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Mar 31, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Martha Stewart Seeks New Trial

Lawyers for convicted felon Martha Stewart have asked a federal judge for a new trial in her obstruction of justice case, claiming the domestic diva was robbed of a fair trail based on comments made by a juror after Ms. Stewart’s conviction in early March.

Ms. Stewart’s lawyers are also charging that the juror, Chappell Hartridge, lied on his juror questionnaire, failing to disclose that he had been the subject of three lawsuits and that he had been arrested for an assault on a woman with whom he was living.

In papers filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the Stewart attorneys claimed Mr. Hartridge’s comments immediately following Ms. Stewart’s conviction March 5 indicate Mr. Hartridge held a bias against Ms. Stewart during the trial. Mr. Hartridge was quoted as saying Ms. Stewart’s conviction was a victory “for the little guys.” The lawyers also said Mr. Hartridge’s quest for compensation for speaking about the trial signals his bid to profit from serving on the Stewart jury.

Whether the lawyers’ tactic will work remains to be seen. Ms. Stewart has said she plans to appeal her March 5 conviction for obstruction of justice, lying to investigators and conspiracy in connection with a questionable sale of shares in ImClone Systems shortly before bad news about a cancer drug became public. She faces between 10 months and 16 months in jail.

NAB President Says Indecency Regulation Should Include Cable, Satellite: The one area of clear consensus among the 350 broadcasters attending the National Association of Broadcasters summit on indecency in Washington Wednesday is that cable and satellite TV should share the pain.

That was the assessment of Eddie Fritts, NAB president and CEO, during a wrap-up briefing with reporters this evening. “There was great concern about cable and satellite,” said Mr. Fritts, noting that the pay TV technologies are currently exempt from federal indecency regulation. “The goal for broadcasters is equal footing in this process.”

Mr. Fritts said the NAB board and executive committee are also planning to consider a range of industry responses to indecency concerns, including possible adoption of some kind of programming code. “It [a decisive resolution] is not something that ‘s going to be resolved in 30 days or 60 days,” said Mr. Fritts, however.

Among the federal regulators that urged broadcasters to consider resurrecting a code at the behind-closed-doors session was Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell. “It would be in your interest to do so,” Mr. Powell told the broadcasters, according to a text of his remarks. In a hallway briefing with reporters, Mr. Powell also endorsed the concept of subjecting cable and satellite to the same indecency ground rules that broadcasters face.

Copps Alarmed by ‘Steamy’ Soaps: FCC Commissioner Michael Copps told reporters today he believes the agency should review whether TV soap operas are running afoul of Federal Communications Commission indecency prohibitions. Mr. Copps said he had recently browsed through the soaps and had been surprised by the character of some of the fare, particularly considering that children could be in the audience. “It was pretty steamy for the middle of the afternoon,” Mr. Copps said, though he declined to identify any particular programs he found offensive.

The FCC Democrat also told reporters that he wants the agency to extend its crackdown on indecency to broadcast advertising. Mr. Copps made his remarks in a briefing for reporters after he addressed a National Association of Broadcasters summit on indecency in Washington.

The summit was closed to the press. But Mr. Copps said he told the about 350 industry representatives in attendance that it would be wrong for agency officials or the industry to assume that they can “politick” the indecency issue for several months, and that it will then disappear.

“Industry and the commission will get passing marks here only insofar as the airwaves really are cleaned up and kept clean,” Mr. Copps told the summit, according to an FCC release. “While you meet and discuss and move toward, I hope, resolute new industry policies on indecency, I am going to be pressing my colleagues to get on with the job of enforcing the statute, using all the ammunition already in our armory and also putting to immediate use any additional arrows that Congress may provide for our quiver.”

In an informal hallway briefing at the session, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said he thinks pending legislation should be amended to extend the indecency crackdown to cable and satellite TV, technologies that are currently exempt from FCC indecency enforcement.

“I can see it being added in conference, and I don’t think there would be a lot of objections in the House,” Rep. Stupak said.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., said he told the summit that the crackdown “is moving and it’s going to have to be addressed.” He also told reporters that he doesn’t believe ratings and chip technology are sufficient. “Rather than warning people that the river is polluted, why not take the pollution out?” Mr. Brownback said.

Alliance Atlantis Delays 2003 Earnings Report: The co-production company of CBS’s “CSI” franchise is delaying by three weeks its release of its 2003 financial results because the company is still in the throes of sorting out the financial impact of the reorganization at its entertainment division.

Alliance Atlantis Communications, which jointly produces the “CSI” franchise with CBS, rescheduled its earnings call to April 23 from April 5 to give the company more time to account for its December decision to stop producing miniseries, movies-of-the-week and feature films in favor of focusing on its broadcasting efforts. The successful “CSI” franchise is not affected by the change in focus.

So far, the financial impact of backing off production will be a $15 million cash charge related to severance payments made to the 70 positions that will be eliminated as well as a $250 million noncash charge reflecting the discontinued investment in film and television programs and $50 million in noncash charges associated with development and production costs.

Charter Sets Debt Refinancing: Debt-laden cable operator Charter Communications said Wednesday it will refinance its $8 billion credit line to extend the maturity of some of its debt and improve the company’s liquidity.

The St. Louis-based company’s plans call for a new $6.5 billion bank facility and the issuance of $1.5 billion in debt securities. Proceeds from both transactions will go toward paying off older credit facilities of Charter subsidiaries.

In addition, Charter will increase the funds available in the facility to $1 billion from $828 million at the end of 2003. However, the company’s debt level won’t change from the $18.6 billion reported at the end of last year.

Ender Promoted at CBS: Chris Ender, who as CBS Entertainment communications senior VP has, among other things, consistently managed to maximize coverage of and secrecy surrounding “Survivor,” has been promoted to communications senior VP for the network. In his expanded and elevated role, he will be instrumental in developing media strategy and execution and will oversee publicity and communications for UPN and King World, in addition to CBS Entertainment.

“Chris has performed admirably in his eight years overseeing CBS Entertainment’ s communications operations,” said Gil Schwartz, CBS communications executive VP, to whom Mr. Ender will report. “He has been instrumental in launching some of our most successful shows, including ‘Survivor,’ ‘CSI’ and ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ and he has gained the trust, respect and admiration of the entire organization and senior management, who have come to rely on his communications and managerial expertise.”

Batson Named ’48 Hours’ Senior Producer: Anthony Batson has been named a senior producer for “48 Hours Investigates.” He joined CBS News and the newsmagazine in 1996 and has won an Emmy and a Peabody Award during his tenure as a producer.

HBO Renews ‘Deadwood’: HBO has renewed its n
ew series “Deadwood” for a second season. Created and executive produced by David Milch, the show is scheduled to begin production of 12 new episodes in July, with the debut set for 2005. “I’m grateful for this vote of confidence,” Mr. Milch said in a statement. “That it comes early and without qualification is typical of the way HBO operates.” The first 12-episode season of “Deadwood” premiered March 21 to strong reviews and high viewership, thanks in part to having new episodes of “The Sopranos” as its lead-in.

Kraft, Schering-Plough Exclusive Sponsors for Hallmark: Hallmark Channel said Kraft and Schering-Plough have agreed to be exclusive sponsors of two of its upcoming movies. Schering-Plough’s Claritin will sponsor the premiere of the original film “The Long Shot,” airing April 18. Kraft Foods will be the exclusive national sponsor when Disney’s “The Parent Trap” airs on Hallmark June 13 and June 24. With named sponsors, Hallmark said it will be presenting the films with four commercial minutes per hour, instead of the normal 18. Bill Abbott, executive VP, national ad sales, at Hallmark, said such integrated efforts are part of a strategy the network hopes will generate a 75 percent increase in ad revenue during the upcoming upfront. Hallmark also said that in January it will launch a Sunday night franchise of original mystery movies.

Sundance Channel Acquires Plympton Features, Shorts: Sundance Channel has acquired two feature films and 10 shorts by maverick animator Bill Plympton for broadcast in a May spotlight on the filmmaker’s work. Sundance will present the U.S. television premiere of Mr. Plympton’s “Mutant Aliens” along with his first film, “The Tune,” and a number of new and vintage shorts as part of its “Get to Know: Bill Plympton” event.