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Free Oprah!

Oprah
stations will be getting 45 more episodes of the top-rated talk show than their new contracts call for. The largesse was triggered when Oprah's studio was being converted to digital in August 2000 and the production of 10 episodes was pushed to 2001. The additional production got King World CEO Roger King thinking about giving his clients a little something extra, he says. Some stations had been upset that they were going to receive only 26 weeks of original productions per season, compared with the industry-standard 35 weeks, per Oprah's contract. King decided to give them another three weeks of originals, and Oprah agreed.

EDI by 2002

It has been a long battle—about 10 years—but TV stations may finally get an industrywide electronic billings system (or EDI, for "electronic data interchange") sometime in 2002. After several meetings with invoice-software vendors last week, TVB Executive Vice President Abby Auerbach says a system will be implemented next year. Currently, there are more than a dozen non-compatible systems in the marketplace. Last week, 15 vendors, including major companies like Donovan Data Systems, Encoda and Mediaport, not only agreed to develop a single standard but said it could be done by year-end. "There's still a lot of work to be done, but that was a major breakthrough," said Auerbach, who oversees TVB's EDI committee.

Test run

The producers of ABC's planned midseason reality series, The Runner,
just completed a logistical test-run, literally, through greater Los Angeles. In the test of the series, which debuts in January, a so-called Runner set off with agents in hot pursuit, aided by clues placed all over the Los Angeles area, including a classified ad in the Palm Springs-basedDesert Post Weekly
that read, "You: Evasive runner. Me: Amtrak 776 Fullerton. Wait for me in the third car." Eric Olson, an editor at the Gannett publication, said, "We didn't really notice it until someone from ABC called to make sure the ad had run." Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
producer Michael Davies and actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are involved in the production. ABC executives weren't commenting on the test.

Downside of reality

UPN and producers from Endemol Entertainment went to Fiji last week to tape a midseason reality series and got caught up in a different kind of reality: a cyclone. No one was hurt, and production on the tentatively titled Rebuild Your Life
will likely start this week as scheduled.

Profit for nonprofits

Public TV's fight to add commercial services in the digital era could be decided at the FCC's meeting Oct. 11. Although sources tracking the issue say no decision has been reached on the controversial idea and the order could still be dropped, FCC sources insist the issue will likely remain on the agenda. Public-television groups say commercial services such as tuition-based university programs and subscription services that could be offered via ancillary digital channels are necessary to pay for the DTV transition. Debate over the plan has split public broadcasters from their frequent ally, Media Access Project. MAP President Andrew Schwartzman says public broadcasters also are pushing for the right to carry ads, a change that would diminish Capitol Hill support for federal funding. "What they want is a blank check," he says.

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