B&C Eye


Be prepared

Prompted by the Sept. 11 attacks, the FCC is recruiting broadcast, cable and satellite TV executives for an FCC advisory committee on safeguarding the electronic mass communications during a terrorist attack or other catastrophe.

The committee will be modeled on the Network Reliability and Interoperability Council established for the phone industry in 1992. Corporate executives sit on the council and develop strategies to prevent disruptions and make plans for disaster recovery. Media trade groups have been asked to suggest prospective members. FCC officials plan to announce the committee in a couple of weeks.—B.M.

Inbounding the ball

ESPN is fairly giddy to start NBA coverage, TNT is an old hand, but the league's third cable outlet is scrambling. As part of the NBA's new TV deal, a new channel co-owned by the league and AOL Time Warner will have 96 games per season for six seasons, starting this fall. The tentatively named All Sports Network needs to line up more staff, distribution and ads. The partners say they are working furiously and hope to have news by the NCTA convention in May. NBA Commissioner David Stern and Turner's Mark Lazarus are leading a search for a top executive. Stern is talking to major operators. ASN will replace CNNSI, currently in about 20 million mostly satellite and digital cable homes, and will inherit some of its programming, such as lacrosse and auto racing.

The partners hope the channel will be ready in September or October. If it isn't, games could temporarily air on the league's thinly distributed digital net, NBA.comTV.—A.R.

Searing sendoff

Retiring AOL Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin (above) will get plenty of accolades before he exits May 16, but he took some heat at a March 5 dinner during Bear Stearns's annual conference for media investors. Levin was blasted by State Street Research's Larry Haverty, a major media investor. After Levin spoke, Haverty stood and blamed Levin's management for "destroying $150 billion in value." He compared Levin to Walter Forbes, the former chairman of Cendant now under indictment in a book-cooking scandal. Even those accustomed to Haverty's brashness were startled. "Comparing him to Walter Forbes and Cendant, you are calling him a crook," said one witness. Levin replied that his net worth is tied up in AOL: "I've suffered that loss, too."—J.M.H.

HD Believers

Given the chance to shave the cost of shooting pilots, studios will probably take it. That may be one of the reasons more than 20 pilots, mostly sitcoms, for next season will be shot on HD as opposed to film.
The first pilot to be shot on HD this year, Paramount's Do Over, begins shooting this week. Other studios expected to turn to the HD-tape format include Studios USA, Touchstone Television, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox. Legendary producer Jim Burrows (Cheers,
Will & Grace) will shoot his new pilot,
Dexter's Prep, on HD tape. The odds are also good that the pilots that get picked up will shoot their entire season on HD tape.

Drug money

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) is the latest lawmaker to cast a worried eye on TV ads for prescription drugs. The House's watchdog on healthcare says that prescription-drug companies are "getting a good return on their investment" but that is because the ads sell more drugs to consumers whether they need them or not. Waxman joins other lawmakers in decrying the cost of prescription drugs, an ad category that has grown to almost $2 billion a year for broadcasters since 1997. Congress is looking for ways to keep pharmaceutical costs down.—P.A.