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Jan 16, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Riesenberg Joins Omnicom Group

Robert Riesenberg, a leader in advertiser- produced programming, is leaving Interpublic’s Magna Global Entertainment to run a new unit at Omnicom Group that will produce and co-develop programming with talent, leading producers, clients and distribution networks.

Mr. Riesenberg will be president and CEO of the new unit and will report to Daryl Simm, CEO of Omnicom Media Group. Mr. Simm also oversees media buyers OMD and PHD.

At Magna Global, Mr. Riesenberg produced more than 50 hours of prime-time television programming, including NBC’s “The Restaurant,” TBS’s “House Rules” and the Emmy Award-winning “Door to Door.”

MTV to Launch College Net: MTV plans to relaunch its College Television Network as MtvU, effective Jan. 20. MtvU is designed to reach students on the air, online and through on-campus outreach, according to MTV President Van Toffler. MTV said the network has added 20 schools, bring its distribution to 720 colleges.

Updated ‘Real People’ in the Works: Tribune Entertainment Co. has teamed with The Gurin Co. and producer George Schlatter Productions for a new version of Mr. Schlatter’s classic reality series “Real People” for fall 2005. The announcement was made Friday by Donna Harrison, senior VP of unscripted and reality programming for Tribune Entertainment. The new version of “Real People” is being developed for a 2005 debut in first-run syndication as a weekly hour or a half-hour strip. Mr. Schlatter and Mr. Gurin will serve as executive producers. Mr. Schlatter’s original version of “Real People,” which ran on NBC from 1979 to 1984, was considered a maverick program concept at the time as it explored touching, timely, funny and controversial stories of the day.

Fox Remains Committed to Year-Round Programming: At the Television Critics Association press tour this week in Hollywood, Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman reiterated the network’s commitment to year-round programming and said the network has done away with the fall premiere week.

“When May is over, our new season will begin in June,” she said. “It will be seamless. We are not seasonal programmers. We are 12-month-a-year programmers.”

Two series targeted for summer are the reality show “Casino” from Mark Burnett, which begins production next week, and a scripted drama from Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson called “The Jury.”

This year Fox gave its writers earlier deadlines to turn in scripts and routinely asks show creators to spin off a presentation of the show while shooting the pilot to give network executives a better idea of what the finished product will look like. Early deadlines also gave the network more flexibility about when it could get the shows on the air, since the network has found success debuting shows such as “The O.C.” at nontraditional times.

“We need the business to catch up with what the audience is telling us,” said Ms. Berman, who noted that cable proved that viewers are out there year-round when they started programming quality original shows in the summer and drawing large audiences.

Getting talent agencies and writers/producers on board with the new schedule-and with the fact that Fox was asking for pitches year-round-was not an easy feat. “It’s taken two years to do it,” Ms. Berman said. “It was not fun or pretty in the beginning. It’s a whole lot easier now.”

There are some obstacles still standing in the way of a true year-round schedule-namely sweeps. Advertisers traditionally buy ad time at rates based on ratings during sweeps months. But Ms. Berman said in this new age, advertisers are going to have to realize they have to change the way they do business too. “[Sweeps,] too, will eventually atrophy and go away,” she said.

Amid complaints that Fox’s schedule constantly changes, confusing viewers as to what is on Fox and when, Ms. Berman promised that Fox would do a better job letting viewers know the schedule in advance. “The goal at Fox going forward is to create a more stable schedule,” she said.

Other news from Fox:

Midseason sitcom “Cracking Up” premieres Monday, March 8, from 8:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. It’s lead-in will be repeats of “That ’70s Show,” which will air at 8 p.m.

Reality soap opera “Forever Eden” will debut Monday, March 1, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. It will air in that time slot for four weeks before moving to Thursdays at 9 p.m. on March 18.

New drama “Wonderfalls” premieres Friday, March 12, from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. for a seven-episode run. Thirteen episodes were shot, but the rest have yet to be scheduled. Current time slot occupant “Boston Public” takes a hiatus, with its fate still to be determined.

GE Reports Q4 and 2003 Earnings: NBC continued its profit momentum Friday, recording a 14 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit and a 21 percent rise for 2003, helping parent General Electric continue its revenue and profit growth trends for the quarter and year.

The No. 1 broadcast network posted a fourth-quarter profit of $536 million, up 14 percent from a year-earlier profit of $470 million, on a 7 percent increase in revenue for the period to $1.9 billion. For the year, the network’s profit surged to $2 billion from a year earlier level of $1.7 billion, while revenue slipped 4 percent to $6.9 billion.

GE officials attributed the network’s results to its continued reign as the No. 1 broadcast network in the adults 18 to 49 demo as well as ratings growth at the cable channel Bravo, which posted an 80 percent surge in prime-time ratings growth among adults 25 to 49 from a year ago. Meanwhile, Spanish-language network Telemundo has seen its ratings climb 33 percent among adults 18 to 49 in every daypart in the past 12 months.

The results helped the overall company post a 47 percent increase in fourth-quarter revenue to $4.6 billion, while revenue advanced 4 percent to nearly $37 billion. For the year, the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate saw its profits rise 6 percent to $15 billion on a 1 percent increase in revenue to $134.2 billion.

GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt said during a conference call with analysts that the company is still on track to complete its merger of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment by the middle of the year, but cautioned that things can be unpredictable, given the regulatory-review process.

Mr. Immelt added that he was confident about the network in 2004, saying that scatter pricing at NBC is “up slightly” in the 2004 first quarter and that the network will benefit from an expected increase in political advertising spending.

He also expressed optimism about the prospects for NBC News, which will see the departure of Tom Brokaw following the presidential election and the arrival of Brian Williams as Mr. Brokaw’s replacement. “This will be a great news cycle for NBC,” he said. “The assets are performing really well right now. CNBC has bounced back, and its profitability is extremely strong. This will be a good earnings year for the news business.”

GSN Signs Deal With Mindless: GSN, formerly the Game Show Network, has signed a three-project deal with “Surreal Life” producers Mindless Entertainment.

The first two projects are “Extreme Dodgeball,” which the network announced Friday, and “National Lampoon’s Greek Games,” which was announced this week at the Television Critics Association press tour. Mindless Entertainment is run by Mark Cronin, who has no relation to GSN CEO Rich Cronin.

“We had a great experience working with Mark Cronin and his team on “Who Wants to Be Governor of California?” and on the series “Cram,” said Rich Cronin. “They are some of the most creative thinkers in the industry today.”

“Extreme Dodgeball” is billed as a “comedy game series” that combines ball-firing cannons and shifting surfaces with competing teams of niche professionals (such as mimes, jockeys and sumo wrestlers).

“It’s a ridiculous game and so simple and fun,” Rich Cronin said. “Then we pick teams that make people feel an emotion, like the way the Olympics stir people’s patriotic fervor. People feel strongly about mimes, for instance, and to see mimes pummeled by dodgeballs can be very cathartic.”

MGM Announces Sto
ck Buyback: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the film and television studio, said Friday that it expects to pay $170 million to buy back 10 million shares of its stock as part of the company’s ongoing effort to pump up its share price.

The buyback, which was announced in November, ended Thursday with MGM expecting to pay $17 for each of the tendered shares. At the time the studio announced the buyback, it said it expected to pay between $16.25 a share and $18 a share. Funding for the stock buyback came from cash generated from its films and television shows, DVD sales and other funds. Investment bank Morgan Stanley arranged the purchase.

The studio said slightly more than 235 million MGM shares would be outstanding after the tender offer.