Fast Track - Broadcasting & Cable

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Cherry Predicts Sitcom Revival

Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry says the “crisis” in the comedy genre is one breakout hit away from being solved.

“All it takes is one, really,” he said. “One just bursting through like a comet, and then someone will have a night, and they’ll start being able to program it.”

Cherry made his comments during a panel discussion on the future of television comedy last week at the Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills, Calif.

Joining Cherry on the dais were Everybody Loves Raymond executive producer Phil Rosenthal, Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz, HBO Chairman/CEO Chris Albrecht and former Bernie Mac Show executive producer Larry Wilmore.

On a night when thoughtful analysis often gave way to one- liners, the panel did discuss reasons for the downturn in sitcoms.

Cherry told the audience that one problem is just a lack of fresh ideas. “If I was a network executive, the last thing I would do is develop a domestic sitcom with a wife and a dad and a couple kids. Leave it alone,” he said. “Go somewhere else.”

Cherry also talked of the need for promotional muscle, estimating that, last year, Desperate Housewives, Lost and Wife Swap got 75% of ABC’s ad budget.—B.G.

'Reba’ Reclaimed; WB Grabs Her

Twentieth TV has taken the unprecedented step of reclaiming off-network episodes of The WB sitcom Reba from stations in 70% of the U.S. so that it can be double-run on more than 200 WB affiliates.

Off-net episodes of the comedy will air from 4 to 5 p.m. on WB affiliates weekdays beginning in fall 2006; other stations that bought it are out of luck.

It’s The WB’s first off-net programming acquired for its new two-hour young-adult programming block, which will run 3-5 p.m. starting next year.

Old episodes of Reba, a strong performer for The WB the past four years, will appear 10 times a week in the afternoons. Also, in 2006, The WB will stop running repurposed episodes from 7 to 8 p.m. Sundays, a spokesman says.

Although this is the first time a syndicator has reclaimed a show, Paul Franklin, Twentieth’s executive VP of broadcast sales, says a clause allowing for the possibility is commonly included in contracts.

Late last week, Twentieth offered stations replacements for Reba: Family Guy and Still Standing. But stations are under no obligation, and other syndicators are expected to make a run at the newly vacant time periods.

The WB has been pressured for years by top affiliates, including Tribune (a part owner of the network) and Sinclair, to get out of the kids business. When the network’s prime time dropped 6% in its core 18-34 demo (1.6 to 1.5 rating) and 7% in adults 18-49 (1.7 to 1.6) this past season, WB Chairman Garth Ancier moved to use compatible young-adult programming in the afternoons. He hopes it will boost the prime time schedule and stations’ early-fringe and access dayparts.

Buzz in the business is that Ancier had expected Reba, the top performer for the network on Friday nights, to get a big price in syndication. But after it was shopped around, Twentieth managed only straight two-year barter deals from stations, like most shows get. (Cable network Lifetime paid cash for Reba.) At that point, Ancier approached Twentieth about reclaiming it for its 3-5 p.m. block.

Terms weren’t disclosed, but industry sources say The WB deal will provide stations with four commercial minutes per hour. The WB will sell the national ad time, splitting the proceeds with its Twentieth partners after it pays out residuals. Syndicators always prefer cash over barter.—J.B.

Spade Fronts Tinseltown Send-Up

Comedy Central has signed comedian David Spade (Saturday Night Live, Just Shoot Me) for its planned weekly series satirizing Hollywood.

Comedy has been trying to come up with a Daily Show-like take on celebrity news. Back in the fall, the channel announced two potential access-mag spoofs: The Hollywood Show, which it described as a send-up of the Entertainment Tonight/Extra entertainment-news genre from Daily Show vet Brian Unger, and Gone Hollywood, hosted by Tough Crowd’s Greg Giraldo.

The Unger project has been scrapped, Giraldo is gone from the Gone Hollywood project—though the network is looking for other projects for him, according to a spokesman—and Spade, who has been working behind the scenes on Gone Hollywood from the beginning, will now step out in front of the camera for the re-christened The Showbiz Show With David Spade, slated for a September launch.—J.E.

Warren Jumps To Ad Buyer Carat

Ad-buying executive Ray Warren jumped ship to Carat USA, resigning as managing director of Omnicom Group’s OMD. Warren, a veteran media buyer, replaces Charlie Rutman, who left in February for Havas’ U.S. media-planning unit. Warren will serve as president of Carat USA and Carat Media Group Americas (the company’s Canadian and Latin American unit).

Warren spent three years at OMD. In the past, he has held senior positions at Raycom Sports, ABC, BBDO and the Ted Bates agency.—J.M.H.

'Maury’ EP Rosenblum Moves to 'Today’

After weeks of speculation, NBC confirms that Amy Rosenblum, who has led NBC Universal’s Maury talker as executive producer since it was reinvented into a more tabloid format in 1998, has moved from consultant into a new position as senior producer of the third hour of the Today show.

Rosenblum took the helm a month ago. Her longtime No. 2, co-executive producer Paul Faulhaber, is in negotiations to take the reins, with Rosenblum moving into a consulting role.

Previously, the executive producer of Today was responsible for the 9-10 a.m. segment. There has been some speculation in the news business that 7-9 a.m.—the core section of the show—has suffered since Today expanded to three hours, with Good Morning America seeming faster paced.

An NBC spokesperson says that, despite published rumors, there are no plans to change the talent on the 9:00 hour.

Rosenblum has overseen Maury since 1998, and this past season she executive produced the short-lived syndicated NBC Universal series Home Delivery. She previously held producing stints on the Sally Jessy Raphael and Joan Rivers daytime shows, and spent seven years at CBS This Morning.—J.B.

Promax Marketers Make Mark in Big Apple

Attendance for the Promax & BDA convention, which draws promotions and marketing types from across the TV business, is back on the upswing. This year’s June 21-23 show in New York drew 3,227 attendees, up slightly from 2004 (3,025) but up dramatically from 1,850 for the 2002 event in Los Angeles. However, it is still off from its totals in the 1990s, such as 4,673 attendees in Toronto in 1998.—A.B.

Showtime Loads Up On Originals

To draw as many eyeballs as possible to new originals Weeds and Barbershop, Showtime will replay each in a one-hour block on alternating weeknights at 10 p.m. and add weekend play.—A.B.

WB Renews 'Geek’

Summer reality show Beauty and the Geek, which has delivered target 18-34 ratings for The WB, as well as strong 18-49 numbers, has been picked up for another round in the 2005-06 season.

The series, from Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg (Punk’d), pairs babes with brainy guys in hopes that the two will rub off on each other.—J.E.

CBS O&Os Seek To Expand Web Presence

CBS’ owned-and-operated stations are revamping their Web sites, adding such features as streaming video and increasing local news and information. WBZ Boston, WCBS New York and WCCO Minneapolis are also creating short, customized Webcasts with headlines, weather and traffic. The WCCO and KUTV Salt Lake City sites are already online, and others are expected soon.—A.R.

NBA Finals Near Record Low

The San Antonio Spurs victory over the Detroit Pistons in Game 7 of the NBA Finals June 23 nabbed a 13.9 rating/23 share in metered markets, earning ABC the top ratings for the night. Complete Nielsen ratings for the last game weren’t available at press time, but, through the first six games, the NBA’s championship ratings were near the record low, averaging 11.5 million viewers and a 7.6 rating/14 share, down from last year’s Pistons-L.A. Lakers matchup, which scored 17.9 million viewers and an 11.5/20 through five games. The Spurs-Pistons’ deciding Game 7 should pull up the average slightly. ABC says this year’s games are up from the last championship that didn’t feature the Lakers, the 2003 matchup between the Spurs and New Jersey Nets. But that six-game series averaged 9.8 million viewers and a 6.5/12, making it the least-watched series in more than two decades.—A.R.

Haskins To Leave Lifetime

The shakeout from the regime change at Lifetime Television has begun, with senior executive Rick Haskins planning to exit the company.

He was negotiating to take the network group’s top programming slot but couldn’t come to terms with new CEO Betty Cohen. She has replaced former CEO Carole Black, who left the cable programmer in March.

Haskins will end a six-year stint as executive VP/general manager of Lifetime Entertainment Services. Though primarily a marketer, he has filled in on programming and development since entertainment President Barbara Fisher left in May 2004.

In the past year, Lifetime has launched an ambitious slate of original scripted series and movies to try to revive the one-time top cable network’s sagging ratings. It has enjoyed a ratings revival in recent months. Haskins joined Lifetime in 1999 as executive VP, Lifetime Brand.—A.B./J.M.H.

NBC Down $1 Billion In Upfront

In a dramatic slide, NBC will probably be down $1 billion when it winds up the upfront market. Pricing is so soft that the network is holding back a big chunk of ad inventory from its annual preseason sale of prime time spots to advertisers.

In the past, the network has sold more than 80% of the ads in its prime time programming to advertisers in advance of the season. This year, however, NBC may sell as little as 70%, deciding to hold back the extra 10% for the scatter market, hoping that the economy or NBC’s ratings will allow the network to fetch more money for the spots.

Last year, when NBC was still the No. 1 network, the broadcaster booked $2.9 billion in upfront sales. But with ratings down 17% and the CPMs (cost per thousand viewers) it charges advertisers down 3%, the network will now probably only fetch $1.9 billion.

NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker said at last week’s Promax & BDA conference in New York that “it is obvious that, after a decade of dominance in prime time, this was a tough year. We expected to suffer, but this is obviously a little more than expected.”

—J.M.H

Nielsen Names Next LPM Markets

Nielsen Media Research has unveiled launch dates for its local people meters in Detroit, Dallas and Atlanta. Detroit and Dallas will convert next January; Atlanta will make the move in July 2006. With its new LPM ratings system coming under intense scrutiny, Nielsen will test the devices alongside the current set-top/diary system for three months prior to each rollout, as it has done in other markets. Nielsen says the trial will help “ensure that our clients understand the impact of changes in methodology.”—A.R.

Clarifications

A brief in Fast Track (6/20, page 32) gave an incorrect count of Edward R. Murrow Awards for CBS News. The TV organization won two awards, for overall excellence and continuing coverage. CBS News Radio received five honors.

A photo of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin (6/20, page 10) should have been credited to Michael Springer/Zuma, Martin.

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