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10/21/2005 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Geraldo on the News Wars

Geraldo Rivera, a veteran of the news wars, has never shied away from
the camera. He returns to the syndication world Oct. 31 with a half-hour show
from Twentieth Television, Geraldo at Large, which
replaces A Current Affair. He spoke with
B&C's Ben
Grossman
.


What news program sets you
off?

I used to work at Dateline, and they do
award-winning work, but tell me the difference between a
Dateline crime story and an Inside
Edition
crime story. There is this quasi-reenactment, high drama in
how they are shot and lit. The tabloid aspects are laid bare. When they do
something special, like with Katie Couric, it can be quality stuff, but they do
too much schlocky stuff.


How does your new show fit into the TV
news landscape and Fox News' expansion plans?

There is a real appetite for news of the day and analysis and
investigative stories if done in a way that doesn't put people to sleep.
People have intense interest since 9/11 in what is going on around them. There
is a sense that there is a lot out of people's control, whether it is bad
weather or bad hombres.

[The show] is still in formation, but I'll play an ongoing and
important role on Channel 5 [WNYW] here in New York, and I see the same thing
emerging in Chicago and L.A. as well. Our O&Os will be central to our
success; it's part of the evolution of Fox News. The hype about a Fox Evening
News is missing the point. If the new show has success, it is a major step into
another arena for this expanding brand and the whole “Ailesian” concept. We
are in a bullish expansive mode; everyone else is thinking about contracting.
Roger [Ailes] is the wolf at their door.


You mentioned Katie Couric. Do you
think she will leave Today?

Her [late] husband Jay Monahan was my best friend. Our kids go to
school together. I can't see her leaving ever. All the talk is negotiation on
her agent's part.


What are your thoughts on the new
Nightline?

I think the triple anchor is a mistake. I lived through
World News Tonight with three guys sharing
22 minutes. I don't think it will work. To tinker with it and reinvent it,
they should go play around with some other daypart. When you have triple
anchors, how much time do you waste with tossing it back and forth? The device
itself, the production aspect, becomes the tail that wags the dog.


What would you do with the news chairs
at CBS and ABC?

I'd give the job to [CBS'] John Roberts in a heartbeat. I don't
know what they are waiting for. And the same with Elizabeth Vargas [at ABC].
What do they want, do they want them to age in the job before they give them
the job? To play this game with Roberts and Bob Schieffer? They don't pay me
to advise Les Moonves, and Bob Schieffer is a wonderful guy, but if they want
him to do it, let him do it. Don't play with the so-called kid. John Roberts
is going to be the oldest kid in the business; the guy already has gray
hair.

SNTA May Scrap Meetings

By Jim Benson

Members concerned about "open" pitches

The Syndicated Network Television
Association
may scrap an expensive series of pitch meetings with
media buyers and planners held in advance of the annual upfront selling
season.

The debate over the future of the elaborate sessions heats up as
syndicator Tribune Entertainment Co. is
considering leaving the association to cut costs, says one source familiar with
the situation. Tribune officials weren't available to comment last week.

The SNTA board, comprising high-level ad-sales reps from most of the
major syndicators, wants to find a new ad forum next year so it can hold longer
one-on-one sessions with prospective and existing clients. The pitch meetings
have been held each spring with media buyers and planners in New York, Los
Angeles and Chicago. The existing format consists of a breakfast presentation
followed by a series of short, rotating sessions between advertisers and
individual program suppliers, as well as a condensed summit for planners. But
some SNTA members believe that ad agencies are reluctant to discuss specific
business strategies with syndicators under the current round-robin arrangement,
which involves sitting in a room alongside competitors. The association is
under pressure to improve ad sales after only a 3% rise in the syndication
upfront this year.

“It's been challenging,” complains one member. Board members
think individual, private sessions would be more effective. The other studios
all intend to remain with SNTA for now, despite the increased financial burden
if Tribune leaves. SNTA is also hammering out a new multi-year contract with
President Mitch Burg, who joined in 2004.

NBC Universal Sells Mullally Talk Show

NBC Universal Domestic Television
Distribution
has sold its new syndicated talk show hosted by
Will &
Grace
star Megan
Mullally
for fall 2006 in the top three markets. The show, being
sold for daytime time periods, will be aired on WNBC New York, KNBC Los
Angeles and WMAQ Chicago.

The sales represent the first for any new syndicated show for 2006,
and NBC Universal expects to announce additional deals for the one-hour show in
coming weeks. However, clearances may not all be on NBC O&Os, as the
talk/variety show, which will feature celebrity guests, is being sold
market-by-market to stations.—Ben
Grossman

Commerce Sets 2009 Hard Digital Date

By a vote of 19-3, the Senate Commerce
Committee
last week passed a bill to set April 7, 2009, as the hard
date for the switch to digital and return of analog spectrum. An amendment,
offered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to move
the date up to April 7, 2007, was soundly defeated.

He had argued that Hurricane Katrina communications problems had only
put a finer point on his years-long post-9/11 push to get broadcasters'
analog spectrum back for police, fire and other emergency communications.

The bill sets aside $1.25 billion from the auction for interoperable
emergency communications, but committee Chairman Ted
Stevens
(R-Alaska) says he and Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) will introduce an amendment on
the floor to borrow the money now so police and fire departments could get the
equipment and be ready when the spectrum is returned.

But he also argued that McCain's 2007 date would strip funding from
first responders because, according to Congressional
Budget Office
estimates, the auctions would not raise enough money
to leave any after the committee met its $4.8 billion obligation toward the
general treasury fund.

Of the $10 billion from auctions, $3 billion will go to subsidize an
analog-to-digital converter box, enough to cover everyone who still has an
analog-only set in 2009.

The bill also includes an amendment that says deficit reduction gets
whatever is left over from the spectrum-auction proceeds after the $5 billion
to the treasury, $3 billion for the subsidy, $1.25 billion for first
responders, $250 million for enhanced 911, and unrelated expenses.

A House version of the hard-date bill, whose give-back date is
currently Dec. 31, 2008, will be marked up next week. Discussions on a second
Commerce DTV bill also begin then. That bill will include such issues as
mandatory cable carriage of broadcasters' multicast signals and unlicensed
spectrum for new technologies, which could not be included on last week's
bill because of Senate rules.—John
Eggerton

Cox, Nexstar Settle Retrans Spat

Small-market TV-station group Nexstar
Broadcasting
and cable operator Cox
Communications
have settled a 10-month-long retransmission-consent
fight. Nexstar has taken a hard line in negotiations with operators, demanding
that they pay cash for the right to retransmit its broadcast stations. Because
Cox balked, Nexstar stripped its stations off Cox systems in Texas, Arkansas,
Kansas, Louisiana and Missouri.

The new long-term deal, which applies to 12 Nexstar stations and nine
Mission Broadcasting-owned outlets, provides
carriage of the TV stations' analog and digital signals, including some
digital broadcast channels that could be launched in the future.

Nexstar pulled its stations off Cox last January and turned the
dispute into a public fight. At some Nexstar stations, staffers handed out
rabbit ears so consumers could receive their broadcast stations over-the-air.
—Allison Romano/John M. Higgins

NAB Taps Rehr

The National Association of
Broadcasters
last week officially named National Beer Wholesalers Association President
David K. Rehr as its new president. Rehr, who
has signed a multi-year deal, will take over Dec. 5. Eddie Fritts remains as a consultant through April 2008.

Rehr, a Republican, has been with the beer association since 2000. In
the mid '90s, he was named one of Washington's top lobbyists.—J.E.

ANA Joins Viacom's Kids-Rule Challenge

The Association of National
Advertisers
(ANA) has told the FCC
that, like Viacom, it is withdrawing its
petition criticizing the digital kids-TV rules and will join Viacom in its
court challenge to those regulations.

ANA initially raised concerns with the rules in a joint filing with
the American Association of Advertising
Agencies
(AAAA) and the American Advertising
Federation
(AAF). AAAA will keep its challenge at the FCC, says
Senior VP/Counsel Adonis Hoffman. No word from
AAF, whose petition is still at the commission.

The rules treat show promos the same as commercials when counting how
many ads networks can aim at kids each hour and also cover Web links for
products pitched.

Viacom argues that the rules should be vacated because they exceed the
commission's authority. It sought review from the Washington, D.C.,
circuit.

ANA Executive VP Dan Jaffe says the
rules could “undermine the economic foundations of children's
programming.”

Disney has taken a separate tack to
its rules challenge, asking the D.C. Circuit to force the FCC's hand on the
various petitions before it. The court gave the FCC until Oct. 25 to respond to
the Disney petition, then gave Disney until Nov. 1 to reply.—J.E.

'Colbert' Kills

Comedy Central's
Colbert
Report
, starring Stephen Colbert, debuted to a 1
household rating, representing 1.13 million viewers. The Daily Show
spinoff follows its parent at 11:30 p.m. ET, replacing Tough Crowd With Colin
Quinn
. Ratings were up 103% over the year-ago
week.—J.E.

Corrections

Jesus Bracamontes and Pablo Ramirez will call the action for the 2006
World Cup for Univision. A photo caption on page 16A of a Hispanic-programming
supplement in the Oct. 17 issue misidentified the network.

The Walt Disney Co.'s failed broadcast video-on-demand business was
called Movie­Beam. It was misidentified in The Robins Report (10/17, page
5).

Problem at Checkpoint 3

Reporters in Iraq are putting new meaning into the phrase “duck and
cover.”

According to the Committee to Protect
Journalists
Executive Director Ann
Cooper
, there is a “serious and relatively new” threat. Several
of the journalists it is trying to protect have been fired on, or at least
above and around, at the only media checkpoint for access to the International
Zone in Baghdad.

In a letter to Commanding General George
Casey
, Cooper detailed two incidents this month in which reporters
for NPR and The Wall Street Journal had warning shots
fired over their heads, with threats of worse.

NPR senior producer J.J. Sutherland
said he came came under fire Oct. 3 after his driver dropped him off 100 meters
or so from the checkpoint. He says in the letter that shots were “close
enough that I could hear the snap of the bullets as they passed by,” adding
American forces did nothing to prevent it.

Cooper says the problem is confusion over how journalists are supposed
to approach the checkpoint as they try to enter the zone to cover press
conferences, conduct interviews with U.S. and Iraqi officials, and embed with
units. “You can't just drive right up and let people out,” says Cooper.
“There is confusion over at what distance they are supposed to get out, 100
yards, 200 yards? There are no signs. Different people are doing different
things and getting shot as a result.”—J.E.

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