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9/01/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Hubbard's Secret Satellite Weapon

Now we know why the clan of venerable broadcaster Stanley S. Hubbard is suddenly so busy in the cable business: Time is running out.

After years of stalled cable efforts, Hubbard Broadcasting finally launched movie infotainment network ReelzChannel in June. Then, last week, the Hubbards stepped up as one of the investors pumping $56.5 million into long-ailing arts channel Ovation.

Why the rush? The Hubbards have a little-known deal granting them slots for three channels on DirecTV and the potential to reach its 16 million subscribers—and the deal expires soon.

Securities filings show that, when DirecTV bought USSB, the satellite TV service Hubbard controlled, in 1999, the deal included a special agreement to carry the Hubbards' All News Channel (which ultimately folded in 2002), as well as two additional channels to be developed later.

With the deal expiring this year, the company has had to move quickly. So when Ovation's investment banker, Lazard Freres, approached the company about the channel, Hubbard's son, Stanley E. Hubbard II, pounced, agreeing to buy in and use the DirecTV rights as leverage to secure carriage.

The younger Hubbard would not comment on Ovation and the DirecTV deal. Sources familiar with the negotiations say Ovation's new investor group—which includes the Weinstein Company and Tennis Channel Chairman Ken Solomon—are negotiating with DirecTV but have not finalized a deal.

With small cable channels struggling for carriage, the Hubbards' deal works out pretty well for tiny Ovation and its 5.3 million subscribers.

Theater Geek

Apparently, Conan O'Brien is really just a song-and-dance man.

O'Brien's opening number at last Sunday's Primetime Emmy Awards—a gleeful send-up of NBC's ratings troubles set to the tune of “Ya Got Trouble” from The Music Man—wasn't the first time the Late Night host has drawn inspiration from the classic Meredith Wilson musical.

One of O'Brien's favorite Simpsons episodes (which he also happened to have written) was the fourth season's “Marge vs. the Monorail,” in which a charming huckster in the mold of The Music Man's Harold Hill persuades the people of Springfield to build a monorail they don't need. “The Monorail Song” (available on the album Songs in the Key of Springfield) is a rousing showstopper with a capital S.

In his commentary on the episode that accompanies The Simpsons: Season Four DVD, O'Brien professes his love for The Music Man and reveals that he actually was offered the role of Hill in the 2000 Broadway revival but had to decline due to scheduling difficulty.

O'Brien was on vacation last week and unavailable to comment. But posters to the message boards at BroadwayWorld.com roundly applauded his “brilliant” performance. “I'd pay top dollar for that,” wrote one. “He was better than guys I've paid 100 bucks to see,” added another.

Nice to know that, if his network really heads south, he's got something to fall back on.

Fan Mail

The folks at Moosejaw Mountaineering have hit on a way to incorporate their love for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart into their marketing strategy.

For its fall catalogue, the Michigan-based outdoor retailer included a message on the order form requesting that patrons pass their used catalogues on to Daily Show correspondent Ed Helms, at the network's New York headquarters.

Apparently, it isn't the first time Moosejaw has expressed an affinity with the late-night show. For the past three years, the company, which routinely infuses its catalogues and Website with humorous non-sequiturs and absurdist musings, has printed similar forwarding requests for various Daily Show players, including Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Rob Corddry, as well as Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David.

“We just love the show,” says Moosejaw founder Robert Wolfe, explaining that the messages are meant as a tribute and that customers have told him they've forwarded their catalogues accordingly.

Though he confesses to an innocent wish that a catalogue might land in the right hands and win Moosejaw a guest appearance on the show, Wolfe hopes the tribute hasn't offended anyone.

A Daily Show spokesman was unaware of any catalogue onslaught but says, “If it was meant as a sincere form of homage, we don't mind.”

“Fortunately,” he adds, “the show has a very good recycling program.”

With John M. Higgins

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