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Feb 3, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Post-Super Bowl, Bare Breasts on ‘ER’ Raise Alarm

Only days after the firestorm created when Janet Jackson exposed her breast during the Super Bowl, the possibility to air an episode of “ER” on NBC Thursday evening that includes a view of an elderly female patient’s bare breast are raising serious concerns among the network’s affiliates.

Some NBC affiliates are so uneasy about the prospect of that scene airing on the first night of sweeps that at least one station group executive described himself Tuesday as “considering what my options are” should NBC decide to air the hour with the exposed breast. “You’re not going to find the stations very willing to take the heat,” said the station group executive. “I think people are going to be backing off big-time.”

NBC had no comment at presstime but is aware of the potential for some affiliates to refuse to air the episode. Senior network executives had screened the scene for members of the NBC affiliates advisory board during a Las Vegas meeting held in conjunction with NATPE in mid-January.

At the time, affiliates expressed what were described as “concerns” about the scene and whether it is, even if done in good taste, essential to the drama, but no final decision was reached. After the board discussion, some affiliates had been told that award winning “ER” executive producer John Wells was unwilling to cut the scene.

Now many affiliates are even more concerned. The post-Super Bowl climate has every station owner feeling super sensitive.

There is a pending FCC investigation of the Super Bowl incident. Last week some stations were fined for earlier incidents and the White House endorsed a call for a ten-fold increase in fines for indecency on TV. There are already indecency hearings on Capitol Hill scheduled and more being threatened.

In light of the atmosphere of fear which has been created, even a tastefully shot, full-on glimpse of a bare breast in a network primetime show inspires less academic and more fearful discussions and concerns. That context led the group executive to predict that should NBC keep the breast scene in, there could be significant defections by affiliates who won’t air the show.

John Wells was unavailable for comment.

Sherman Leaves ABC to Head Up Abrams’ Production Company: In the thick of development season, ABC’s head of drama development Thom Sherman is leaving the network to become president of J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot Television.

The move comes at the same time that Mr. Abrams has signed a new multiyear deal with Touchstone Television. Mr. Abrams is creator and executive producer of ABC’s “Alias” and has pilot commitments for next season from ABC for “Lost” and “The Catch,” which is targeted for midseason.

Mr. Sherman, who has been senior VP of drama programming since 2001, developed critical favorites such as “Line of Fire,” “Karen Sisco” and “Alias,” but none of those were able to attract a mass audience. Mr. Sherman is exiting early from his contract, which he renewed for two more years last July.

“I’ve secretly hoped the next phase of my career could be something like this, so I feel like I’ve just won the lottery,” Mr. Sherman said. “J.J. is a monster talent, probably the smartest, most unique creative mind with whom I’ve worked, and he’s also just a great person. The only regret I’ll have is leaving behind many good friends at ABC, especially my gifted colleagues Julie McNamara and Heather Kadin, as well as Lloyd Braun and Susan Lyne, with whom I feel blessed to have worked. Knowing that they fully support my pursuit of this tremendous opportunity means the world to me.”

Ms. Lyne said Mr. Sherman will be missed at ABC. “Thom is such a strong, versatile executive, and a great guy,” she said. “His departure will be a personal as well as professional loss. But this is an incredible opportunity for him, and he leaves us with terrific drama development for next fall. We wish him all the success he deserves.”

ABC recently completed its drama pilot pick-ups for fall consideration. The network has yet to name a replacement for Mr. Sherman.

In addition, Bryan Burk, who has worked with Mr. Abrams for several years, was named executive VP of Bad Robot Television.

“I’m thrilled that Thom Sherman will now be running Bad Robot,” Mr. Abrams said. “Thom knows how to do everything I don’t, which is almost everything. On top of which, he’s a thoughtful, funny guy. Bryan Burk is a tireless producer with exceptional taste, whose talents will be a critical part of the future of Bad Robot.”

Pax TV Producing ‘Speed Dating’: Pax TV has begun production on “Speed Dating,” a new reality series that follows the metropolitan dating trend where singles rotate partners every few minutes in a coordinated mass meeting. The show will premiere in March.

“This televised version of speed dating taps into an exciting new trend that is a perfect fit for the unscripted reality category,” said Bill Scott, president of the Pax Television Network. “Involving real people, the series will be incredibly revealing, giving viewers the inside look at how couples connect — or don’t — on their dates.”

Moonves Disappointed With Super Bowl Halftime Show: It wasn’t just the baring of Janet Jackson’s breast that left CBS affiliates feeling embarrassed and let down by their network. It was the entire Super Bowl halftime show Sunday — and the “poor judgment” that resulted in it-and they don’t want anything like it to happen again.

So says a letter delivered Tuesday to CBS President and CEO Leslie Moonves and signed by Bob Lee, chairman of the CBS affiliates advisory board, who said the local stations “intend to cooperate fully with the Federal Communications Commission’s investigation and in any other inquiries.

“The CBS affiliates regard themselves as partners with the network. On Sunday, in what should have been a triumphant occasion for that partnership, the network let us down and embarrassed us in front of our public,” said the letter. “It was not just one incident in the halftime show; from beginning to end the show was in poor taste and reflected poor judgment.

With Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell’s vowing a thorough and swift investigation of the halftime show, the affiliates “regret that in this instance we cannot support the network, which normally we are proud to be affiliated with,” continued the letter. “Because we are on the front line of CBS’s relations with millions of Americans, we ask that you give us full and immediate information about your own efforts to identify where the planning and implementation of the halftime show went awry and the steps CBS is taking to assure that no episode of this kind will ever occur again.”

“We are as outraged as our affiliates are,” said a network spokesman.

CBS Takes Grammy Precautions: In light of Janet Jackson’s surprise breast-baring performance during the Super Bowl halftime show last Sunday, CBS will enhance the traditional five-second delay used for live events during the “46th Annual Grammy Awards,” which are scheduled to be broadcast this Sunday, Feb. 8, from 8 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. (ET). The technology will allow CBS to edit out inappropriate audio and video footage. Previously, the network could only delete audio. The length of the delay has yet to be determined.

Shriver Leaves NBC News: Maria Shriver has asked to be relieved of her duties with NBC News but has worked out an arrangement to do documentaries and special projects for NBC-owned properties and other cable and public broadcasting outlets while her husband, Arnold Schwarzenegger, is governor of California.

Ms. Shriver took an unpaid leave while her husband campaigned for governor. But her role in the campaign and reports about her role since he took office and since she returned to “Dateline NBC” anchor duties late last year had raised questions about whether she could ethically continue to play both public roles simultaneously.

After several weeks of discussion, Ms. Shriver and NBC News President Neal Shapiro released statements Tuesday afternoon about the resolution. Both held out the prospec
t of her eventual return to duty at NBC News, where she has worked for more than 18 years.

“When I returned to work last November, I was aware I was in uncharted territory for a journalist,” said Ms. Shriver. “I have no doubt that I could report now and in the future for NBC News with total objectivity, independence and without conflict, as I have for the last 18 years. However, it has become clear to me that as I try to move forward and balance my career as a news journalist with my new role as First Lady of California, my journalistic integrity and that of NBC News will be constantly scrutinized. After numerous discussions with NBC and many of my colleagues throughout journalism whose opinions I sought and respect, it is apparent to me that it would be difficult to maintain my journalistic credentials and still be an active First Lady of the State of California.

Therefore, after much soul searching I have asked to be relieved of my duties at NBC News. That said, there is a whole other world of powerful and important television outside of news, and I intend to be part of it.”

She said her plans, aside from the documentaries and special projects, include a children’s book about Alzheimer’s disease, “What’s Happening to Grandpa?,” which is scheduled for publication in May.

“I want to thank my colleagues for their support, advice, patience and understanding. I am proud of the work I have done at NBC News, and I look forward to going back there sometime in the future,” concluded Ms. Shriver’s statement.

Mr. Shapiro released a statement that said Ms. Shriver’s decision “to go on an extended leave of absence from NBC News was one that was that was reached after only the most careful deliberation.

“As a career journalist, Maria has consistently taken great care to ensure that her personal and political connections have never compromised her reporting. She is a valued member of the NBC News team, and her contributions will be missed while she is gone. However, we are fortunate that NBC will continue to benefit from her passion for exploring important topics through our cable channels. I speak for all of us at NBC News when I say that we look forward to Maria’s eventual return.”

Fox Taps PanAmSat for Satellite Duties: Fox signed a 15-year agreement today with satellite operator PanAmSat in which the network put domestic and international transmission of all of its U.S.

programming on a fleet of PanAmSat satellites, a move that consolidates broadcast operations and brings everything under the News Corp. umbrella.

PanAmSat is 81 percent owned by Hughes Electronics, which came under News Corp.’s control late last year when the media conglomerate paid $6.6 billion for a 34 percent stake in Hughes. Hughes also is the parent company of No. 1 satellite TV firm DirecTV.

As part of today’s agreement, Fox inked a 15-year cable contract for 10 transponders and a 15-year broadcast contract for four transponders. The deal also includes a 10-year pact for three transponders to be used for international broadcasts.

In all, PanAmSat said it will support Fox using 17 transponders located across seven satellites in its global fleet of 30 satellites.

Liberty: GNS Ended Station Deal: Television broadcaster Liberty Corp. said today that last month’s decision to bail out of a $43 million deal to buy television station WTVW-TV in Evansville, Ind., rested with GNS Media, the company with which Liberty had a leased marketing agreement to run the station.

Liberty CEO Hayne Hipp said during a conference call to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter earnings that GNS was the company that terminated the agreement to purchase the Fox affiliate from Nexstar Broadcasting, and that Liberty had no relationship with Nexstar.

The comment came as Liberty’s profit and revenue figures for the fourth quarter and the year were announced, showing that the Greenville, S.C.-based company was hurt by a sharp drop in political advertising spending at its 15 network-affiliated television stations.

Liberty reported its profit for the fourth quarter fell 41 percent to $7.6 million from a year-earlier figure of $12.9 million. On a per-share basis, the profit rang in at 40 cents a share, down from 66 cents a share a year ago. Revenue fell 10 percent to $55.6 million.

For the year, Liberty swung to a profit of $23.9 million, or $1.24 a share, compared with a year-earlier loss of $14.4 million, or 73 cents a share. Revenue slipped 3 percent to $200.3 million.

The company blamed its results on weak political advertising, which fell by $16.6 million between 2003 and 2002.

‘Queen for a Day’ Comes to Lifetime: Lifetime Television is bringing back “Queen for a Day” as a special in June. The new show will recognize women who do good deeds. Lifetime said producers will sweep the nation, holding open auditions in which nominators will have the opportunity to convince the panel that their mother, sister, friend or co-worker should be “Queen for a Day.” Once the finalists have been selected, cameras will track the potential “queens” and whisk them away to a Los Angeles studio. There, they will get the royal treatment and have a chance to make their case to the judges and a studio audience who will cast the ultimate vote for one woman to win a dream prize package.

Outdoor Life Reaches 58 Million Households: The Outdoor Life Network said it has 7,834,000 new homes since Feb. 1, 2003, according to Nielsen Media Research Universe Estimates, bringing the network’s total household number to 58,004,000.

Charter-Paul Allen Dispute Continues: Charter Communications is considering its legal options if it cannot resolve a dispute with majority shareholder Paul Allen over securities used to pay for the 2000 purchase of cable systems from Bresnan Communications, Charter said in a Securities and Exchange Commission document filed late Monday.

The battle centers on whether the securities, issued as part of Charter’s acquisition of Bresnan four years ago, convert into a one-third ownership stake in cable systems, as Mr. Allen contends, or into common stock, as Charter asserts. Charter bases its claim on the notion that a “drafting error” led to incorrect tabulation by Mr. Allen. The stakes are huge: If Mr. Allen, who owns a 55 percent stake in Charter, is correct, the securities were worth $678 million as of Sept. 30, 2003; under Charter’s scenario, the securities have a value of around $115 million.

The two sides have been battling over the issue for months and expected to reach an agreement by Feb. 6. However, in Monday’s SEC filing Charter said both sides lifted the deadline indefinitely and agreed not to initiate legal proceedings unless one side gave the other 10 days’ warning.