Fast Track

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A Slow Start To 'Affair'

A Current Affair returned to television March 21 after a nearly nine-year absence, running pieces about the brutal murder of a Las Vegas high school student and a proposed Virginia law that would ban people from exposing the tops of their undergarments in public.

In its first night on the air, the program got off to a slow start in the three biggest markets. On WNYW New York, its 2.5 rating/5 share was down 31% from the time slot a year ago. KTTV Los Angeles was down 38%, with a 2.1/5. On WFLD Chicago, the show pulled a 1.2 /3, down 25% from last year.—J.F.

'Project Runway' To Strut Again

Bravo and Miramax Television will strut their stuff in a second season of fashion-focused reality show Project Runway. The Heidi Klum-hosted competition for the next hot clothing designer grew 468% in the ratings throughout its first season, drawing more than 2 million viewers in its February finale after premiering in December to just 354,000.

Ten new episodes hosted by Klum will premiere as early as the third quarter. Klum also executive-produces the series with Full Picture Managers Desiree Gruber and Jane Cha, Miramax Co-Chairs Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and Magical Elves' Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz. Bravo is a unit of NBC Universal Cable.—A.B.

Back to Business At Martin's FCC

After nearly a week in charge of the FCC, new Chairman Kevin Martin has returned the agency to business as usual, mostly. Upon taking the chairman's seat March 18, he issued an e-mail to FCC senior staff, ordering them not to release major staff-level decisions or public notices until his office gets a chance to review them. Most proceedings have now been cleared to go forward. Staffers were also asked not to give speeches on behalf of the commission or make other public statements purportedly reflecting the commission's views “until further notice.”—B.M.

Comedy Central Logs Top Cable Show

Comedy Central's Roast of Jeff Foxworthy laughed its way to the top of the cable ratings for the week ended March 20, attracting 6.2 million total viewers Sunday at 10 p.m. and ranking as the network's second-most-watched telecast ever, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Two airings of the Scooby-Doo movie on Nick, the film's premiere TV broadcasts, took the second and third spots, with 4.85 million and 4.80 million total viewers, respectively, on Saturday and Friday. The Saturday-night airing also nabbed the week's top cable-programming spot with kids 2-11, with 2.9 million in that demo tuning in.

Rounding out the top five cable programs in prime were Saturday's 9:30 p.m. episode of SpongeBob on Nick, with 4.78 million viewers, and Monday's 9 p.m. WWE programming on Spike, at 4.60 million.

The top three networks for the week in prime were TBS, USA and TNT, averaging 2.44 million, 2.36 million and 2.35 million total viewers respectively.—A.B.

Hallmark: Big Growth Ahead

Hallmark Channel aims to post double-digit CPM increases and take in $110 million from advertisers in this year's upfront—40% more than last year, says Hallmark Channels' executive VP of national ad sales, Bill Abbott.

To do that, the network projects 150 ad deals and 25 new clients. Hallmark will again offer 10 movies where advertisers get sole sponsorship with fewer, longer commercials.

The network ordered two installments of its high-performing, successful Hallmark Mystery Movie wheel: MysteryWoman, McBride and Jane Doe.—A.B.

Miss USA Gets Out the Vote

Beauty-pageant fans will cast votes for Miss USA finalists for the first time in the pageant's 54-year history.

The Miss Universe Organization, which produces the Miss USA event, has partnered with Cover Girl and NBC to give viewers a limited role in selecting finalists for NBC's April 11 broadcast.

From April 1 to 6, fans visiting the Cover Girl Web site (www.covergirl.com) will be prompted to select 10 of 51 Miss USA 2005 contestants in three categories: evening gown, swimsuit and interview. Voters will base their selections on interviews and photos available online.

Viewers' ballots will collectively represent a “virtual judge, filling one spot on the preliminary judging panel,” according to an NBC release.

The Miss Universe Organization recently inked a two-year deal with Cover Girl, making the firm the official cosmetics sponsor of Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA.

—J.N.M.

'Wall Street Week' Axed

Long-running financial-analysis show Wall Street Week has been cancelled. The announcement was made by Maryland Public Television last week. MPT produces the program, which is shown on PBS.

The final episode of the 35-year-old show will be produced for broadcast on Friday, June 24 at 8:30 p.m. ET.

Wall Street Week With Louis Rukeyser was relaunched in 2002 as Wall Street Week With Fortune, after host Rukeyser was removed. The move was an attempt to capture a younger audience. Fortune Editorial Director Geoffrey Colvin and Karen Gibbs—a former business correspondent for Fox News—served as the hosts of the relaunched show.

Rukeyser went on to host the CNBC program Louis Rukeyser's Wall Street, which ended in December after he became ill.

“This announcement signals the end of an era for us,” said Robert J. Shuman, president/CEO of Maryland Public Television.”—J.N.M.

Time Warner Settles With SEC, Restates Numbers

Time Warner Inc. has settled a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into fraudulent accounting of AOL advertising-revenue and subscriber numbers. The company will pay a $300 million fine and incur other penalties as part of the settlement approved by the SEC last week.

The SEC charged that, as Internet stock properties began to lose value in mid 2000, Time Warner “employed fraudulent round-trip transactions that boosted its online-advertising revenue to mask the fact that it also experienced a business slowdown,” according to a statement released by the commission.

Time Warner neither admitted nor denied any wrongdoing in the settlement. In addition to the fine, the company will reduce reported online-advertising revenues by approximately $500 million (in addition to $190 million already restated) for the period from fourth quarter 2000 through 2002.

The company agreed to comply with an SEC cease-and-desist order issued to AOL.

Time Warner will also restate accounting of a consolidation of the AOL Europe venture, which it co-owned with Bertelsmann.—J.N.M.

Howard Resigns From CBS

Josh Howard, who served as executive producer for a controversial 60 Minutes Wednesday story on President Bush, has resigned from his position at CBS News.

Howard is the last of the three CBS News staff members to resign after a botched Sept. 8, 2004, story on the president's service in the Texas Air National Guard. CBS News SVP Betsy West and Senior Broadcast Producer Mary Murphy resigned several weeks ago.

Dan Rather, who reported the Bush story, remained with the network but stepped down from the CBS Evening News anchor desk earlier this month.

The only CBS News employee to be fired for involvement in the Bush-National Guard story, Mary Mapes, plans to write a book about the fiasco for St. Martin's Press. On Tuesday, Reuters cited sources who said the deal was worth more than $500,000; the book will likely be published this fall.—J.N.M.

Cartoon Adds Five Shows

Adult Swim, Cartoon Network's male-skewing late-night block, will debut five original series and four new pilots in 2005, the Turner network said last week. Fifteen half-hour episodes of The Boondocks, based on the political comic strip, debut in October. Six episodes of animated private eye comedy Stroker & Hoop bow September 4. American Dad joins in May, and Squidbillies, 12oz Mouse and Perfect Hair Forever premiere in September.

Four shows will air as pilots in October—Moral Orel, Saul of the Mole People, Lucy: Daughter of the Devil and Minori-Team. New episodes of The Venture Bros. and Aqua Teen Hunger Force will join the block. Adult Swim, which has posted a 42% jump season to date with viewers 18-34 (averaging 399,000 between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.), will begin being tracked by Nielsen as an individual network March 28.—A.B.

Cable in the Classroom Picks Teacher To Lead

Senior Education Department official Helen Soulé will be executive director of Cable in the Classroom, the cable industry's education foundation. Currently chief of staff to the Assistant Secretary of Postsecondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education, Soulé begins her new job April 11. She succeeds Peggy O'Brien, who joined the Corporation for Public Broadcasting last fall.

Soulé was a classroom teacher for 25 years.

Nielsen Needs a Fix, Study Says

After an eight-month review, the Independent Task Force on Television Measurement unveiled its recommendations March 23 to Nielsen Media Research to improve the company's television-ratings services.

The 19-member group, headed by former Rep. Cardiss Collins, called on Nielsen to improve the sample for its new local people meter (LPM) electronic measurement system, which has drawn fire for undercounting minorities. Other suggestions called for improving Nielsen's field force, internal diversity and public communications.

Nielsen President/CEO Susan Whiting pledged to adopt many of the recommendations, but said Nielsen's clients and the Media Ratings Council, which accredits audience measurement, will need to support changes.

At the top of the task force's list were the controversial LPMs, currently in place in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston, and slated to roll out soon in Atlanta, Dallas, Washington and Philadelphia. LPMs “can more accurately measure the diverse viewing audience” than the paper logs, or “diaries,” they replace, the Task Force noted. Among the suggestions to improve the sample were financial incentives and a new recruitment video. The Task Force also studied Nielsen's field operations, concluding that multilingual written materials, female representatives and cultural training would aid in minority recruitment.

The full report is posted on www.everyonecounts.tv.

The group was formed in April 2004 on the recommendation of Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) in response to concerns that LPMs were not accurately counting minority viewers.—A.R.

New Looks for Starz, Encore Nets

Starz Entertainment Group rebranded all 13 of its Starz and Encore channels with new on-air looks and logos. The company also launched three channels: Starz Kids & Family, which consolidates the Starz Kids and Starz Family channels; funny-focused Starz Comedy; and Starz Edge, which will target the males 18-34 demo.

Starz Theater, which had been programmed like a movie theater to air a handful of films at the same time each night, drops out of the lineup.

Encore will tack on its name to each of its thematic channels to help viewers associate the individual networks with the Encore brand. Westerns, for example, will now be called Encore Westerns. Mystery, Drama, Action, Love and teen-targeted Wam will follow suit. Starz Entertainment Group is owned by Liberty Media.

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