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Oct 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Fred ‘Rerun’ Berry Dead at 52

Actor Fred Berry, best known as “Rerun” on the 1970s comedy “What’s Happening!” died Tuesday in his sleep at his Los Angeles home. He was 52. “He died in his sleep between Monday night and Tuesday morning” said his agent Arlene Thorton. Mr. Berry’s sudden death was shocking as the actor was still active. Earlier this year he appeared in cameos on “Scrubs” and in “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.” The cause of death is unknown. Mr. Berry had diabetes and the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office is planning to perform an autopsy.

UPN Keeps Schedule Intact for November Sweeps: UPN will keep the majority of its schedule intact for November sweeps. UPN will pre-empt regular programming on two nights for specials. On Friday, Nov. 21, the network will air the “Vibe Awards: Beats, Style Flavor” from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. “The Stone Cold Truth,” giving viewers an intimate look at the life of WWE wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin, will air Wednesday, Nov. 26, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. UPN will fill the hole at 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. — previous home of “The Mullets”– with repeats of other UPN sitcoms.

Guest stars during November sweeps include Will Smith, who will appear on “All of Us” Nov. 18, former “American Idol” finalist Tamyra Gray, who will appear on “Half and Half” Nov. 3; and Missy Elliot will appear on “Eve” Nov. 10.

Larry King to Moderate Session at Western Show: Larry King will moderate a general session at 36th annual Western Show, organizers announced Wednesday. The Dec. 3 panel will feature executives representing multiple system operators Adelphia, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable.

“We are pleased to have secured such a renowned broadcaster to interview these prominent cable industry leaders,” said Spencer Kaitz, California Cable & Telecommunications Association president and general counsel. “I’m confident Larry’s incredible experience and talent for bringing out the best in those he interviews will ensure candid dialogue that will provide valuable insight into the industry’s hottest issues.”

Due to shrinking attendance, this year’s Western Show will be the last. The conference will take place from Dec. 2-5 at the Anaheim Convention Center in California.

Meyerson Named Fox SVP: Aaron Meyerson has been named senior VP of nonfiction programming for Fox Television Studios. Current programming examples from this department include A&E’s “Biography,” Animal Planet’s “Most Extreme,” a new Court TV series called “Trace Evidence: The Case Files of Dr. Henry Lee” and the upcoming “Meet the Aliens,” a miniseries exploring the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

“People are surprised that Fox is such a major player in the nonfiction business,” said David Grant, president, Fox Television Studios. “But we still act like Fox by aggressively infusing traditional documentary values with genre-bending commercial storytelling.”

MTV Promotes Parry: Heather Parry has been promoted to VP of MTV News and Films, the network announced Wednesday. Ms. Parry formerly headed the MTV News division. She joined the department in 1993 as a segment producer.

“Heather has an amazing ability to take each project she has worked on to a new creative level,” said Dave Sirulnick, executive VP, MTV news and production. “She’s captured a creative, innovative voice for the news division, and her strong connection with our audience will help the channel continue to grow and evolve.”

Belo Still Shopping for Duopolies: Belo Chairman Robert Decherd said Wednesday that the lack of clarity about television ownership rules isn’t keeping him from executing any transactions that might create the duopolies he seeks. If anything, the lack of activity on his part is strictly about price.

While he acknowledged that the rule uncertainty is preventing the Dallas-based operator of newspapers and television stations from fulfilling two goals he has in mind-owning a second television station in the Dallas market and exploring cross-ownership opportunities in Providence, R.I., where the company owns the dominant daily newspaper-Mr. Decherd said he is free to explore creating duopolies.

Except for one thing: “We are waiting for sellers’ expectations to enter the real world in terms of price,” he said, adding that if the gap between what station owners want and what station buyers are willing to pay narrows, he could be in the market next year.

Those comments came as Belo managed to defy the slowdown seen at other media companies hurt by the decline in political advertising spending and reported both revenue and profit gains for the third quarter.

The company, which owns 19 television stations in addition to four daily newspapers, reported a third-quarter profit of $31.1 million, up 11 percent from a year ago. On a per-share basis, the company’s profit was 27 cents a share, compared with 25 cents a share a year ago.

Revenue rose 2.5 percent to $356.3 million, thanks to growth at both the TV station and newspaper divisions. The TV station unit’s growth was particularly notable, the company said, given the impact on advertising revenue of a faltering economy and the absence this year of significant political advertising spending.

Belo’s TV operation saw total revenues advance 1.3 percent, thanks in part to a 1 percent increase in spot advertising. The company noted that, excluding the 69 percent drop in political ad spending for the quarter, spot revenues would have increased 7 percent.

Jack Sander, executive VP of media operations, noted the station group’s strength was a function of owning properties in “good markets,” the quality of the assets-which include strong news ratings at several of its stations-and the company’s emphasis on sales training.

Comerford Elected MTVA Chairman: WNBC-TV President and general manager Frank Comerford on Wednesday was elected chairman of the Metropolitan Television Alliance, the coalition of New York City-area broadcast TV stations working to build a new TV tower to replace the one destroyed atop the World Trade Center in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The MTVA has plans to build a new television tower as part of the new Freedom Tower building to be constructed on the WTC site.

Mr. Comerford, who has been involved in MTVA decision-making, succeeds Tom Kane as leader of the coalition. Mr. Kane’s firing from his WABC-TV post two weeks ago created the MTVA leadership vacancy.

Fenton Named CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief: Tom Fenton has been named CNN’s Jerusalem bureau chief. Currently VP and deputy managing editor of international newsgathering in Atlanta, Mr. Fenton assumes his new role in November. He succeeds Mike Hanna, who left CNN earlier this year. Mr. Fenton has been with CNN since 1986.

During the past 10 years he covered the Middle East crisis on numerous occasions, most recently leading the network’s coverage of the Israeli elections in January. Before relocating to Atlanta, he was CNN’s Frankfurt bureau chief, coordinating international newsgathering in Africa, Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Trio Announces Programming Plans: Trio executives today spelled out their programming plans for the rest of the year, seemingly unaffected by the pending takeover of the network’s parent, Universal Television Group, by GE and NBC.

President Lauren Zalaznick said she’s had no official contact with NBC and that her contacts with Jeff Gaspin, now executive VP at NBC president of Bravo and her former boss at VH1, have been purely social. She said she’s optimistic that NBC can strengthen Trio despite some reports that Trio, still tiny at 20 million subscribers, doesn’t fit the NBC portfolio or worse, might conflict with Bravo, the other arts channel acquired by NBC.

Trio’s plans include making December “Awards Mania Month.” Trio has been successfully using monthly themes to promote its programming three or four times a year. December programming will include a documentary called “The Award Show Awards Show,” narrated by Tatum O’Neal. The documentary ranges from the aggressive PR campaign waged by studios and performers to the red-carpet pecking order
to the post-award party circuit. The documentary will devise its own award categories, including The Most Meaningless Award Show.

The month will include other films about competitions and awards, such as “Pumping Iron II” and “The 127th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.”

Over Thanksgiving weekend Trio plans a stunt revolving around its list of the top 10 miniseries of all time. In addition to a documentary on the miniseries, Trio has acquired rights to show “Shogun,” “Holocaust” and “Brideshead Revisited,” three of the top 10.

Trio also plans a new original series, “Parking Lot,” featuring video of fans outside concerts performances by Cher, Yanni, Fleetwood Mack and 50 Cent. The series, which will launch Jan. 26, is based on the underground short film “Heavy Metal Parking Lot.”

The network is also planning a year-end roundup special called “White Noise: The Pop Culture Roundup Year End Special.”

Gemstar and Insight Ink Distribution, Licensing Pact: Gemstar-TV Guide International said Wednesday that it has reached a distribution and licensing agreement with cable operator Insight Communications that extends the carriage of the TV Guide Channel on Insight’s systems and provides the systems with Gemstar’s most advanced version of its interactive program guide. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The IPG pact will support Insight’s interactive digital services platform, including its video-on-demand service, high-definition programming and digital video recorder product. Insight expects to begin offering these advanced services in time for the holiday season.

The distribution agreement continues, meanwhile, an already existing arrangement in which the TV Guide Channel is carried on most Insight systems. In addition, Gemstar will provide Insight’s digital VOD customers with TV Guide On Demand.

In a related move, Gemstar agreed to acquire a nonexclusive license for the IPG technology of SourceSuite, a wholly owned subsidiary of Insight that lets customers access local news and weather. The license will enable Insight to integrate TV Guide’s program guide with the SourceSuite product.

NCTA Launches Deregulation Campaign: Hoping to persuade federal policymakers to leave cable alone, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association has launched an advertising campaign in Washington that argues that deregulation has been good for the industry and consumers.

Brian Dietz, an NCTA spokesman, declined to reveal the size of the campaign’s budget-or even how many ads the association has placed. But he said the campaign is using radio, TV, outdoor advertising, newspapers and the Internet to make its deregulatory pitch through the middle of November. Mr. Dietz declined to comment specifically on whether the campaign is intended to undercut a General Accounting Office report on cable rates that is expected to be released shortly.

Some lawmakers are expected to use the report’s findings to call for some form of industry reregulation. Mr. Dietz said, however, “There is a lot of activity going on in Washington, D.C., related to the industry. And it’s a very important time for the industry to have an active voice in telling its story.”

The campaign, developed by SS+K, is being called, “Cable: Faster Forward.” Robert Sachs, NCTA president and CEO, said in a statement, “The Faster Forward theme reflects the significant progress the cable industry has made since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which led to deregulation of the industry and resulted in cable companies investing $75 billion to upgrade cable’s infrastructure and bring advanced broadcast services to millions of consumers. In addition to the launch of consumer-friendly services such as digital cable, high-speed Internet service, local telephone service and high-definition television, this investment has resulted in significant job creation, free Internet service for schools and many other benefits for the consumer and the U.S. economy.” The official Web site for the new campaign: www.faster-forward.com.

Time Warner Swings to Profit as SEC Reportedly Issues Subpoenas: Media giant Time Warner reported Wednesday that it recorded a third-quarter profit. Meanwhile, a New York Times article reported that current Chairman and CEO Richard Parsons and former Chairman Steve Case were among several top executives subpoenaed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with the probe into accounting practices at the America Online unit.

The SEC’s investigation centers on a $400 million advertising deal with German media company Bertelsmann in 2001 and how AOL accounted for revenue associated with that transaction. The SEC has pushed for Time Warner to deduct that revenue from its books and restate its earnings to reflect the deduction. Time Warner officials have so far rebuffed the SEC’s request, maintaining they believe their accounting is appropriate.

A spokeswoman for Time Warner declined to comment on the probe or on which executives were being subpoenaed.

Meanwhile, Mr. Parsons said during a conference call to discuss the third-quarter results that Time Warner and Comcast continue to hold discussions about how the companies can unwind their series of partnerships in cable systems as well as Comcast’s 21 percent stake in Time Warner Cable.

“We are focusing first on how to rationalize our joint venture in Kansas City and Southwest Texas,” Mr. Parsons said, adding that the discussions were “very productive.” After resolving how to dissolve those partnerships, Mr. Parsons said the focus will turn to how to take control of Comcast’s stake in the cable unit.

“We expect that reasonably soon — let’s call that in the next quarter or, max, two — we will have something to report or say about those cable partnerships,” Mr. Parsons said.

Those developments came as the media giant reported that it turned in a profit for the quarter of $541 million, or 12 cents a share, compared with year-earlier red ink of $55 million, or 1 cent a share, as gains at the company’s television networks and cable units offset declines in filmed entertainment and at the online unit.

Revenue during the period grew 4 percent to $10.3 billion, while operating income before depreciation and amortization advanced 9 percent to $2.3 billion, hurt in part by an impairment charge of $41 million tied to Time Warner’s sale of its professional hockey and basketball teams. Excluding that charge, the figure would have grown 11 percent, largely on the strength of cable and networks.

The company said its cable division recorded a 10 percent increase in revenue, as subscription revenue climbed 10 percent, driven by continued penetration of its high-speed data and digital video services, which offset a 24 percent decline in advertising revenue. Operating income grew 6 percent, while operating income before depreciation and amortization jumped 11 percent.

At the networks division, revenue rose 10 percent, thanks to rises in subscription, advertising and content revenue. Advertising revenue was particularly strong for the quarter, as ratings gains and increases in CPMs at the Turner networks and at The WB surged 14 percent. The company also saw content revenues rise 8 percent due to higher licensing and syndication revenues for “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Operating income for the division increased 9 percent.

Study Finds Public Affairs Programming Lacking: Local TV stations devote less than 0.5 percent of their programming day to local public affairs shows — less than they devote to reruns of “Seinfeld.” That was the conclusion of a study released Wednesday by the watchdog Alliance for Better Campaigns. In a statement, Meredith McGehee, the Alliance’s president and executive director, said the study demonstrates why the Federal Communications Commission should beef up the public interest obligations of broadcasters.

The Alliance said the study was prepared for an FCC hearing Wednesday evening in Charlotte, N.C., looking into how well broadcasters are serving the interests of their local communities. “Broadcasters have an explicit responsibility to serve the local communities to which th
ey are licensed,” Ms. McGehee said. “All politics is local, but you wouldn’t know it by watching local TV. It’s time for a more robust and clearly defined public interest standard for broadcasters.”