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Aug 19, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Sagansky Resigns From Paxson Board

Jeff Sagansky, former president of CBS Entertainment, has resigned as vice chairman and as a member of the board of Paxson Communications nearly three-and-a-half years after he took on the challenge of launching the family-friendly television network, the company announced Tuesday.

Mr. Sagansky and company Chairman Lowell “Bud” Paxson, the controlling shareholder in Paxson Communications, were never able to position the company’s collection of small market and UHF stations as a serious challenger to the major networks, as they had hoped. Mr. Sagansky resigned as the company’s CEO this past December, at which time Mr. Paxson also assumed his duties.

Last week Paxson issued a warning that it may be forced to breach debt covenants by next year. Paxson’s debt was $916.4 million as of June 30 and there is also another $1 billion in preferred stock.

The company put itself up for sale late last year when it engaged Bear Stearns & Co. as financial adviser to explore strategic alternatives. However, due to market conditions and the company’s heavy debt, no buyers have stepped forward to save the day. Some stations have been sold, but many that remain are UHF outlets that do not have strong coverage and do not command significant ratings in their markets.

In his official Pax bio, Mr. Sagansky is credited with putting on the air such shows as “Doc,” “Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye,” “Just Cause,” “It’s a Miracle” and reruns of “Weakest Link.” In a statement Tuesday from the board of directors, the company said that Mr. Sagansky is “stepping down … to explore various opportunities in the broadcast industry.”

A former executive at Viacom and Sony, Mr. Sagansky has been rumored to be a possible candidate for a job at Vivendi Universal if that company elects to go forward as a stand-alone, or for a job at Sony Pictures Entertainment, where John Calley recently said he would retire later this year.

In interviews with several news agencies, Mr. Sagansky said he was not yet ready to reveal his plans, but that he enjoyed the challenge of a start-up situation or a turnaround opportunity. Mr. Sagansky makes his home in New York, and had been commuting to work in the Paxson offices in West Palm Beach, Florida. Paxson said it has begun a search for a replacement.

During the past 25 years Mr. Sagansky has held a number of high-profile positions in the TV industry. He is probably best known for his term as head of CBS Entertainment from 1990 to 1994, during which he was credited with launching such shows as “The Nanny,” “Chicago Hope,” “Picket Fences” and “Northern Exposure,” as well as “Touched By An Angel” and “Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman,” both of which later were rerun on the Pax Network.

Prior to joining Pax, he was co-president of Sony Pictures Entertainment, where he was responsible for worldwide television operations and strategic planning. In this capacity he spearheaded Sony’s acquisition of Telemundo.

Before that he was executive VP of Sony Corp. of America from September 1994 to October 1996, where he supervised Sony Theaters, the Sony Theater/Cineplex Odeon Theaters merger, and the U.S. launch of the Sony Playstation.

He was also president of TriStar Pictures and was TriStar’s president of production from 1985 to 1989, senior VP in charge of series programming for NBC Entertainment from 1982 to 1985, VP of development for the David Gerber Co. from 1979 to 1982, and before that in various other positions at NBC.

Fox Cancels ‘Keen Eddie’: Fox has officially canceled “Keen Eddie.” “Eddie,” Fox’s first attempt at launching an original scripted drama this summer, was pulled after seven episodes when it didn’t live up to ratings expectations. It averaged a 2.2 Nielsen Media Research rating and 6 share among adults 18 to 49 and 5.1 million total viewers. “Eddie” was slated to move to Thursday nights starting Aug. 28. The final blow came when Fox decided to pull “Eddie” off the schedule altogether for episodes of “Stupid Behavior Caught on Tape” and “Anything for Love.” Six unaired episode of “Eddie” remain. Fox officials declined to comment.

ABC Cancels ‘The Real Roseanne Show’: ABC dumped “The Real Roseanne Show” from its schedule after only two weeks on the air. It was averaging a 2 rating and 6 share in adults 18 to 49. The reality series followed Roseanne around to show the making of her new ABC Family series. But production on the cable show was suspended last week because Roseanne needed time off to have a hysterectomy. That left the future of the ABC’s “The Real Roseanne Show” up in the air. In its place, ABC will air repeats of “George Lopez” at 9 p.m. and original and repeat episodes of “The Drew Carey Show” at 9:30 p.m. until its new fall schedule begins in September.

Gray Repurchases 2 Million Shares: Gray Television said Tuesday it and family members of Chairman J. Mack Robinson repurchased more than 2 million shares of stock that had been owned by Bull Run Corp., a promotional and event management company.

Gray, which owns 29 network-affiliated TV stations, paid roughly $17.4 million cash for the slightly more than 1 million shares it purchased from Bull Run, while Mr. Robinson and his family paid nearly $17 million for the other shares.The sale leaves Bull Run with no stake in Atlanta-based Gray.Calfo to Produce for Touchstone: Francie Calfo is leaving her position at Touchstone as senior VP of drama to work as a producer at Touchstone. Ms. Calfo signed a multiyear production deal to develop drama and comedy series for Touchstone. Suzanne Patmore, who co-headed the drama division with Ms. Calfo, remains as senior VP of drama series and will continue to oversee the division by herself.

AP Adds Walker to Advisory Board: The Associated Press has added Tribune Television executive VP Peter Walker to its broadcast advisory board. Mr. Walker oversees the East Coast, Midwest and Southern regions of the company’s station group and the WGN Superstation. Mr. Walker joins 10 other TV and 11 radio industry executives on the AP board, which provides input and feedback on the marketplace and the AP’s role in the broadcast arena.

DirecTV, EchoStar File Suit Against Tennessee: Satellite operators DirecTV and EchoStar Communications said Tuesday that they have joined together in a lawsuit against the state of Tennessee’s Commissioner of Revenue, claiming unfair treatment in how a state sales tax is levied against satellite customers and their cable counterparts.

According to the satellite companies, Tennessee’s tax code calls for cable customers to be exempt from paying an 8.25 percent sales tax on the first $15 of their cable bill, while satellite subscribers are offered no such exemption. DirecTV and EchoStar claim the difference is discriminatory, unconstitutional and unlawful.

Revenue Commissioner Loren Chumley declined to comment on the suit, saying she had not yet seen it.

The Tennessee suit follows similar ones filed by the satellite companies in North Carolina and Ohio in recent weeks, where, the satellite operators contend, cable customers are exempt from taxes imposed on satellite subscribers.

Ms. Chumley said the law exempting the first $15 of a cable bill dates back many years, when the state passed the exemption to encourage the expansion of cable service to rural customers. Since then, she said, the law has gone through “several permutations” to protect the exemption.

Moody’s Downgrades Charter Outlook: Moody’s Investors Service has changed its outlook on Paul Allen’s Charter Communications to negative after the cable operator late last week withdrew its planned $1.7 billion debt offering, citing weakness in the bond market.

The rating agency changed to negative from stable its outlook on approximately $21 billion in debt and bank credit facilities, saying that the No. 3 cable operator’s stability was largely predicated on its ability to issue those bonds and pay down old debt.

“Charter’s key credit risks continue to be the company’s very high financial leverage and a debt maturity profile that cannot be met without considerable help from the capital markets, or
at least some fairly substantial contribution of new capital from an outside source or event,” the rating agency said.

Hamberlin, Bass-Smith Join UPN Marketing: UPN added two new faces to its marketing department. Deborah Hamberlin joined UPN as VP of affiliate marketing. Previously she ran her own marketing company, Hamberlin Consulting. Mark Bass-Smith was named director of on-air promotion and planning. He had been marketing manager, on-air planning and scheduling, for Fox Kids and Fox Broadcasting.

CNN Blackout Coverage Dominates Ratings: There were broad smiles on faces at CNN after data from Nielsen Media Research for Thursday night’s blackout coverage showed CNN had beat Fox News Channel by an average of 547,000 viewers in prime time-in spite of severe viewership handicaps in as much as 18 percent of the country’s TV homes. It was second-place CNN’s first such win over Fox during a major story since the space shuttle Columbia tragedy Feb. 1.

Led by “Larry King Live,” which attracted an average of 2.6 million viewers, CNN averaged 2.409 million viewers during prime time, followed by Fox News (1.862 million viewers) and MSNBC (980,000 viewers).

The Nielsen data shows CNN’s dominance extended from the first reports of power outages through the middle of the night. CNN’s average from 4:15 p.m. through 2 a.m. on blackout night was 1.735 million viewers, followed by Fox News (with 1.659 million viewers) and MSNBC (750,000 viewers).

CNN also dominated in the target news demographic of 25- to 54-year-olds Thursday night, averaging 1.011 million viewers in the demo during prime time, followed by Fox News (588,000 viewers in the demo) and MSNBC (339,000 viewers in the demo).

The WB Pickup ‘Bernie Mac’: The WB 100+ Station Group, the cable-delivered local station group affiliated with The WB Television Network that reaches some 9 million homes via 109 stations in markets that would not otherwise get The WB, has picked up “The Bernie Mac Show” in syndication from Twentieth Television for fall 2005. The comedy will join a lineup that currently includes “King of Queens” and “Will & Grace.”

‘8 Simple Rules’ Season Premiere Expanded: ABC has expanded the season premiere of “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” on Tuesday, Sept. 23, to one hour, bumping the debut of the new sitcom “I’m With Her” to the following week. “I’m With Her” will now debut on Tuesday, Sept. 30, from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Mac, Miller Added to Host Emmys: Bernie Mac and Dennis Miller will take part in the “55th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards,” joining a long list of comedians such as Conan O’Brien, Garry Shandling and Jon Stewart who will appear on the presentation. Instead of having a host this year, the show will feature top comedians throughout the show. The Emmys will air on Fox on Sunday, Sept. 21.

KCBS Snags Anchor Magers: Los Angeles’ CBS owned-and-operated station KCBS-TV snagged anchor Paul Magers from the competitive Minneapolis TV market, where Mr. Magers helms the 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. newscasts for Gannett Broadcasting-owned NBC affiliate top-rated KARE-TV. Mr. Magers will anchor the 11 p.m. news on KCBS along with Laura Diaz and will also anchor a weekday early evening newscast, though the exact times have not yet been determined. He is currently finishing a 10-year contract with KARE and will join the CBS station late this year or in early 2004. In total, he has spent the past 20 years with KARE. In March he served as a substitute anchor on the weekend editions of NBC’s “Today” show.

NBC Premiere Dates Moved Up: NBC moved up the premiere dates of its Tuesday comedies “Whoopi” and “Happy Family” and its Monday drama “Las Vegas.” “Whoopi” and “Happy Family” will premiere Sept. 9, from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. “Las Vegas” will premiere on Sept. 22 at 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., following a special two-hour “Fear Factor,” which has the show’s first $1 million prize. “Vegas” will settle into its regular 9 p.m.-to-10 p.m. time slot the following week on Sept. 29. The stunt pushes the premiere of 10 p.m. Monday drama “Third Watch” to Sept. 29.

Billboard Music Awards to Air on Fox: Fox will air the 2003 Billboard Music Awards live from Las Vegas Wednesday, Dec. 10, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. The show will air live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena, except for in the Pacific time zone, where it will be tape-delayed.

NBC Wins Monday: “For Love or Money 2” powered NBC to a nightly victory in adults 18 to 49 last night, pulling a 4.5 rating and 12 share, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. “Meet My Folks” (4.1/11) and “Fear Factor” (4/13) also easily won their time slots. NBC was first for the night in adults 18 to 49 with a 4.2/12. ABC finished second with a 3.6/10, thanks to a National Football League preseason game. CBS was third with a 3.1/9, followed by Fox with a 2.6/8.

In total viewers, ABC won the night with 9.6 million, just edging out CBS (9.3 million) and NBC (9.2 million). Fox was fourth with 5.6 million.