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Sep 9, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Lisa Berger Joins E!

Former Fox and MTV executive Lisa Berger has been hired as senior VP of programming development for E! Networks. Ms. Berger will lead development for channels E! and Style Network.

“While working together at Fox Television Studios, I had the opportunity to witness first hand Lisa’s passion, creativity, and unmatched contacts within the industry, all which translated into numerous successful series and specials,” said Mindy Herman, president and CEO of E! Networks.

Ms. Berger recently worked as executive producer on the WB’s “Boarding House: North Shore.” Previously, she was executive VP of creative affairs for Fox.

J.Lo Teams With HBO for Documentary: Jennifer Lopez’s Nuyorican Productions will make a documentary feature film for HBO about Los Quinces-a traditional coming-of-age ball marking a Cuban girl’s 15th birthday. The film will have a theatrical release followed by a television debut on the cable net.

“This is a hot and vibrant concept,” said Sheila Nevins executive VP of original programming for HBO and executive producer of the film. “Jennifer’s idea gives an audience something to laugh about, to celebrate, and to dance to.”

The project will be shot in Miami this year and helmed by first-time director Vincent Castellanos.

Court TV Surges in 18 to 49 Demo: Court TV’s effort to highlight its investigation-oriented programming in a bid to attract younger audiences appears to be hitting pay dirt. The cable channel reported a 40 percent jump in total viewers and a 68 percent surge in viewers 18 to 49 for the first week of September.

According to the channel, total viewers hit 797,000 for the for the week between Aug. 31 and Sept. 5, from 566,000 a year ago. Adults 18 to 49 swelled to 386,000 viewers from a year-earlier figure of 230,000.

The ratings growth, which coincided with Court TV’s establishing a record six consecutive nights of ratings of 1 or better, also coincided with the premiere of several original series, including “I, Detective,” “Forensic Files” and “Dominick Dunne’s Power, Privilege and Justice.”

Tony Optican Joins Sci Fi: Tony Optican has been named VP of development and programming for Sci Fi Channel, where he will help expand the cable net’s slate of dramatic series and original movies.

Mr. Optican previously was VP of programming for Fox Broadcasting, where he oversaw in-house development and production of drama and comedy series. Prior to Fox, he was executive director of creative affairs for MGM Television Group.

“I worked with Tony when he was at MGM TV, and have always been impressed by his facility with material and great taste. I’m thrilled to be working with him again, this time as part of the Sci Fi team,” said Mark Stern, senior VP of original programming for Sci Fi.

Silverman Named ABC Family Senior VP/GM: Disney veteran Mark Silverman has been named senior VP and general manager of ABC Family Channel, the net announced today. In the newly created position, Mr. Silverman will be responsible for the channel’s day-to-day operations as well as the development and execution of ABC Family’s overall business strategy.

“Mark has a great history with The Walt Disney Company,” ABC Family President Angela Shapiro said. “His overall knowledge of the entertainment industry and success in business strategy and development make him an ideal fit.”

Mr. Silverman has been with the Walt Disney Company for eight years, holding various executive positions in its television and movie studio divisions. Most recently, he worked as VP of planning and development for ABC Inc.

Rainbow, Miramax Sign Distribution Pact: Rainbow Media Holdings and Miramax Films said Tuesday that they have inked a 10-year television distribution agreement under which 84 Miramax films will appear on Rainbow’s three film-based cable channels, AMC, WE: Women’s Entertainment and the Independent Film Channel.

The pact calls for 52 Miramax films to run on IFC, while 32 titles are slated to run on AMC and WE. Among the films included in the agreement are “Chicago,” “Gangs of New York” and “The English Patient.”

Miramax’s deal comes just weeks after Rainbow, a unit of cable operator Cablevision Systems, signed a similar distribution deal with MGM involving 450 films.

Cablevision Expands HD Programming: Cablevision Systems on Tuesday said it has expanded its high-definition programming tier to include several New York local broadcast stations that are offering HDTV.

Available to Cablevision’s iO: Interactive Optimum digital cable subscribers, the new channels include WCBS-TV; Thirteen HD, a round-the-clock high-definition programming service that features PBS programming on Thirteen/WNET-TV; a digital simulcast of Thirteen/WNET; Kids Thirteen, a round-the-clock digital channel devoted to PBS children’s programming; and a digital wide-screen version of WNYW-TV, the Fox owned-and-operated station in New York that plans to transition soon to high-definition.

The addition of the local channels will bolster those iO: Interactive Optimum already offers in high definition, including feeds from HBO, Showtime, MSG Network and Fox Sports New York. Cablevision also recently rolled out the industry’s first high-definition video-on-demand service.

Report Seeks Monitoring of Alcohol Marketing to Minors: A National Academies report Tuesday recommended a wide-ranging crackdown on underage drinking that would include government monitoring of broadcasting and other media to check industry marketing of alcoholic beverages to minors.

The voluminous report, requested by Congress, also recommends that the industry beef up its self-regulatory plans, using ratings systems and marketing codes to reduce the likelihood that underage audiences will be exposed to programs with “unsuitable alcohol content, even if adults are expected to predominate in the viewing or listening audiences.” The report also urges TV broadcasters and producers to ensure that programs do not portray underage drinking an a favorable light, “and that unsuitable alcohol content is included in the category of mature content for purposes of parental warnings.”

On related fronts, the report recommends that the government discourage underage drinking by jacking up excise taxes on alcohol products and beef up regulations intended to prevent youths from acquiring them. According to the report, heavy drinking by adolescents can cause mild brain damage, while the social cost of underage drinking has been estimated at $53 billion, including $19 billion from traffic accidents and $29 billion from violent crime. “Alcohol use by young people is dangerous, not only because of the risks associated with acute impairment, but also because of the threat to their long-term development and well-being,” the report said.

In a separate report that was also released Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission applauded the self-regulatory efforts that the industry has already made to crack down on underage drinking, including the adoption of a new code by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States urging its members not to advertise their wares in media in which more than 30 percent of the audience is underage, effective Oct. 1.

That’s down from the 50 percent benchmark currently in the DISCUS code. But in its own report, the National Academies suggested that the bar be lowered to 15 percent. Said Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., in a statement, “The alcohol industry is on the right track, but it has taken only baby steps. Teen drinking destroys thousands of lives each year. The industry should end all ads targeted at teenagers.”

The advertising of beer and other alcoholic beverages is a huge business, generating annual revenue of more than $800 million for radio and TV stations alone. One broadcast industry source warned that a major crackdown on beer ads could drive broadcast sports programming to cable. “Broadcasters have voluntary guidelines against glamorizing underage drinking,” added Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters. “The FTC report confirms that these guidelines are working.”

Cressy, DISCUS president, said the FTC report is “clearly recognition of our industry’s commitment to responsible advertising and marketing.”

‘Ellen,’ ‘Starting Over’ Debut to Solid Ratings: Two syndicated strips debuted Monday as Telepictures’ “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and NBC Enterprises’ “Starting Over” hit the airwaves. “Ellen” opened up with a 2.1 rating/6 share in 53 weighted-metered markets, based on Nielsen’s overnight results. Cleared in a vast majority of daytime slots, “Ellen” grew 5 percent in rating over its lead-in (2.0/6) and was up 17 percent over year ago time periods.

“Ellen’s” best market was in Columbus, Ohio, where it earned a 4.5/12 and ran second on WCMH-TV. It also did well in Los Angeles, where its 1.4/4 was up 75 percent in rating and 100 percent in share vs. September 2002 numbers. In Chicago, “Ellen” earned a 2.8/10 and increased last year’s numbers by 133 percent in rating and 100 percent in share.

“Starting Over” came out of the gate with a 1.1 rating/4 share for the reality format. That was down 15 percent from year-ago numbers (1.3/4) but the series did find some footing in several key markets. The strip improved time period performance over September 2002 in Philadelphia for WCAU-TV at 11a.m. by 40 percent (1.7/5 to 1.8/6) and in Dallas on KXAS-TV at noon by 20 percent (1.6/5 to 2.2/6). “Starting Over” delivered its highest household ratings for its premiere broadcast in Jacksonville (WTLV-TV at 11 a.m.; 2.9/9), Kansas City (KMBC-TV at 10 a.m.; 2.6/9), and in Louisville (WLKY-TV at 10 a.m.; 2.4/9).

Vivendi Sells Nordic Canal Plus Unit: Vivendi Universal is continuing its selling of assets to help pay down its lumbering debt load. The company said Tuesday that it has signed an agreement to sell for 70 million euros ($78.3 million) its Nordic pay-TV property Canal Plus Television AB to an investment team made up of private equity firms Baker Capital and Nordic Capital.

The transaction, expected to close by the fourth quarter of 2003, comes on the heels of a 290 million-euro sale in June 2002 of Canal Plus’ 50 percent stake in the Nordic satellite platform Nordic Digital. Vivendi says this most recent sale will trim 54 million euros ($60.4 million) of the company’s debt.

Canal Plus Television operates a pay-TV channel in the four Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, as well as two pan-Nordic channels and a pay-per-view service called Kiosk.

Spike TV Gives Port to ‘Shipmates’: The syndicated reality series “Shipmates” will have a second shot at success when it returns in early 2004 on Spike TV.

The Sony program, which sets up couples for blind dates on a cruise ship, will leave syndication this fall after its sophomore run.

Spike TV has ordered 50 new episodes, which will possibly feature a new host and may run alongside the similar reality series “Blind Date.”

Gemstar Expands Deal With Matsushita: Gemstar-TV Guide International said Tuesday that it had expanded an agreement with consumer electronics maker Matsushita Electric Industrial to incorporate Gemstar’s interactive program guide (IPG), TV Guide On Screen, into Panasonic devices sold in North America.

The pact builds upon an agreement inked in 2001 in which Matsushita was the first consumer electronics maker to incorporate Gemstar’s interactive program guide technology into its products, installing Gemstar’s product under the name G-Guide in products sold in Japan.

This latest alliance calls for Matsushita to pay Gemstar license fees based on the number of products sold with the IPG technology installed, including televisions, personal video recorders and recordable DVD players. The agreement does not include a minimum commitment for number of units sold, Gemstar said.