When Ryan Seacrest executive produced and hosted Fox’s New Year’s Eve countdown show from Times Square recently, he was marking the close of what was for him a very up-and-down year. His much-anticipated syndicated daytime show, “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest,” was canceled due to poor ratings, yet his star shone brightly as ever, as evidenced by the high-profile New Year’s gig on Fox. Next week Mr. Seacrest returns to host the fourth season of top-rated “American Idol,” which Fox is heavily counting on to revive its so-far disappointing prime-time season. n
With the third installment of Mark Burnett’s reality series “The Bachelorette” premiering on ABC this week, all is well in the world of Mr. Burnett’s CAA agent, Michael Camacho. Mr. Camacho, who specializes in reality clients, saw critics shun Mike Fleiss’s “The Real Gilligan’s Island” on TBS but helped Mr. Fleiss build his feature slate in 2004 with several new projects, including a remake of “The Poseidon Adventure.”
Client Bertram van Munster picked up another Emmy for his CBS hit “The Amazing Race,” and Mr. Burnett continued to redefine the relationship between Hollywood and Madison Avenue with groundbreaking branding deals on “The Apprentice.” n
Showtime President of Entertainment Robert Greenblatt’s slate of original programming debuted in 2004, with each show bringing the network a degree of publicity and success. “The L-Word” gained headlines for being the first lesbian-themed dramatic series, and “Huff” strongly polarized critics and audiences, showing the potential to become a cult favorite. Though an across-the-board breakout hit has remained elusive, Mr. Greenblatt helped give Showtime a sense of momentum and identity it previously lacked. He also quickly jumped on the feature documentary bandwagon, acquiring rights to “Fahrenheit 9/11” and “Super Size Me,” both of which are expected to premiere on the network this year. n
HBO Entertainment president Carolyn Strauss had some big shows to replace last year-notably “Sex and the City”-and she’s pleased with the effort so far. “All in all, everyone here has done a job of struggling under enormous expectations,” she said. Two new shows, “Deadwood” and “Entourage,” earned Golden Globe nominations, but they still have a way to go in the expectations race.
“In our world, if `Sopranos’ is a home run, that stands alone,” she said. “And by the way, a first-year show is never a home run.”
Ms. Strauss is high on several projects in development for the future, including “Big Love,” “Rome” and “The Comeback,” starring Lisa Kudrow. n
Kevin Reilly returned to NBC in the fall of 2003 as president of prime-time development, and by May 2004 was named president of entertainment. Taking over during the final stages of the company’s Universal merger, he announced a new development slate-the network’s first with him in charge. Those shows, two of which debut this month, represent an attempt to stop the ratings slide brought on by the loss of several venerable hits.
“This fall was challenging, coming off our historic run,” Mr. Reilly said. “What it does is get you out of your comfort zone, which usually leads to good things. I feel like the organization is very energized by it.” n
Endeavor’s head of TV Richard Weitz started 2004 as one of TelevisionWeek’s 12 to Watch and was later named to a “most influential” list by Details magazine. He likes the attention but prefers it for his clients, such as producers David Litt, Shawn Levy and Gary Janetti, for whom he landed overall studio deals last year.
His most closely watched package, “Joey,” has underperformed somewhat, and his “Wonderfalls,” despite having thrilled critics, has already been canceled. But Endeavor still had an excellent season, packaging such series as “Jack & Bobby” and “Boston Legal.”
“As a company, we identify the next generation of voices and ideas better than everybody else,” Mr. Weitz said. “We’ve been very careful about the process of developing new careers.” n
Jeff Fager’s life has not changed very much since he took over TV’s most watched and most powerful newsmagazine, said the news veteran, who last summer returned to “60 Minutes” as executive producer. “The level of intensity is a little higher, as you would expect,” Mr. Fager said.
CBS News has been under a microscope since Mr. Fager’s old show, the Wednesday night edition of “60 Minutes,” based a report last year about President Bush’s National Guard service on forged documents. But the Sunday night granddaddy of all newsmagazines has maintained its viewership and has even grown slightly in the coveted 18 to 49 and 25 to 54 demos, while all others in the genre except sister “48 Hours” are suffering erosion. “It’s going to be an exciting year,” Mr. Fager said. n
Last year was a busy one for Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. As head of the nation’s largest cable operator, Mr. Roberts shocked the media world in February by launching an unsolicited bid for The Walt Disney Co., only to have the offer rebuffed. But he didn’t walk away hobbled. Indeed, Mr. Roberts and Comcast continued to make strides, inking carriage deals that included aggressive plans to expand free video-on-demand service, while continuing the growth of high-speed data subscriptions and laying the groundwork to supply the company’s 22.5 million customers with telephone service starting next year. In May, Mr. Roberts was named the cable giant’s chairman to go along with his CEO title. n
Last year Anne Sweeney rose from president of ABC Cable Networks Group to head of the Disney-ABC Television Group as part of an executive shakeup that resulted in a barrage of title changes within the company’s media empire. Though ABC’s new hits, “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost,” were developed under the previous regime, Ms. Sweeney and Stephen McPherson, president of prime-time entertainment at ABC, are receiving credit for priming the pump through innovative marketing and scheduling. n
After an unusually public battle, George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, backed away from his policy of increasing rates for the cable sports network by as much as 20 percent a year in return for multiyear deals with cable operators that include carriage agreements for additional ESPN networks, such as ESPN Classic and ESPN HD. Under Mr. Bodenheimer’s leadership, ESPN also pulled the plug on “Playmakers,” a hit entertainment series that came under attack from the NFL for shining a sometimes unflattering light on the league. “Many considerations went into this decision, not the least of which was the reaction from [the NFL], a longtime and valued partner,” an ESPN spokeswoman said. n
Almost immediately upon his arrival at DirecTV Group in December 2003, CEO Chase Carey set into motion a plan to breathe life into the neglected satellite operator-and in the process managed to put the nation’s cable operators on the defensive. DirecTV was on a subscriber upswing all year, and most of it came at the expense of the cable operators, which have had to refocus their efforts to try to blunt DirecTV’s growth. At the same time, under Mr. Carey’s leadership, the company shed noncore assets, including its stake in PanAmSat, to concentrate on its consumer satellite TV business, and simplified the ownership structure of its Latin American satellite interests. n
jo ann ross
The question last year for Jo Ann Ross, CBS’s president of sales, was whether she could cash in on a big season for the network despite a weak ad market. The answer was yes. CBS registered the biggest increases in volume among the major networks during the upfront ad sales presentations and held out for the biggest cost-per-thousand increases.
“Leslie [Moonves, CBS chairman] put together a great schedule with his team on the West Coa
st, and we were able to capitalize on that in the upfront in a big way,” Ms. Ross said. The market has remained slow, she said, but “Because of all the positive stories coming off our core schedule, when clients did have scatter to place we were the first call, and in many instances we got the lion’s share of the budget from the other networks.”
Even so, life could be easier. “I’m glad I had good numbers in a soft market. I can’t wait till I have good numbers in a strong market,” she said. n