Most of Fox’s Fall Schedule to Debut in October

With the exception of drama “The O.C.,” Fox will roll out the majority of its new schedule after Major League baseball playoffs and the World Series end in October, Fox’s top executives told critics at the Television Critics Association press tour in Hollywood.

Every year baseball presents a problem for Fox because it interrupts the first six weeks of the traditional TV season, making it hard for new shows to build traction. By experimenting with starting “The O.C.” on Aug. 5 and by having returning shows anchor six nights of the week, Fox executives are hoping they can change that this year.

“The schedule which the network is returning this year is significantly stronger than the schedule that was launched last year,” said Sandy Grushow, chairman of Fox Television Entertainment Group.

Mr. Grushow appealed to the critics to write about “The O.C.” and tell their readers that this is a scripted show that the network believes in and not a summer burnoff. Viewers have long been conditioned to marginalize summer series because networks have used the season to run out failed shows.

“Keen Eddie,” which debuted in June as part of Fox’ strategy of running scripted series year-round, faltered in the ratings despite good reviews. Ms. Berman said they have not made a final decision on whether “Eddie” would come back, but it would have to show some growth in the ratings for that to happen. “It’s awfully hard sitting here today, looking at a 2 rating in the 18 to 49 demo, to say, ‘Let’s make 22 more of these things,'” Mr. Grushow said.

Mr. Grushow said it was a risk to put on a quirky show like “Eddie” when the American audience flocks to procedural shows like “Law & Order” but that taking risks is what Fox is all about. “I’d much rather be taking those shots than trying to make the ‘Good Morning Miamis of the world,” he said.

Although its ratings have been nowhere near “American Idol’s,” a second edition of “American Juniors” is still on Fox’s fall schedule on Tuesday nights at 8 p.m., Ms. Berman said. “It’s winning its time period solidly” and is a good solution to the gap between post-baseball and the next edition of “Idol,” she said.

However, Mr. Grushow did leave open the possibility that a second edition of “Juniors” could move off the fall schedule if a stronger opportunity presented itself.

While executives talked to critics inside the Renaissance Hotel at Hollywood and Highland, members of the Japanese-American Citizens League protested outside, charging that Fox’s new half-hour show “Banzai” is racist. Ms. Berman said the show is a parody of Japanese game shows and that the network and affiliates have received very few complaints about the show.

“We think the show is hysterically funny” and didn’t intend to offend anyone, she said. “We’re sorry some folks feel that way.”

Other Fox news:

The season opener of third-year series “24” will air commercial free thanks to sponsorship by the Ford Division of The Ford Motor Co., which made a similar deal last year. “24” will premiere Tuesday, Oct. 28, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Fox and America Online have partnered to create “AOL’s ‘The O.C.’ Music Showcase.” “The Showcase” will premiere a clip of a new music video from different artists each week during broadcasts of “The O.C.”

Johnson, Gold Upped at Fox: Fox has anointed new leaders for its comedy and drama development teams. Peter Johnson was promoted to senior VP of drama development from VP. Jeremy Gold was hired as senior VP of comedy development, from VP of comedy at sister studio Twentieth Century Fox Television. Both will report to Craig Erwich, executive VP of programming at Fox.

Ryan Seacrest Project at 65 Percent Clearance: Twentieth Television’s untitled syndication project starring Ryan Seacrest has reached a 65 percent national clearance in two weeks, the studio said. The show, which will be co-executive produced by “TRL” vet Adam Freeman, has been cleared by station groups owned by FOX, Viacom, Tribune, Sinclair and Clear Channel.

“Stations are clearly responding to Ryan’s appeal to audiences of every demographic, and the number of highly visible 5 p.m. time periods prove that they are seeing this show as the perfect early fringe transitional vehicle,” said Bob Cook, president & COO, Twentieth Television.

McClatchy Steers Clear of Freedom Bid: As the newspaper and television station communities await the outcome of the bidding frenzy over the assets of station and newspaper company Freedom Communications, one would-be bidder confirmed it is not vying for the properties.

McClatchy, the newspaper giant that last month was rumored to be on a short list of companies that wanted either all or some combination of Freedom’s 28 daily newspapers and eight TV stations, admitted Thursday that it did not submit a bid for the Freedom assets.

“In light of the number of reports speculating about whether McClatchy is a bidder for all or part of Freedom, we believe it is important for our shareholders and employees to know that we are not involved in the bidding process,” Gary Pruitt, CEO of Sacramento, Calif.-based McClatchy, said in a statement. “As we have said in the past, we look at many potential acquisitions but, because of our exacting criteria, pursue very few.”

It is not known exactly how many companies are bidding for the Freedom assets, which include the Orange County (Calif.) Register as well as TV stations in Providence, R.I., Albany, N.Y., and West Palm Beach, Fla.

A first wave of bids was submitted in late June, with a second round expected later this summer.

AOL Time Warner Shares Upgraded: Wall Street might be having a change of heart when it comes to AOL Time Warner.

Influential Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen on Thursday upgraded her rating on AOL shares to “buy” from “neutral” and raised her price target 47 percent to $24 a share, saying the beleaguered media giant has made significant progress in fixing its balance sheet and gaining control of its cost structure.

“In our view, management has made impressive strides on a number of levels and has accelerated the pace at which it has addressed several key issues,” including “strengthening the balance sheet, ‘right-sizing’ AOL’s cost structure and renewing focus on advertising, particularly high-growth sponsored search,” Ms. Cohen said in her report.

As a result of those developments, the analyst raised her projected levels of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization by $136 million in 2003 to $9.3 billion, and by $200 million to $10.3 billion in 2004.

However, Ms. Cohen warned the company isn’t completely out of the woods just yet. Looming over it still are Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigations into the America Online unit’s accounting practices, the lack of an initial public offering of its cable unit and any failure by management to execute its balance sheet initiatives.

Tribune’s Q2 Profit Jumps: Tribune, the Chicago-based company that owns 12 daily newspapers and 26 television stations, on Thursday reported a 100 percent jump in second-quarter profit to $229.5 million, or 67 cents a share, from a year-earlier profit of $114.2 million, or 33 cents a share. The results reflect strong performance at both the newspaper and TV operations, the company said.

Revenue advanced 5 percent to $1.45 billion, from a $1.38 billion a year ago.

“The advertising environment is slowly but steadily improving, and Tribune’s broadcasting and publishing groups are benefiting as a result,” said CEO Dennis FitzSimmons in a statement.

The company’s broadcasting and entertainment operations recorded a 10 percent increase in revenue to $436 million for the quarter, while operating cash flow climbed 15 percent to $141 million. The group’s operating profit rose 15 percent to $149 million.

At the company’s TV stations, revenue increased 12 percent to $354 million, while operating cash flow surged nearly 16 percent to $156 million. Operating profit rose 15 percent to $144 million. Advertising revenue rose 6 percent.

Among the quarter’s
highlights was its completion in March of acquisitions of KPLR-TV in St. Louis and KWBP-TV in Portland, Ore.

Looking ahead, Tribune said it expects its full-year profit to fall within the range of $2.05 and $2.20 a share.

Emmy Noms Have Instinct for Basic Cable: Tony Shalhoub, who plays USA Network’s obsessive-compulsive detective in the one-hour comedy “Monk,” and Michael Chiklis, who plays the toughest detective on TV in FX’s “The Shield” were on the Outstanding Actors lists when nominations were announced for the 55th annual Primetime Emmy Awards show this morning, Thursday, July 17.

The “Monk” and “Shield” acting nominations are the latest signs that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has developed an instinct for honoring basic cable.

Premium cable network HBO once again led all networks in total nominations, with a spectacular 109, followed by NBC’s 77, CBS’s 59, Fox’s 37 and ABC’s 33 and PBS’s 16. TNT scored 14 nominations, followed by Showtime and A&E with 12 each and Sci Fi with 10. All other networks had single-digit nomination totals.

Nominees for Outstanding Drama are CBS’s “C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation,” HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” HBO’s “Sopranos,” Fox’s “24” and NBC’s “The West Wing.”

Nominees for Outstanding Comedy are HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” HBO’s “Sex and the City,” CBS’s “Everybody Loves Raymond,” NBC’s “Friends” and NBC’s “Will and Grace.”

In the acting major categories there were few surprises. Joining Mr. Shalhoub in the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy category were Larry David (HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Bernie Mac (Fox’s “The Bernie Mac Show”), Matt LeBlanc (“Friends”), Eric McCormack (“Will and Grace”) and Ray Romano (“Raymond”).

The nominees in the Outstanding Actress in a Comedy category are Jennifer Aniston (“Friends”), Patricia Heaton (“Raymond”), Debra Messing (“Will and Grace”), Sarah Jessica Parker (“Sex and the City”) and Jane Kaczmarek (Fox’s “Malcolm in the Middle”).

The nominees in the Outstanding Actress in a Drama category are Frances Conroy (“Six Feet Under”), Jennifer Garner (ABC’s “Alias”), Edie Falco (“The Sopranos”), Marg Helgenberger (“C.S.I.”) and Allison Janney (“The West Wing”).

Joining Mr. Chiklis in the Outstanding Actor in a Drama category are James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”), Peter Krause (“Six Feet Under”), Martin Sheen (“The West Wing”) and Kiefer Sutherland (“24”).

If there was an unexpected surprise in the major nominations, where even the “surprises” like Mr. Shalhoub’s nomination had been widely predicted, it was the absence of “Law and Order” from the best-series lists. If the flagship of the NBC franchise had been nominated for Outstanding Drama again this year, it would have surpassed “Cheers” and “MASH” for most consecutive best-series nominations. Now, it will go into the record books as a three-way tie, with each of the three series having 11 consecutive best-series nods.

Another non-shocking surprise was the announcement by Bryce Zabel, chairman of the board of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences that the reality genre is ready for primetime. This year, the Emmys will reflect the non-fiction genre’s popularity by moving it into the live primetime show for the first time. Last year, the then-new reality-program category was relegated to the Emmy’s science and technology awards, which are not televised.

The reality nominees are CBS’s “The Amazing Race,” CBS’s “Survivor” and Fox’s “American Idol.”

Other indications that basic cable, once maligned, has found new respect and Emmy heat: Two of the three miniseries nominees — Sci Fi’s “Steven Spielberg Presents Taken” and A&E’s “Napoleon” — were telecast by basic cable. The third mini nominee was CBS’s controversial “Hitler: The Rise of Evil.”

Cable overall, both basic and premium, continued its assault on the golden statuette this year. The most-nominated series this year is HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” with 16 nods, including one for Outstanding Drama. HBO’s “Sex and the City” and CBS’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” were the most nominated comedy series, with 13 nominations each.

The primetime Emmy show will air Sept. 21 on Fox. A complete list of nominees will be posted at emmys.org, the ATAS Web site.

NBC to Air ‘Queer Eye’

NBC will air a 30-minute version of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” — which debuted July 15 on sister cable network Bravo — on Thursday, July 24, from 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. (ET). The NBC version will be cut down from the hour-long version that previously aired on Bravo. “Queer” features a team of gay men who make over a straight guy each week. Its debut last week attracted 1.2 million viewers in the adults 18 to 49 demo and set a household ratings record for Bravo. “After as much media attention and a breakout premiere on Bravo, we want to offer this unusual series a bigger platform,” said NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker. “The sensational ratings speak for themselves and our Thursday night audience makes a good fit for this special edition.”

Senate Commerce Committee Sets Hearing Date: The Senate Commerce Committee has announced hearings July 23 to consider the public interest obligations of broadcasters and the industry’s role in delivering local news and public affairs programming. Among the scheduled witnesses are Barry Faber, VP and general counsel for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, and L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center and the Parents Television Council.

Cablevision Launches Satellite: Cablevision Systems on Thursday launched its first satellite into space, making good on a decade-long promise to begin providing a national satellite TV service.

The launch from Cape Canaveral, first announced in June, is part of a broader plan in which Bethpage, N.Y.-based Cablevision said it would spin off its satellite business and Clearview Cinemas movie theater chain into a separate company by the end of the year in order to focus on its entertainment and cable businesses.

A spokeswoman was unavailable Friday to say whether Cablevision will proceed with its spinoff plans given that the company is now embroiled in an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission over accounting practices at its Rainbow Media Holdings unit.

Called Rainbow 1, the high-power Ku-band satellite built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems, will provide direct broadcast services to the U.S., competing with more established players like DirecTV and EchoStar Communications. The company plans to offer 100 channels to between 80 percent and 90 percent of the country.

“Cablevision has always been focused on creating compelling programming and Rainbow 1 will allow targeted nationwide distribution for that content,” Cablevision Chairman Charles F. Dolan said.

AOL Sells DVD Manufacturing and Distribution to Cinram: AOL Time Warner continued to make progress in reducing its heavy debt load, announcing on Friday that it was selling its DVD and CD manufacturing and distribution businesses to Cinram International for $1.05 billion.

The sale of AOL’s WEA Manufacturing, Warner Music Manufacturing Europe, Ivy Hill, Giant Merchandising and the distribution operations of Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Corp., gets the media giant out of the CD and DVD manufacturing and distribution business.

As part of the deal AOL agreed to enter into a long-term agreement with Cinram for manufacturing and distribution of CD and DVD products from Warner Music Group, Warner Home Video and New Line Cinema in North America and Europe.

The company said the sale will help the company trim its debt to $20 billion by year-end. So far this year nearly $3.8 billion in debt has been paid down, thanks to the sale of its 50 percent stake in cable channel Comedy Central, its stake in DirecTV parent Hughes and a legal settlement with Microsoft. The company is in the process of holding merger talks with Bertelsmann’s BMG unit and is considering a sale of its music publishing business.

The company is also close to selling the Atlanta Hawks professional basketball team and the Atlanta Thrashers pro hockey team to Dallas auto dealer David McDavid. Those talks began earlier
this year and are said to be close to finalizing, according to The Wall Street Journal. The sale price could be up to $400 million.