‘Will & Grace’ Creators Suing NBC, NBC Studios
Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, creators of NBC’s “Will & Grace,” are suing NBC and the show’s producer NBC Studios over the license fee for the show. They charge that NBC Studios did not negotiate a high enough license fee for the show’s fifth through seventh seasons from NBC because the two entities are part of the same media conglomerate, according to a lawsuit filed Dec. 11 in Los Angeles Superior Court. Mr. Mutchnick and Mr. Kohan — who are profit participants in the show — feel they are owed more money because they think the show wasn’t sold at fair market value, according the lawsuit.
ABC Affils Board Approves Expanding ‘GMA’: The ABC Television Affiliates Association Board of Governors gave unanimous approval Thursday to the proposed expansion of the “Good Morning America” franchise to seven days, with one-hour telecasts on Saturday and Sunday. Barring unexpected backlash from the affiliate body at large, the board’s approval effectively means the expansion that has been under consideration for months at ABC is a firm go.
The network issued a release that said, “The affiliate board has recommended that both the ABC Television Network and the ABC affiliate body expedite ‘GMA’s’ weekend expansion, which it considers a win-win opportunity benefiting both the network and stations. The weekend editions of ‘Good Morning America’ would be targeted for launch in Fall 2004.”
“We are enthusiastically behind the extension of the ‘Good Morning America’ brand to Saturday and Sunday,” said Deb McDermott, chairman of the Affiliate Board of Governors. “‘GMA’ continues to gain strength and leadership in the early-morning daypart, and this proposed expansion offers affiliates an especially timely opportunity to further enhance their local news presence.”
David Westin, president of ABC News, said, “Millions of loyal viewers watch ‘Good Morning America’ five days a week. We would love to give our audience the same opportunity every day of the week, thereby serving them and strengthening the entire ‘GMA’ franchise. Our affiliates have played an important role in the growth of ‘Good Morning America,’ and we look forward to working closely with them on this mutually beneficial initiative.”
Tribune Sells Golf Channel Stake to Comcast: Newspaper and television station group Tribune said Thursday it has agreed to sell its 8.6 percent stake in the Golf Channel to cable giant Comcast for $100 million.
The announcement, made during UBS Securities’ investor conference in New York, was the latest move by Comcast to simplify the ownership structure of several partnerships in which the cable operator owns a stake.
Separately, Chicago-based Tribune said it agreed to join Comcast in launching a regional sports network for the Chicago area that would telecast games from the various professional teams based there. The channel is scheduled to launch in September.
Comcast’s purchase of the Tribune stake in the Golf Channel will give the Philadelphia-based Comcast complete control of the network. Comcast already owns more than 91 percent of the Golf Channel.
Patrick Mullen, president of Tribune Broadcasting, said the company remains committed to owning stakes in networks, adding that he expects Tribune’s 12 percent in The WB and its 29 percent stake in Food Network to be positive contributors to the company’s equity line in 2004.
Meanwhile, the company said it struck a new retransmission agreement with Comcast for all of its local stations in Comcast markets and reached a pact with the cable operator to boost the distribution of its superstation, WGN. Between Comcast and other distribution agreements that Tribune has reached, WGN will add another 7 million subscribers to reach 58 million.
Tribune executives also noted that they have $300 million ready for acquisitions and are poised to acquire more television properties than newspaper properties-in large part because of the greater likelihood of TV assets coming up for sale.
Cablevision’s Dolan Says Systems Would Command High Sell Price: Cablevision Chairman James Dolan said Thursday that any buyer of its coveted cable systems would likely have to pay what he described as a price never seen before by the industry.
“I would never completely rule that out,” Mr. Dolan said during a UBS Securities investor conference in New York, referring to a sale of the Bethpage, N.Y.-based cable operator’s systems. However, he added: “Clearly there is a great deal of upside in this business … [which] would require a valuation that we’ve not seen before. For someone who’s hungry, it would be a rather large bite.”
Cablevision has been the center of much speculation over whether it would sell its suburban New York City systems to a larger player, such as Time Warner Cable, which owns systems in New York City. The systems, which include 3 million subscribers, are considered some of the most attractive in the industry, given Cablevision’s dominance in its respective markets and the level of wealth most of its customers have.
That speculation has only increased since Cablevision announced plans this fall to split its cable business from its programming and fledgling satellite operation at the start of 2004.
Mr. Dolan said the spinoff of the satellite and programming businesses from the core cable operation would enable Cablevision to reduce its debt, concentrate on the cable business and perhaps pay shareholders a dividend.
In addition, Mr. Dolan said he remains committed to concentrating the company’s efforts on its core business-a switch from past ventures, which have leveraged the cable assets to go into such ventures as retailing and wireless technology.
“You’re not going to see this company going off on any tangents,” Mr. Dolan said. “We will stick to our knitting.”
Charter Braces for Programming Fee Negotiations: Charter Communications could be the next cable operator girding for battle with cable programmers. The company revealed today that some 60 percent to 65 percent of its programming contracts expire either at the end of this year or in 2004.
Charter CEO Carl Vogel, speaking at a UBS Securities-sponsored investor conference in New York, called bringing down the cost of programming a “high priority,” adding that programming represents one-third of the St. Louis-based cable operator’s overall costs.
He said Charter would seek to bring down costs by either “negotiating better rates or migrating some services to digital, to give customers a choice.”
While he didn’t provide many details, Mr. Vogel did say that Fox Sports and ESPN are among the cable networks that have contracts set to expire over the next 12 months. Charter is one of many cable operators looking to reduce programming costs, which are generally growing faster than the rate of inflation. Cox Communications has been the most vocal operator to balk at rising rates, staging a very public fight with Fox Sports and ESPN over their proposed rate increases. However, Cox recently ironed out a deal with Fox to continue carrying the Fox regional sports networks on its systems.
‘Wedding’ Lifts ABC to Win: ABC won last night in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers, thanks to the finale of “Trista & Ryan’s Wedding.”
From 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. “Trista & Ryan’s Wedding” scored a first-place 7.2 rating and 18 share in adults 18 to 49 and 17.1 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. In adults 18 to 49, “Wedding” finished in first place by a 60 percent margin over Fox’s “Billboard Music Awards” (4.5/11).
ABC had its second-highest-rated night this season in adults 18 to 49, after only the night of “The Bachelor” finale with Bob Guiney.
Fox’s “Billboard Awards” had a solid showing, winning the 8 p.m. hour with a 4.6/13 in adults 18 to 49 and finishing second to “Wedding” in the 9 p.m. hour with a 4.5/11. The two-hour broadcast delivered a 4.6/12 in adults 18 to 49, up 7 percent vs. last year, and 9.9 million total viewers, up 5 percent over last year.
For the night, ABC won in adults 18 to 49 with a 6.1/16, followed by Fox (4.6/12), NBC (3.9/10), CBS
(2.1/6), The WB (1.3/3) and UPN (0.5/1). In total viewers, ABC won the night with 14.8 million, followed by NBC (11.9 million), Fox (9.9 million), CBS (8.2 million), The WB (3.2 million) and UPN (1.7 million.)
‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ to Return Jan. 4: HBO said the fourth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” will launch Jan. 4 at 9:30 p.m. (ET). New episodes will get a lead-in from “Sex and the City” in January and February.
Guest stars in the new season’s 10 episodes include Mel Brooks, Paul Mazursky, Saul Rubinek, David Schwimmer, Ben Stiller, Bob Einstein and Moon Zappa.
TV Academy Establishes Fred Rogers Scholarship: The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and its Children’s Programming Peer Group has established the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship in honor of Fred Rogers, the creator and longtime host of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood.”
The $10,000 annual scholarship was announced as a surprise for Rogers’ widow, Joanne, during last Tuesday’s presentation of “A Tribute to Fred Rogers,” held at the Academy’s Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre.
“We are delighted that we are able to preserve Fred Rogers’ memory with this scholarship,” said academy Chairman Dick Askin. “Not only did his work demonstrate love, caring and respect for children, he also encouraged television professionals to use the medium to enlighten, educate and influence social consciousness and understanding.”
Alliance Atlantis Reviews Its TV Production Business for Cuts: Alliance Atlantis Communications, the Canadian movie and television production company that co-owns the “CSI” franchise with CBS, said it is reviewing its television and motion picture production business with plans to sharply curtail the production of television series and movies of the week.
As part of the review, the Toronto-based company said, Peter Sussman, president of Alliance Atlantis’ entertainment group, and Seaton McLean, the group’s president of production, are leaving the company.
In a statement, company Chairman and CEO Michael MacMillan said: “This is the next logical step in our clearly articulated strategy of reducing our financial and operational exposure to the production business and focusing on the abundant growth opportunities in the broadcast and motion picture distribution sectors.”
While the company declined to provide details of what shape its reorganization will take, the company made clear that the “CSI” franchise was in no way affected. What is likely to be impacted is, however, the company’s prime-time television, movies-of-the-week and miniseries businesses, which the company described as suffering from a permanent downturn. The company plans to continue to operate its international distribution business.
Details of the reorganization are expected to be released by the end of the year, when the company will revise its 2004 financial guidance.
Alliance Atlantis officials expect to eliminate between 60 and 70 positions as part of the restructuring and are reassessing certain library assets. The company also expects to take a noncash charge as part of the restructuring, though it projects “significant future cost savings,” improved cash flow and a boost in its debt reduction efforts as part of the changes.
Soapnet Acquires ‘Days of Our Lives’: Soapnet has acquired the same-day airing rights to the NBC soap “Days of Our Lives” from Sony Pictures Television. Described as a multi-year contract, the deal allows the cable network to run currents episodes of the 38-year-old show in primetime beginning March 15, 2004. The deal also includes access to an unspecified number of past episodes for stunts and specials.
FCC Schedules Localism Field Hearing: The Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a field hearing on broadcast localism in San Antonio for Jan. 28. FCC Chairman Michael Powell is slated to preside at the session. Also expected to attend are Commissioners Kathleen Abernathy, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.
Postal Service Targets ‘MadTV’ Segment: The United States Postal Service has announced a campaign to spur Fox to yank an upcoming segment on “MadTV” that the Postal Service sees as a slur against its employees. In a statement Wednesday, the Postal Service said a promo for the piece shows two postal employees with guns discussing a shooting spree while customers cower. “It’s an insult to every man and woman in the Postal Service,” said Azeezaly Jaffer, Postal Service VP of public affairs and communication.
Mr. Jaffer said he is urging all the 9 million workers in the mailing industry to protest the program.
A Fox spokesman in response said, “‘MadTV’ is a satire and an equal-opportunity offender. It has satirized many films, TV series, personalities and institutions, including Fox Broadcasting, its programming, and other divisions of News Corp.”
Sachs Named Global Crossing Director: The National Cable & Telecommunications Association confirmed Thursday that Robert Sachs, NCTA president and CEO, has accepted an offer to serve as a director on the board of Global Crossing, a telecommunications company that operates fiber-optic networks in 27 countries. Through a spokesman, Mr. Sachs said he is unaware of any conflicts that would be presented by holding both jobs at the same time. “But if any should arise, he will recuse himself from participation in any related Global Crossing board discussions,” said Brian Dietz, an NCTA spokesman.
‘Dennis Miller’ to Air Jan. 26 on CNBC: Dennis Miller will host his new show, “Dennis Miller,” which debuts 9 p.m. (ET ), Jan. 26, on CNBC’s weeknights lineup. In addition to featuring his multimedia monologue, to be known as the “Daily Rorschach,” the Emmy-winning Mr. Miller’s show will include panel discussions with people from news, entertainment, politics and business circles.
Mr. Miller will also executive produce the show. His fellow executive producer and head writer will be Mr. Miller’s longtime collaborator, five-time Emmy winner Eddie Feldman.
“We’re having a blast working with Dennis on this new program, and its great to have the team for the show finalized,” said Pamela Thomas-Graham, president and CEO, CNBC. Come January “Dennis Miller” will bring a new kinetic energy to our prime-time lineup.”
CNBC’s current 9 p.m. (ET/PT) programs, “Special Report With Maria Bartiromo” (Monday) and “Capital Report With Alan Murray and Gloria Borger” (Tuesday-Friday) will now air at 7 p.m. (ET).
On Sundays Mr. Miller’s show will serve as a lead-in to “Topic A With Tina Brown,” which becomes a weekly show in February.