Fast Track - Broadcasting & Cable

Fast Track

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In its own twist on NBC's The Apprentice, Fox
signed billionaire Sir Richard Branson, to star in an unscripted "drama," Branson's Big Adventure. In the show, a group of wannabe entrepreneurs will join the founder and chairman of the Virgin Group of Companies
on some international adventure, with the least impressive of the lot left on the tarmac at the end of every show. …

NBC
will work with the TV Guide Channel
to guide viewers through 1,200-plus hours of Olympics coverage from Athens this summer. Olympics events will run on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, Bravo
and Telemundo. The Olympics will get its own dedicated section of the TV Guide Channel's listings. For its part, TV Guide will get a plug in NBC's tune-in marketing campaign, including print ads and spots. ...

With plenty of legal news these days—Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson, and the usual suspects—Court TV is creating the Court TV Legal News Service, which will make its legal expertise available to local stations and cable news networks. The subscription service will launch July 12. ...

Going into its 16th season, the cast of The Simpsons has now sat out two table reads while they lobby for more money. Each voice actor makes $125,000 per episode, according to published reports, but the group is pushing to make $360,000 each, a salary that would pay each of the six major cast members $8 million annually. ...

After just two episodes, HBO
ordered a sophomore season of Western drama Deadwood. Its debut three weeks ago drew 5.8 million viewers, the pay net's biggest audience for an original-series premiere. ...

A University of Missouri senior was the pick of 60% of ESPN
viewers for a year contract—$95,000—as SportsCenter anchor. Actually, the salary was $70,000, but he upped it to $95,000 in a sports-trivia segment on the two-hour finale of the reality show, Dream Job. ...

HDNet
is close to landing high-definition rights to Warner Bros. Domestic Cable Distribution's youthful drama
Smallville. Billionaire Mark Cuban's network, with some 1 million subscribers, is said to be paying about $100,000 per episode to share the cable window with ABC Family, which has standard-def rights for between $500,000 and $750,000, depending on whom you ask.

People & Power

NBC
picked Anna Perez, deputy assistant to the president and counselor for communications for National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, as executive vice president of communications for NBC. She replaces Patricia Steele, who held the post for almost two years. ...

Discovery Channel's incoming Executive Vice President and General Manager Jane Root is eager to "get inside the heads of American viewers." Root, currently controller of UK's BBC2, takes over Discovery in May. She says her reputation in Britain is for "creating new shows, taking creative risks, inventing new things."

Corrections and Clarifications

Belo Corp. CEO Robert Decherd owns 15% of the company's shares and 23% of the voting power. A profile of Decherd in the March 29 edition contained incorrect data on his stock holdings.

A chart accompanying a story about the gap between cable and broadcasting ad prices in the March 29 issue should have noted that data from ad research firm SQAD came from its Netcosts printed reports from Feb. 27, 2002; Feb. 28, 2003; and Feb. 27, 2004.

He's Booked Until 2009

Jay Leno won't be leaving The Tonight Show
before 2009. The square-jawed comic signed a new NBC pact last week that will take him into his 18th year as host. Leno's current deal wasn't up until December 2005, but network executives locked him up early. He told The New York Times
that he got a nice raise but wasn't making "Dave money," a reference to the reported $31 million CBS pays David Letterman annually to host The Late Show. In the Nielsens, Leno beats Letterman soundly.

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