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Sep 16, 2003  •  Post A Comment

ABC, Touchstone to Continue Production of ‘8 Simple Rules’

ABC and Touchstone Television have decided to continue to produce sophomore sitcom “8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter” after the unexpected death of lead actor John Ritter last week. The show will not recast Mr. Ritter’s character or add a new father figure. Instead, the fictional Hennessy family will deal with the death of Mr. Ritter’s character.

Three episodes of the show were completed before Mr. Ritter’s death and those will air as planned, starting next Tuesday, Sept. 23, with special introductions by cast members. The series will then go off the air, with “8 Simple Rules” repeats replacing it until new episodes are ready.

ABC Entertainment Group Chairman Lloyd Braun, who made the announcement with ABC Entertainment President Susan Lyne and Touchstone Television President Stephen McPherson, said the show is currently on a production hiatus and will most likely be back in production in the next three to four weeks.

Ms. Lyne said the network initially was inclined to cancel the show because Mr. Ritter is irreplaceable. “Our first instinct was that we should retire it. But the more we talked about it and the more we saw the impact of his death on not just our family but families across the country, [we saw] that there was another way to go here,” she said.

Mr. Braun said the network ultimately decided to go forward with the show because, “We believe there is a compelling show to put on the air.”

The cast and writers were all involved in the decision to go forward, Mr. Braun said.

WB Premiere Lineup Wins Monday: The WB and UPN premiered their Monday night lineups last night with encouraging results. The WB was the big winner, with the eighth-season opener of “7th Heaven” scoring a 7.7/12 in the metered markets, equaling the best debut or premiere ever on The WB for any night. It was also up one-tenth of a ratings point over last year’s premiere and tied with ABC’s “PrimeTime” for first in the time slot. “Everwood” was down slightly over its debut last year but pulled a healthy 5.9/8 in the metered markets, beating Fox’s “Paradise Hotel,” NBC’s repeat “Third Watch” and UPN’s premieres of “Girlfriends” and “Half and Half.”

UPN added the new sitcom “Eve” to its strong Monday night comedy block and saw good results, with the show scoring a 4.0/6 in the metered markets-up 11 percent over last season’s premiere of “One on One.” “The Parkers” (3.6/5) outperformed its season premiere last year by 9 percent, and “Girlfriends” (3.8/5) was up 6 percent over last year.

The WB and UPN premiered their new lineups against mostly reruns on the other networks and ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” which placed first with a 14.6/23 metered market rating. In the game, the New York Giants overcame a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat the Dallas Cowboys in overtime with a final score of 35-32.

SEC Seeks Injunction on Messier Payment from Vivendi: The Securities and Exchange Commission weighed in on the flap between Vivendi Universal and its ousted former Chairman Jean-Marie Messier, asking a federal judge in New York to order the French conglomerate to put a $23 million severance payment due to Mr. Messier in an escrow account pending the results of its investigation into alleged violations of securities laws.

The move by the SEC comes a day after a state judge ordered Vivendi to pay Mr. Messier the severance payment in accordance with an arbitration panel ruling in favor of Mr. Messier. Vivendi had asked the state court to issue an injunction on the payment because it alleged that the payment was improperly authorized.

Citing a section of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which Congress passed to govern corporate behavior after the spate of misdeeds by companies a couple of years ago, the SEC is seeking a court order that temporarily places into an escrow account any payments to executives while they are under investigation for securities violations. Vivendi’s probe began last November.

A hearing on the SEC’s request is scheduled for Sept. 29.

The SEC’s request adds another chapter to a multipronged legal battle that spans from New York to Paris over whether Mr. Messier, who was ousted as chairman of the beleaguered company in July 2002, is entitled to the payment he argues was approved by the company.

The company, which was on the brink of financial collapse before a series of asset sales and debt restructurings, is under investigation by several U.S. and French organizations for allegedly misleading investors about the financial health of the company. A probe by the French stock market regulator has already been completed, though the results have not been released to the public.

NCTC, MTV Renews Distribution Agreement: The National Cable Television Cooperative and MTV Networks said Tuesday they have renewed their long-term distribution agreement to continue carrying several MTV Networks channels already on NCTC members’ cable systems, plus the addition of six digital channels.

As part of the agreement, whose exact terms were not disclosed, NCTC member systems will continue carrying MTV, VH1, TV Land, CMT, Spike TV and Nickelodeon on basic or expanded basic service. In addition, the new deal calls for TV Land and CMT each to have its distribution increased by two million subscribers.

Further, NCTC members agreed to carry six digital channels in areas where digital cable is available. The new channels include MTV2, VH1 Classic, Noggin, Nickelodeon’s Games and Sports (GAS), Nicktoons and MTV Hits.

NCTC is a programming and hardware-buying cooperative that represents more than 1,000 independent cable operators representing 6,500 individual systems and more than 15 million subscribers nationwide.

AOL TW Sells Sports Teams: AOL Time Warner, continuing to trim its debt levels, said Tuesday it will sell two of its pro sports teams to a private investment group based in Atlanta for an “economic value” of around $250 million.

The sale of the Atlanta Hawks professional basketball team, the Atlanta Thrashers pro hockey team and the operating rights to the Philips Arena, the stadium in which both teams play, to the investment firm of Atlanta Spirit LLC caps a months-long process to sell the teams.

AOL for the past year has been unloading assets it deemed as non-core in order to help pay down more than $25 billion in debt. Earlier this year, the company sold for $1.5 billion its stake in cable channel Comedy Central to give full ownership of the network to Viacom. Talks are also under way to sell some or all of AOL’s music business.

Pending approval of the deal, the new owners of the teams will include former AOL Vice Chairman Ted Turner’s son-in-law Rutherford Seydel.

Earlier this summer, AOL was close to selling the teams to Dallas car dealer David McDavid for between $350 million and $400 million, but talks between the two parties stalled and then were derailed over a provision in a bond issue that had used the Hawks as collateral in order to finance the stadium.

AOL will retain ownership of the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

‘Sharon Osbourne’ leads crowded field of syndie rookies: Two first-run series and four off-net strips made their syndication debuts Monday with Sharon Osbourne off to an early lead for distributor Telepictures. “The Sharon Osbourne Show” premiered with a 1.8 rating/5 share in 55 weighted overnight metered markets, up 29 percent from the year-ago time period average and even with its lead-in.

Among the station groups that have cleared “Sharon” are the Tribune O&Os, where it averaged a 2.1/6, up 31 percent in rating and 20 percent in share over year-ago averages. King World’s “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack” opened up with a 1.8/5 in 49 metered markets, tumbling 22 percent from its year-ago time period average and down 2 share points from the strip’s lead-in.

Only one of the four off-net/off-cable strips hitting the small screen managed to improve time period performance as Paramount’s “The Parkers” grew 13 percent to a 1.8/4 average. Sony’s “King of Queens” debuted at a 2.0/4, down 20 percent from year-ago numbers; Paramo
unt’s “Becker” earned a 1.0/2, off 29 percent from last year’s scores; and Sony’s off-cable entry “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” premiered at a 0.9/2, down 10 percent for the time period.

Among veterans to start their seasons Monday, King World’s “Oprah” got started with a bang thanks to the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver. The talk show opened with its strongest premiere rating since 1998 with an 8.0 overnight rating.

NAMIC Announces Diversity Award Winners: The National Association of Minorities in Cable this week released its list of annual winners for marketing efforts among operators and programmers that promote diversity awareness within the cable industry.

The winners in the operators division include the Los Angeles division of Time Warner Cable for its international direct mail campaign; the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ public relations campaign “SCTE Operacion en Espanol;” and Ember Media’s Web-based guide to historically black colleges and universities.

Among programmers, Black Entertainment Television won awards in the print, television and radio categories for its “Third Annual BET Awards Show,” while Starz Encore Group won in the public relations category for the press kit promoting Black Starz’s original program “Last of the Mississippi Juke Joints.” A&E Networks and BET won the community relations prize for their work with Hispanic Heritage Month and the “Rap It Up Classroom Connection,” respectively. HBO won the diversity awareness category for its “Rhyme & Reason” campaign.

Comcast Credit Rating Changed to Stable: Credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s on Tuesday changed its outlook on cable giant Comcast to stable from negative, citing the company’s debt reduction efforts and the speed at which it is integrating cable systems from AT&T Broadband. Along with the outlook change the rating agency affirmed Comcast’s BBB rating.

Standard & Poor’s said that though Comcast has limited free cash flow generation this year, the $1.3 billion in cash on hand and than $5 billion available from unused credit lines leave the company plenty of breathing room. Further, the company will get 218 million shares of Liberty Media stock and $1.35 billion in cash in connection with its sale of its stake in QVC to Liberty.

Senate Approves Rollback of FCC Deregulation: In another huge blow to the Federal Communications Commission, the Senate voted 55-40 this morning to approve a resolution throwing out all of the agency’s media ownership deregulation. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have already approved legislation that would overturn one of the FCC’s media ownership decisions for one year: a ruling to raise the cap on national TV ownership from 35 percent to 45 percent of the nation’s homes.

Included in the Senate resolution is a provision that would reverse an FCC decision clearing the way for broadcasters to buy daily newspapers in their markets. FCC critics hailed the Senate vote as a major victory for their cause to roll back the agency’s deregulation, because the resolution was opposed by the White House and the National Association of Broadcasters.

The fate of the resolution in the House is far from certain because House GOP leaders have vowed to fight it. “Based on today’s vote, there clearly is not enough support in the Senate to override a threatened presidential veto,” said Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., in the wake of the vote, reconfirming his opposition to a rollback. In a statement, Republican FCC Chairman Michael Powell said the Senate vote would “muddy” the media regulatory waters. “I hope the House will take a more considered view of the public interest,” Mr. Powell said.

But Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy, said the vote made the case for Mr. Powell’s resignation. “It’s clear that FCC Chairman Michael Powell has lost the confidence of the Congress, the courts and the American public,” Mr. Chester said. Democratic FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who fought the efforts of the agency’s Republican majority to loosen the media ownership rules, said the Senate vote demonstrates that the deregulation was wrong. “The commission should heed the call and act now to reconsider its decision to allow even more media concentration,” Mr. Copps said.

On a related front, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia last night rejected a network request to turn legal challenges to the FCC rules over to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. Challenges to the rules were assigned to the Philadelphia court by lottery. Fox, Viacom and NBC petitioned the court to transfer the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, a court that critics charge has made clear its preference for deregulation. Among other things, the networks, with the support of the FCC, argued that the Washington appeals court should hear the case because it has ruled on media ownership issues previously and has expertise on FCC matters.

But in a 2-1 decision written by Judge Julio Fuentes, the Philadelphia court ruled that the case would be decided in the City of Brotherly Love. “The D.C. circuit court simply instructed the FCC to justify its rules on media ownership with an eye to the public interest,” said Judge Fuentes. “This court is no less qualified than any other court of appeals to determine whether the FCC has appropriately considered the public interest in its decision-making.” In his dissenting opinion, Chief Judge Anthony Scirica said he would have sent the case to the D.C. court “for reasons of comity and sound judicial administration.”

Oral arguments in the case are set for Nov. 5.

National Geographic Names Wilk Executive VP of Production: National Geographic Channel said Tuesday that it has promoted Andrew Wilk as executive VP of production, as the cable channel continues rounding out its senior management.

A 10-year veteran of National Geographic, Emmy Award-winning Mr. Wilk was most recently the channel’s executive VP of programming, production and news before John Ford joined as executive VP of programming in August from Discovery Networks, where he was president of new media.

Before that, Mr. Wilk worked at National Geographic Television & Film, a partner in the cable channel with Fox Cable Networks, as executive VP of programming and production. In that role he oversaw production of the series “National Geographic Explorer” and specials.

Showtime Orders Second Season of ‘Dead Like Me’: Showtime said Tuesday that it has ordered the second season of the series “Dead Like Me” from MGM Television. The premium cable channel said it ordered 15 episodes of the series, which will go into production early next year.

The series, which focuses on a young woman who following her death becomes a so-called “reaper” who snatches the souls of recently killed people, stars Ellen Muth, Mandy Patinkin, Jasmine Guy and Cynthia Stevenson. Season one’s finale is schedule for Friday, Sept. 26.

Edwards Named WMAQ News Director: As part of its effort to climb to the top of Chicago news, NBC-owned WMAQ-TV hired Camille Edwards as its news director starting Oct. 13. She replaces Vickie Burns, who leaves at the end of this month to become VP, news, at sister NBC owned station WRC-TV in Washington. Ms. Edwards has served as assistant news director at ABC owned WPVI-TV in Philadelphia for the past five years and before that she worked as an executive producer with top-rated ABC owned station WLS-TV in Chicago. Landing Ms. Edwards from the dominant WPVI is a coup for WMAQ as it takes aim for the top spot in its market, said a WMAQ spokesperson.