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Jul 24, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Fox Sets Fall Premiere Dates

Only six of Fox’s prime-time series will premiere before postseason baseball gets under way in October. “The O.C.” was previously set to launch Tuesday, Aug. 5. Fox’s Saturday night lineup (“Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted”) will premiere Sept. 13 and its Friday lineup (“Wanda at Large,” “Luis” and “Boston Public”) will premiere Sept. 26. The Monday night lineup will debut Oct. 20. Fox’s Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday lineups will debut the week of Oct. 27. The Sunday night lineup will premiere Sunday, Nov. 2.

Clements, Pakosta Upped at The WB: The WB promoted the heads of its comedy and drama development teams to the executive VP level. Mike Clements and Tracey Pakosta, who were senior VPs of comedy development, were elevated to co-executive VP of comedy development. Carolyn Bernstein, who was senior VP of drama development, was raised to executive VP of drama development.

“This past season The WB reached a new height of quality and viewership,” said WB Entertainment President Jordan Levin. “Mike, Tracey and Carolyn can be credited with a great deal of that success.”

The WB also handed out promotions to four other programming execs. Tal Rabinowitz was named director, comedy development; Jay Potashnick, director, program scheduling; Mike Marks, manager, current programming; and Leslie Patent, programming associate.

CBS Moves ‘Cupid’ to Tuesday Nights: CBS is moving its summer reality series “Cupid” to Tuesday nights from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Aug. 5. It had been airing on Wednesday nights from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., where it was winning the time slot in adults 18 to 34 (3.5/12) and averaging 7.6 million total viewers. “Cupid” will have the same lead-in Tuesday nights with “Big Brother 4.” Last night’s episode will rerun Tuesday, July 29, with the final Wednesday airing July 30. CBS will air “48 Hours Investigates” in “Cupid’s” old time slot starting Aug. 6. “Cupid” will replace reruns of “The Guardian” on Tuesdays.

Tribune Gets Exclusive Syndication Rights to DreamWorks Film Library: Tribune Entertainment acquired the exclusive syndication rights, including barter advertising sales, to DreamWorks SKG’s library of feature films, which includes such films as “Saving Private Ryan,” “Gladiator” and “Shrek.” The agreement represents one of the largest domestic television distribution deals in the industry and first-ever syndication arrangement for DreamWorks SKG’s 34-title package of motion pictures, Tribune Entertainment will exclusively oversee television station and barter sales as well as marketing activities of the studio’s films, beginning fall 2006.

Tribune president Dick Askin noted that the DreamWorks SKG package has been cleared on the Tribune Broadcasting station group, representing 22 major markets, including Superstation WGN.

“We are honored to market DreamWorks SKG’s blockbuster portfolio of top-end films and are happy to be associated with such a quality producer of such critically acclaimed successes,” Mr. Askin said. “This is the strongest studio package of films in the business, and we hope to broaden our relationship with DreamWorks SKG in the future.”

Four Former Charter Execs Indicted by Grand Jury: A federal grand jury in St. Louis on Thursday indicted four former executives of Paul Allen’s Charter Communications for allegedly orchestrating a scheme in which they defrauded investors by boosting revenue and subscriber numbers.

Those indicted were David Barford, 44, Charter’s former chief operating officer; Kent Kalkwarf, 45, Charter’s former chief financial officer; and David McCall, 48, and James Smith, 55, both of whom were senior VPs.

Mr. Barford and Mr. Kalkwarf each were charged with 14 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for misdeeds that allegedly occurred between 2000 and 2001. Mr. McCall and Mr. Smith were each indicted on eight counts of wire fraud and conspiracy for their alleged role in a 2001 ruse to raise Charter’s subscriber numbers.

All four men are expected to turn themselves in Friday by noon local time.

The indictments come nearly a year after federal investigators launched a probe into the accounting practices of the St. Louis-based cable operator, which was forced to restate several quarters’ worth of earnings.

According to the office of U.S. Attorney Raymond Gruender, Mr.. Barford and Mr. Kalkwarf allegedly realized in August 2000 that year-end revenue was going to fall short of projections and devised a plan in which they could artificially inflate revenue by giving money to Charter’s set-top box suppliers in exchange for those suppliers turning around that money to buy advertising from Charter.

Then in 2001, all four executives allegedly hatched a plan in which they would mask a decline in subscribers by not removing disconnected subscribers from their rolls or creating fictitious subs.

Charter issued a statement saying the indictments won’t affect the company’s ability to execute its plans to manage its existing customers and reduce its debt.

FX, E! and Comedy Central Tout Debut Ratings: Three basic cable nets declared ratings victories for their new shows this week.

FX enjoyed the highest-rated original series premiere on cable so far this year with “Nip/Tuck” on Tuesday, posting a 3.2 household rating.

“Clearly there is a tremendous amount of buzz about “Nip/Tuck” and we’re excited about the ratings, the show’s distinctive quality and its profile for the network’s brand,” said Peter Liguori, President and CEO of FX Networks.

While E! claimed the best week in their ratings history due to the mini-series “101 Shocking Moments In Entertainment.” The show delivered a .86 average household rating, with a .52 among adults 18-34.

And Comedy Central’s new unscripted series “Reno 911!” built on a lead-in from “South Park” to be the highest-rated program on basic cable Wednesday night, garnering a 1.94 household rating.

Zucker Likes NBC’s Summer Reality Strategy: NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker, speaking today at the Television Critics Association Press Tour, said the network’s strategy of airing original reality programming in the summer “clearly is best for us.” NBC has won the first eight weeks of summer in adults 18 to 49. Mr. Zucker said this strategy has added $30 million to $40 million to the bottom line this summer.

“We will employ exactly the same strategy next summer,” he said.

Mr. Zucker said last year that he wanted to air scripted series in the summer. But he said today that he has changed his mind because viewers are conditioned to believe scripted series are shows the network doesn’t care about and is just burning off. “We’re not convinced the audience is ready for original scripted programming” in the summer, he said. “It’s not something we believe in yet.”

In other NBC news:

— NBC will premiere its fall schedule during the week of Sept. 22, with the exception of “Las Vegas,” “Scrubs” and “Good Morning, Miami,” which will debut the following week.

— Following creator Aaron Sorkin’s departure, John Wells wrote the first two episodes of the season for “The West Wing.” Mr. Zucker said he doesn’t think the audience will notice a huge difference with non-Sorkin-penned scripts. The biggest difference is not as much walking and talking banter as before. Mr. Wells has injected more emotional moments and character development into the show, Mr. Zucker said.

John Goodman, who became president of the United States at the end of last season, will appear in at least the first two episodes of the season. Annabeth Gish and Steven Eckholdt are joining the cast as recurring characters playing President Bartlet’s daughter and her husband.

“The West Wing’s” revamped writing staff consists of Eli Attie, Debora Cahn, Carol Flint, Mark Goffman, Alexa Junge, Peter Noah, Lawrence O’Donnell, Paul Redford, Josh Singer and John Sacret Young.

— NBC would be interested in a fourth “Law & Order,” which is something executive producer Dick Wolf wants to do, but Mr. Zucker said not to expect movement on that front until Vivendi decides which media company to sell its entertainment assets to

— NBC will air interstitials called one-minute movies or “1MMs” during its prime-time programming. The “1MMs” will be produced by John Wells Productions and director Paris Barclay. Ten “1MMs” have already been produced and are ready to go.

— Mr. Zucker disputed a study CBS presented during press tour that found that the most important demographic is adults 25 to 54. “I’ll give you 3 billion reasons why that’s not true,” Mr. Zucker said, referring to NBC’s top upfront take of $3 billion. He said advertisers buy 18 to 49 because they know the 50 to 54 crowd will come along with it. “If 25 to 54 were the preferred demo, that would be great for us,” he said, because NBC is the top-ranked network in 25 to 54 and has better ratings in that demo than in 18 to 49.

— NBC will do a behind-the-scenes movie of the week about the old ABC series “Charlie’s Angels” next season.

— Tiffani Thiessen will guest-star in three episodes of “Good Morning, Miami.”

— “American Dreams” has signed a trio of musical divas to guest-star next season. Kelly Clarkson will play Brenda Lee, Monica will play Mary Wells and Alicia Keys will play Fontella Bass. Hilary Duff and her sister Haylie Duff will also guest-star next season.

Nia Long joins the regular cast of “Third Watch,” reprising her role as a young police officer that she first played in April.

John Goodman, Orlando Jones, Carl Reiner and Cheryl Hines will voice characters in NBC’s fall 2004 series “Father of the Pride,” which will be the first computer-generated-imaging series in prime time on a broadcast network.

NBC’s Still Got a ‘Friend’: It’s official: NBC has found a Thursday time slot successor to hit sitcom “Friends.” Matt LeBlanc will continue to play Joey Tribbiani in a new “Friends” spinoff called “Joey” to debut in fall 2004. NBC ordered 22 episodes of the show and has already given it the 8 p.m. (ET) Thursday slot.

While no one would have predicted nine years ago that Joey would be the star of his own show, “Joey has emerged as the character America roots for and loves,” NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Hollywood. “Matt is the one who has emerged as the crowd favorite.”

“Friends” creator and executive producer Kevin Bright and “Friends” executive producers Scott Silveri and Shana Goldberg-Meehan will executive produce “Joey.” The spinoff will be produced by Warner Bros. Television, which produces “Friends.”

Marta Kauffman and David Crane will not be involved in the spinoff but have given their blessing to go ahead with the series, Mr. Zucker said.

Mr. Zucker would not discuss whether Mr. LeBlanc would be taking a pay cut from the $1 million an episode he currently receives, but Mr. LeBlanc’s deal also calls for him to star in two feature films for Warner Bros. Pictures.

While there is an idea for the plot of “Joey,” Mr. Zucker wouldn’t go into any details, although he did say it could be difficult to explain why Joey no longer talks to his old friends if his character stays in New York. One popular speculation is that soap actor Joey will get a better acting job and move to Los Angeles.

NBC only has 18 original episodes of “Friends” to air this season, compared with the usual 24. The season premiere episode will be supersized. NBC will fill some of those holes by letting viewers choose their favorite six episodes online and then air those as a countdown to the end of “Friends” later in the season. “It’s 18 and the next best thing,” Mr. Zucker said.

Viacom Reports Record Q2 Profits: Media giant Viacom on Thursday reported a record second-quarter profit, driven by strong results at its cable and television operations. The company also announced it would begin issuing a cash dividend to shareholders in October.

Viacom, whose TV properties include MTV, CBS and Nickelodeon, said its second-quarter profit surged 21 percent to $660 million, or 37 cents a share on revenue that rose 10 percent to $6.4 billion.

The company’s cable operation generated a 22 percent rise in revenue to $1.35 billion, fueled in large part by advertising growth of 33 percent and 15 percent at MTV and BET, respectively.

The company in May purchased AOL Time Warner’s 50 percent stake in cable channel Comedy Central for $1.2 billion, giving Viacom full control of the network. The second-quarter results reflect Comedy Central’s full ownership status, the company said.

On the television side, revenue climbed 10 percent to $1.9 billion, thanks to a 9 percent jump in advertising revenue and strong performances by the syndication and TV station businesses. The company noted that Los Angeles TV station KCAL-TV contributed significantly to the station group’s growth.

The quarter’s results, the expectation that Viacom will post high-single-digit growth for the year and federal tax law changes all led to Viacom’s board deciding it would issue Oct. 1 a 6 cents per-share cash dividend to all shareholders of record as of Aug. 15.

“We wanted to share [Viacom’s] ongoing success with shareholders,” said Viacom Chairman and CEO Sumner Redstone during an earnings call. He added that the dividend payments won’t derail ongoing efforts to buy back stock or make acquisitions.

President Mel Karmazin said he didn’t expect to have to sell stations based on congressional efforts now under way to limit TV station ownership. “We are still optimistic that at the end of the day, because the facts support it, there should be a relaxation” of the ownership rules, Mr. Karmazin said, adding that Viacom is interested in creating duopolies in some larger markets.

Sony Announces $9M Q1 Profit Drop: Japanese conglomerate Sony today reported a 98 percent drop in its fiscal first-quarter profit to 1.1 billion yen ($9 million), hurt by declines at nearly all its businesses, including its Sony Pictures Entertainment unit.

Revenue for the three months ended June 30 fell 7 percent to 1.6 trillion yen ($13.4 billion), while operating income tumbled 68 percent to 51.9 billion yen ($432 million).

The pictures unit saw revenue fall 13 percent to 173.6 billion yen ($1.4 billion) as the division swung to a loss for the quarter of 2.4 billion yen ($20 million).

Sony officials blamed SPE’s declines on fewer theatrical releases and a poor showing on the films that did debut during the quarter. Offsetting those losses were higher television revenues largely due to the extension of a distribution agreement related to the “Seinfeld” television series.

2003 MTV Video Music Award Nominees Announced: Nominations for the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards have been announced, with Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott and Justin Timberlake receiving the most chances to collect Moon Man nods, but this year’s big VMA surprise was the six nominations for Johnny Cash, country’s legendary Man in Black.

Christina Aguilera and Coldplay topline the performers set for the traditionally raucous award show, which will be hosted by comedian Chris Rock and broadcast live from New York’s Radio City Music Hall Aug. 28. For a complete list of nominees visit www.mtv.com.

‘Stargate SG-1’ Gets 8th Season Green Light: “Stargate SG-1” has an eighth-season green light from the Sci Fi Channel. The MGM series is set to return with 20 new episodes and its current ensemble cast intact in the summer of 2004. Its final episode of the eighth season also will serve to launch a spin-off series, “Stargate: Atlantis.”

The latest pick-up will make “Stargate” the second longest-running sci-fi drama on American television, exceeding the various individual “Star Trek” series and second only to “The X-Files,” according to Sci Fi Channel research. “Stargate” is Sci Fi’s highest-rated original series.