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Mar 2, 2004  •  Post A Comment

NBC, CBS Claim Sweeps Victories

NBC and CBS declared February sweeps victories during conference calls with reporters today. With two nights left in sweeps, NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker said NBC will finish first in adults 18 to 49 with a 4.8 Nielsen Media Research rating, six-tenths of a ratings point ahead of CBS and Fox, which are projected to finish tied for second place.

“NBC will win the February sweep by a margin that will surprise even us,” Mr. Zucker said, noting that Fox’s “American Idol,” CBS’s Grammy awards broadcast and ABC’s Academy Awards Show telecast were all expected to give NBC a run for its money in the young demos. Mr. Zucker said NBC should be flat with its adults 18 to 49 performance last year.

CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves claimed total viewers and household victories, with CBS averaging 14.1 million total viewers with two days left to go into sweeps. CBS is poised to win the sweep by 2 1/2 million viewers over second-place NBC, its widest margin of victory in 11 years.

CBS is up 1 percent in total viewers, up two percent in adults 24 to 54 and even in adults 18 to 49.

The only other network that will finish sweeps up this year is UPN, which has been boosted by the stellar performance of “America’s Next Top Model.” “The addition of top model has made UPN more competitive on Tuesday night than ever before,” said UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff, noting that the network made good on its promise to improve audience flow between Monday night’s comedies and its new Tuesday lineup.

Fox is expected to finish tied for second with CBS in adults 18 to 49, but down 25 percent over February sweeps last year. Fox Entertainment President Gail Berman called the network’s February performance solid, considering the network did not have a hit of the magnitude of “Joe Millionaire” in the sweep like it did last year.

By the end of the sweep, Fox will be No. 2 for the season in adults 18 to 49, only two-tenths of a rating point behind NBC. “We’re closer to number one than we were a year ago,” Ms. Berman said.

ABC is projected to finish the sweep in fourth place in adults 18 to 49 with a 3.6/10. ABC Entertainment Television Group Chairman Lloyd Braun said the network’s core strength has been its comedy blocks with nine of its sitcoms ranking first of second in their time period this season in the demo. “Our big problem is that none of them are sledgehammers yet,” Mr. Braun said. “We just don’t slaughter the competition the way that NBC, CBS or Fox do.”

In other news from the sweeps calls:

ABC

Mr. Braun said ABC is in “active discussions” with creator David E. Kelley to bring back “The Practice” in some incarnation. ABC, which hasn’t launched a hit drama in the last few years, brought back “The Practice” this season for an eighth year at a dramatically reduced license fee, which led to Mr. Kelley having to lose half the original cast members. The addition of James Spader to the cast helped revive the show on Sunday nights.

CBS

CBS is still talking with “Everybody Loves Raymond” Executive Producer Phil Rosenthal and star Ray Romano about bringing the series back for another season. “We’re still very guardedly optimistic that we can come to some arrangement that they will come back,” Mr. Moonves said.

One option being discussed is bringing the sitcom back for a reduced season, similar to “Friends” shortened 18-episode season. With production deadlines for the season’s final episodes drawing near, Mr. Moonves said there is something written that could be either a season or series finale, but he hasn’t seen it yet. While there have been some discussions about a spinoff for Brad Garrett’s character, Mr. Moonves said they have not proceeded any farther than that because CBS is still hoping “Raymond” comes back.

A decision likely will occur in the next two to three weeks, he said.

The finale for “Survivor: All-Stars” will air Sunday May 9, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. (ET) followed by a live reunion special at 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., hosted by Jeff Probst. The live show will originate from Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Fox

Fox will premiere “The Casino,” Fox’s first unscripted show from reality guru Mark Burnett, on Tuesday, June 8 at 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. The 13-episode series, currently in production, follows the behind-the-scenes drama of the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas as its new owners try to restore it to its former glory.

While the dismal performance of the sequel to the hit “Joe Millionaire” does not bode well when it comes to a potential sequel to “My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance,” Ms. Berman said the network has not ruled out a second incarnation.

NBC

NBC plans to put freshman drama “Miss Match” back on the schedule to air its last five episodes, but Mr. Zucker said he didn’t know when or where it would air. He said they don’t want to put it up against “Idol” on Tuesday nights or on Saturday nights where the show wouldn’t have much of a chance. “The good news is the schedule is strong right now so it’s difficult to bring off the bench right now,” he said.

However, despite a letter-writing campaign, viewers should not get their hope up about drama “Ed” returning next year. While no decision will be made until after the network has seen all its pilots in May, “it is very, very unlikely that ‘Ed’ will return,” Mr. Zucker said.

UPN

UPN has drawn fire for its newly announced reality series dubbed “Amish in the City,” but the network still plans to move forward on the show, Ms. Ostroff said. The network is still in the casting phase looking for Amish young adults to participate.

Fifty-one Congressmen who object to the show’s premise sent a letter to the network asking the network to drop the show. “We have total respect for what the critics and Congressmen are saying,” Ms. Ostroff said. “We have every intention of treating the Amish and their beliefs and heritage with the utmost respect and decency.”

DeLay Throws His Support Behind a la Carte Cable Choice: In the interests of giving cable subscribers more power to determine the kind of television shows allowed into their homes, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, on Tuesday announced his support for a campaign to encourage cable to offer programming a al carte.

As its stands, the cable industry packages its programming in tiers. But in remarks at a National Association of Broadcasters-sponsored seminar for state broadcast industry leaders in Washington, Rep. DeLay said he wanted the cable industry to voluntarily reconfigure its program packaging to let consumers pick and pay for only the cable TV networks they want. “I should have a choice as to what comes into my house,” Rep. DeLay subsequently explained to reporters.

In his speech, Rep. DeLay also said it is particularly important that entire TV industry move aggressively to clean up its programming in the wake of the public furor over the Super Bowl halftime show. “If not, the government will do so for you,” he said. Rep. DeLay also attributed what he saw as a coarsening of content on television to programmers and advertisers deciding that the “bad press they suffer for producing trash is worth the benefits they enjoy for hyper-stimulating the innocent imaginations of 7-year-olds with gratuitous sex and violence.”

In addition, he said he supports pending legislation to raise indecency fines tenfold-a measure slated to be voted on Wednesday by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Congress should speak clearly on this issue and not allow the bill or the debate to get bogged down by extraneous issues of regulatory retribution,” he said. “But make no mistake about it: If decision-makers at studios, networks and affiliates fail to appreciate the sensitivity of the post-Super Bowl environment, the consequences will not be merely economic,” he said.

Brian Dietz, a spokesman for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said the cable industry opposes a la carte on grounds that it might reduce the availability and diversity of cable programming and undermine the industry’s economic model. “The end result may be that many cable co
nsumers would end up paying higher prices to receive the same or fewer channels than they get today,” Mr. Dietz said.

Also at the NAB seminar, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii-who is expected to be the senior Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee next year-and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska-who is expected to assume the committee’s chairmanship-are already planning their agenda for action, which may include a major rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. “We are ready to receive your suggestions, and we are ready to move forward, not in January, but now,” Sen. Inouye said.

NCTA Intros Indecency Initiative for the Public: Under mounting governmental criticism about some indecent television fare, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association on Tuesday announced a new industry initiative to educate the public about ways to control the programming that comes into their homes.

As part of the new campaign, NCTA said it will launch a new Web site April 1 to serve as a “clearinghouse” for information about responsible viewing, including use of technology that allows viewers to block certain channels. NCTA also said the industry is developing a series of public service announcements and bill stuffers on the same themes.

In addition, NCTA said the industry’s Cable in the Classroom and the National PTA will conduct workshops around the country for parents, “which will address concerns about the exposure of children to inappropriate content on television.”

“The cable industry takes seriously your challenge and its responsibility to help protect children from indecent and unnecessarily violent TV programming,” said NCTA President and CEO Robert Sachs in a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell.

Gemstar Reports Narrow Q4 Loss: Gemstar-TV Guide international Tuesday reported a narrowed fourth-quarter loss of $491.4 million, or $1.20 a share, from year-earlier red ink of $1.3 billion, or $3.19 a share, as the company continued to strike long-term deals with consumer electronics makers and cable companies.

The most recent quarter’s results include a $416.5 million intangible assets impairment charge and $75 million charge related to shareholder litigation. The year-ago quarter included a $1.1 billion intangible-asset charge.

Revenue fell 11 percent to $217.1 million.

For the year, Gemstar posted a loss of $577.4 million, or $1.41 a share, from a loss of $6.4 billion, or $15.64 a share, a year ago. Revenue fell 12 percent to $878.7 million.

Gemstar, which has cable and publishing assets, said it struck several agreements during 2003 that it sees as critical to the company’s recovery. Gemstar is trying to right itself after discovering an accounting scandal involving prior management artificially inflating revenue numbers. Among the pacts are deals with electronics makers Sony, LG Electronics, Mitsubishi and Pioneer Electronics to install Gemstar’s interactive programming guide software in new televisions and digital video recorders. In addition, similar deals were struck with satellite operator DirecTV and cable giant Comcast.

In the company’s cable and satellite segment, revenue fell 13 percent to $84.2 million due to lower subscriptions to Gemstar’s satellite business, which offset higher wagering activity at the company’s TV Games horserace-betting channel and higher advertising and affiliate fee revenue at the TV Guide Channel.

The company noted that its satellite business, which offers C-band direct-to-home satellite service to households, continues to contract with the growth of more modern satellite services. Gemstar’s satellite business fell 11 percent for the quarter, and 35 percent for the year, to 238,000.

The company earlier Tuesday announced that it was selling the satellite business to EchoStar Communications for $48 million.

TBS Unveils Reality Slate: Turner announced a slate of five new reality shows Tuesday, including a spinoff of “Gilligan’s Island.”

The slate includes:

— Untitled Bruce Nash Relationship Series: A reality dating series with “an emotional and physical gantlet unlike any seen on a relationship show” by Nash Entertainment.

— “Gilligan’s Island:” TBS is collaborating with the creators of the original “Gilligan’s Island” sitcom, Lloyd and Sherwood Schwartz, to shift the concept to the reality genre, with castaways working together to escape from an island. The series is set to premiere in fourth quarter this year.

— “Out-Foxxed:” A hidden-camera show, hosted by Kel Mitchell and executive-produced by Jamie Foxx, gives family members an opportunity to “out-foxx” each other with hidden-camera pranks.

— Untitled Candace Bushnell Project: Hosted by Candace Bushnell, the show takes four single girls on a manhunt in New York.

— Untitled Martin Lawrence Project: Another hidden-camera practical joke show, this one executive produced by Martin Lawrence.

USA to Run Olympic Team Trials: In one of the first moves coordinating programming between NBC and USA Network, NBC Sports said USA will become the cable home of the U.S. Olympic Team and the U.S. Olympic Team Trials beginning this year. The deal is conditioned on the closing of the NBC-Universal acquisition. “We also intend to have Olympic coverage from Athens on USA, if and when NBC and Universal complete their proposed merger,” said Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics. USA will air 24 hours of trials coverage, mostly on Saturday afternoons, from May through July. NBC will also air 18 hours of trials coverage, including 12 in prime time.

Gaither Named TV One Programming VP: TV One, the new cable network targeting African American adults, named Lee Gaither executive VP of programming and production. Mr. Gaither joins TV One from NBC, where he was VP of programming and development for NBC Entertainment. In his new job, he will be responsible for TV One’s programming strategy and will oversee all program production, acquisition, scheduling and business development for the network. At NBC he worked with business development and sales teams on the acquisition of Telemundo and the management of NBC’s investment in the Pax Network. He also orchestrated the sale of the Saturday morning block to Discovery Networks.

Cablevision Says End of Probe in Sight: Cablevision Systems said Tuesday that the probe into its accounting practices is wrapping up and should be completed by March 15, when the cable company files its 2003 annual report with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company said the probe, which is led by law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering, revealed the following misstatements to its balance sheet: an understatement to both adjusted operating cash flow and operating income of $5.4 million in 2000, an $18.6 million overstatement in 2001, a $4.1 million overstatement in 2002 and a $7.6 million overstatement for the first nine months of 2003.

As a result of those discoveries, Cablevision said it has restated several line items from its 2001 and 2002 balance sheets, including a $119,000 adjustment downward in the 2002 revenue and a $240,000 adjustment upward in 2001 revenue. Operating income for 2001 and 2002 was adjusted downward by $22.4 million and $9.5 million, respectively. Net income from 2001 was trimmed by $27.9 million and was increased by $3.2 million for 2002.

The probe began nearly a year ago and centers on allegations of marketing expenses being improperly booked. In June 2003, more than a dozen executives from the Rainbow Media unit were fired in connection with the allegations of malfeasance.

The company also said it was on track to spin off its fledgling satellite business later this year, having already received approval from the Internal Revenue Service to treat the transaction as tax-free. The company plans to submit the appropriate filing by April and have the actual separation take place sometime afterward. When completed, the satellite business, along with cable channels AMC, IFC and WE: Women’s Entertainment, will be split from Cablevision, which will focus on cable systems, sports teams and entertainment venues.

Meanwhile, the Bethpage, N.Y.-based
company reported a fourth-quarter loss of $197.4 million, or 69 cents a share, from a profit of $529.8 million, or 36 cents a share, as strong performances at the company’s cable and Rainbow Media networks businesses failed to offset start-up costs linked to the launch of the company’s satellite television service Voom. Revenue rose 12 percent to $1.2 billion.

For the year, Cablevision posted a net loss of $297.3 million, or 99 cents a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $93.3 million, or $1.60 a share. Revenue rose 10 percent to $4.2 billion.

The quarterly results reflect $6.8 million in legal and indemnification expenses associated with Cablevision’s agreement with the YES Network as well as $17.2 million in expenses tied to the company’s reinstatement of bonuses for executives after a one-year hiatus.

Cablevision’s residential cable operations generated a 16 percent increase in revenue to $679 million, thanks to increased subscriptions to its digital cable, high-speed data and telephony services. Rainbow, whose properties include cable channels AMC, IFC and WE: Women’s Entertainment, posted a 23 percent revenue increase in the quarter to $120.9 million. Revenue at the consolidated regional sports climbed 38 percent to $46.1 million.

Those results were partially offset by widened operating losses at the company’s stable of burgeoning cable networks, including music channel Fuse and News 12 Networks, as well as higher start-up costs at the satellite service.

Granite Reports Q4 Loss: Station group Granite Broadcasting reported a widened fourth-quarter loss of $15.2 million, or 80 cents a share, compared with red ink of $3.7 million a year ago, hurt by a slowdown in political advertising spending and a sharp drop in movie and fast-food advertising at the company’s WB stations.

Revenue at the New York-based, eight-station group, fell 10.5 percent to $29.7 million.

For the year, Granite reported a narrowed loss of $46.9 million, or $3.15 a share, compared with a year-earlier loss of $81.6 million, or $3.72 a share. Revenue tumbled 20 percent to $108.5 million.

A significant contributor to the 2003 numbers was a sharp drop in political advertising. Granite officials said they took in $4 million less in political revenue than the previous year. The company’s two WB affiliates were also hammered by a 13 percent decline in national advertising, largely attributable to sharp drops in movie and fast-food ads, which more than offset a 1 percent increase in local advertising.

At Granite’s Big 3 network stations, advertising revenue fell 11 percent because of the political impact. Excluding the political, gains in national and local advertising would have generated a 4 percent rise in advertising revenue.