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Mar 11, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Researcher Sues ABC for Wrongful Termination

Veteran television researcher Andrew Fessel has filed a lawsuit against the ABC Television Network, its parent, The Walt Disney Company, and ABC Network President Alex Wallau.

Mr. Fessel is suing for wrongful termination, breach of his written employment agreement, retaliation in the workplace and other reasons, according to his suit filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

According to the suit, Mr. Fessell joined ABC on Oct. 23, 2002, as senior VP of research. He claims to have turned down other opportunities “based on job security promises made to him by ABC.”

He had a two-year deal with a one-year option. He was to be paid $300,000 per year, plus stock options in Disney, bonuses, an expense account, medical insurance and an automobile allowance of $940 per month.

The suit says Mr. Fessell worked full time for ABC until Aug. 25, 2003, when he was terminated. He was told it was for cause, but says in the suit he was never informed what that cause was. He says that since then ABC has not compensated him as promised under his agreement.

The suit charges the real reason Mr. Fessell was terminated was that he “refused the directive of ABC’s managing agent, defendant Alex Wallau, to terminate two employees, a male African American employee and a female employee.”

The suit does not name those employees, but says Mr. Wallau wanted them fired because they had filed complaints with the Human Resources Department about Mr. Wallau’s conduct. The suit says, “Mr. Wallau criticized Mr. Fessell for ‘bringing HR into this issue.'”

An ABC spokeswoman said, “We have not seen the official complaint and therefore cannot comment on it specifically. However, similar claims were raised by Mr. Fessell prior to the complaint being filed, and we determined that they were completely unfounded.”

House Approves Tough Indecency Measure: The House of Representatives voted 391-22 today to approve legislation that would hike the maximum fine for an indecent broadcast from $27,500 to $500,000-and makes clear that performers are also subject to the penalties. The legislation, which was approved in a 49-1 vote by the House Energy and Commerce Committee earlier this month, includes provisions that make clear that broadcast indecencies could result in the loss of a station’s license. One amendment approved before today’s vote would require the General Accounting Office to investigate how thoroughly the Federal Communications Commission prosecutes indecency under its new powers.

EchoStar and Viacom End Carriage Dispute: EchoStar Communications and Viacom reached an agreement in their carriage fight early Thursday, ending a two-day standoff that led EchoStar to pull Viacom-owned networks off its DISH Network satellite service and triggered a consumer backlash against the two companies.

As part of the agreement, EchoStar will resume carriage of Viacom’s 16 owned-and-operated CBS stations as well as BET and the MTV Networks channels that DISH Network carried before the blackout. In addition, the new pact extends the carriage for CBS HD’s East Coast and West Coast feeds, as well as Spike TV, CMT and TV Land, and adds Nicktoons to one of DISH Network’s higher-end packages. Both companies agreed to settle all litigation related to their dispute.

The news of the settlement came as EchoStar announced that it was delaying the release of its fourth-quarter and full-year 2003 earnings amid questions raised by the Securities and Exchange Commission over how the company accrued funds to cover the replacement of smart cards used in set-top boxes. The company hopes to file its Form 10-K full-year financial report by March 30, pending a re-audit.

EchoStar said the SEC concluded that the company over-accrued $17 million and $9 million for the smart-card replacement in 2001 and 2002, respectively. The discovery could result in the SEC requiring EchoStar to restate its 2001 financial results, the company said, though the result also could be an increase in earnings for 2001.

The company from 1996 to 2002 established a reserve to cover the replacement of the smart cards, which were included in satellite receivers sold and leased by EchoStar but that had become obsolete due to piracy. While the SEC said the accrual was appropriate, it said EchoStar was incorrect to accrue a liability for the smart cards that were included in receivers owned by the satellite company and leased to customers.

‘Game Over’ Struggles in UPN Debut: UPN’s new CGI-animated sitcom “Game Over” debuted Wednesday night to disappointing results. “Game Over” managed only a 0.6 rating/2 share in adults 18 to 49 and 2 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data.

That last-place finish-behind a rerun of The WB’s “Smallville”-was below what “Enterprise” had been scoring in that time slot. The return of “The Mullets” also fared poorly, pulling a 0.6/2 in adults 18 to 49 and losing 300,000 viewers from its “Game Over” lead-in. It scored 1.7 million total viewers.

The news was better for the second episode of Fox’s “Cracking Up,” although it was down from its premiere Tuesday night. Following a one-hour “American Idol,” which scored a 9.7/26 in adults 18 to 49 and 22.2 million viewers, “Cracking Up” pulled a 4.4/12 and 9.9 million viewers. That’s down 14 percent in adults 18 to 49 and down 12 percent in total viewers from its debut.

The second week of ABC’s “Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital” also took a hit. It finished second in its 10 p.m. time slot in adults 18 to 49 and total viewers. Its 3.7/10 in the demo was down 33 percent from the 5.5/14 it pulled in its two-hour debut last week. It was also down a whopping 40 percent in total viewers with 8.5 million last night compared with 14.1 million the week before.

For the night, Fox won adults 18 to 49 with a 7.3/20, followed by ABC (3.6/10), NBC (3.4/10), CBS (2.3/6), The WB (1.3/4) and UPN (0.7/2). In total viewers, Fox won the night with 16.4 million viewers, followed by NBC (9.9 million), ABC (9 million), CBS (8.3 million), The WB (3.7 million) and UPN (2 million).

TV Guide Ad Insertion Base Nears 26 Million Subs: TV Guide Channel said its local ad sales insertion base has already grown by more than 1 million subscribers so far this year. Time Warner Cable in Columbus, Ohio, Comcast Cable in Minneapolis and Comcast and Charter Communications systems in Sacramento, Calif., are among the major market systems to begin inserting local advertising on TV Guide Channel so far this year. These additions increase to nearly 26 million the number of TV Guide Channel subscribers reachable by local advertising.

SNTA Conference Draws 500 Attendees: The Syndicated Network Television Association said it had about 500 people at its conference today in New York, up 30 percent from last year. New SNTA President Mitch Burg, a former media buyer, said he believes advertisers fed up with the high price of broadcast network television will consider syndication as an alternative during the upfront. In his presentation, Mr. Burg said syndication attracts a younger audience than broadcast networks and higher ratings than cable networks in an increasingly fragmenting TV universe.

USA to Offer Sneak Peek at ‘Dawn of the Dead’ Feature: USA Network will debut the first 10 minutes of Universal Pictures’ upcoming horror flick “Dawn of the Dead” Monday, March 15. The unedited opening sequence will appear between 10 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., near the end of USA’s telecast of “Final Destination.” “Dawn of the Dead” is rated R, and the segments being televised contain graphic violence and language consistent with that rating. The network and studio recommend viewers exercise discretion.

“This unprecedented telecast is exactly the kind of creative collaboration we love to offer our partners,” said Michele Ganeless, executive VP and general manager of USA Network. “It’s a promotional win/win for everybody-USA gets unique content while Universal gains tremendous exposure for its film.”

NFL, Insight Reach Agreement: NFL Network has reached a carriage agreement with Insight Communications, the nati
on’s ninth-largest cable operator. The deal follows NFL Network’s launch on Charter Communications last month. Insight, which serves 1.4 million customers, will begin a digital rollout of NFL Network this summer. As part of the agreement, NFL Network will provide Insight with a separate high-definition simulcast feed of the channel beginning with the 2004 NFL season, and a customized video-on-demand package that includes access to the NFL Films library and extended highlights of each NFL regular-season game.

‘Game Over’ Gets Its Own Game: UPN’s new sitcom “Game Over,” which follows the trials and tribulations of a family of video game characters, is giving fans a chance to connect with the show by offering a free downloadable computer game starring one of the show’s character’s, Raquel Smashenburn.

The game, which has six levels and options for single player or multiple players, can be downloaded at www.upn.com. It follows Raquel’s attempts to find an ancient artifact known as the “Alien Monkey.” The game was created by Fountainhead Entertainment. Online gaming service GameFly is the official sponsor of the PC game “Game Over in Machinimation.” The TV show “Game Over” is produced by Carsey-Werner-Mandabach.