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Fast Track - Broadcasting & Cable

Fast Track

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So You Think They Can 'Danza’?

Veteran producers David Perler and Jill Blackstone have been tapped to executive-produce Buena Vista Television’s The Tony Danza Show, which begins its sophomore season Sept. 12.

Perler and Blackstone will replace John Redmann, the recently removed executive producer of Danza, who has since surfaced in a similar role at Warner Bros.’ upcoming Tyra Banks Show, which has recently gone through some top-level staff turnover of its own.—Jim Benson

Station Chiefs To Rush Congress

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) will be flying in almost 100 broadcasters Sept. 8 to lobby members of the House and Senate Commerce Committees for multicast must-carry.

The committees are currently working on legislation that would set a hard date for the transition from analog to digital broadcasting (probably in 2009). The NAB wants the new legislation to include a requirement that cable will carry all of a broadcaster’s digital signals, including multiple channels. —John Eggerton

TNT Tops Summer Ratings

TNT led the summer ratings—May 30 through Aug. 28—averaging 2.9 million total viewers in prime time, a 17% rise over last summer.

The spike—in part from viewers tuning into originals including The Closer, Wanted and limited series Into the West—helped the network beat The WB and UPN in broadcast prime (that’s comparing 8-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday for TNT and 8-10 p.m. on The WB and UPN) with households, total viewers and 25- to 54-year-old viewers.

Spike’s ratings jumped 63% for that period, behind only Headline News, which was up 99% to 413,000.

Disney Channel and Nick at Nite took the next two highest summer slots—Disney averaged 2.26 million total viewers in prime while Nick at Nite averaged 1.92 million (5% and 11% year-over-year gains, respectively). —Anne Becker

Groups Challenge Cleveland Licenses

The United Church of Christ (UCC) and the Georgetown Law Institute for Public Representation last week challenged two more TV stations’ licenses over their educational and informational kids programs, including the first-ever such challenge against a Spanish-language station over the issue. The FCC requires a TV station to provide at least three hours a week of such programming as one of the costs of keeping its license.

The complaints were filed against two Cleveland stations—Univision’s WQHS and Raycom’s WUAB. Ohio station licenses are currently up for renewal; the deadline to challenge them was Sept. 2.

UCC says WQHS’ Complices Al Rescate (Accomplices to the Rescue), which the station billed as FCC-friendly, is essentially a telenovela that sends a lot of negative messages about criminal behavior, including music piracy, stealing and “trying to drown the dog of a blind boy,” says UCC Executive Director (and former FCC Commissioner) Gloria Tristani.

WUAB was cited for the animated show Sabrina, which is about a mischief-making witch.—J.E.

At HBO, 'Rome’ Built in a Day

Epic drama Rome notched a 9.1 rating/13 share in HBO homes for its premiere Aug. 28. That made it the pay-cable network’s highest-rated program since the fourth-season premiere of Six Feet Under in June 2004. Six Feet’s series finale the week before, however, earned more total viewers than Rome—3.89 million versus 3.81 million, respectively.

HBO invested $100 million in the 12-episode season of Rome, a co-production with the BBC, and launched what the network called its biggest-ever campaign for viewers for a new series.—A.B.

Diddy Did Diddly for MTV

The audience for this year’s MTVVideo Music Awards plunged 22%. Nielsen Media Research reports that the VMAs—hosted in Miami by the recently rechristened rapper and producer Diddy (last known as P. Diddy)—averaged 8 million total viewers Sunday night, off sharply from 10.3 million viewers last year. The latest score is part of a long slide for the awards show. The Aug. 28 show had no big moment, with the “surprise” performance for the night coming from … My Chemical Romance. That’s not much of a substitute for Madonna making out with Britney Spears. —John M. Higgins

Twentieth Backs 'Bernie Mac’ With Promo Attack

Twentieth Television is backing the Sept. 12 off-net syndication debut of Fox comedy The Bernie Mac Show with a major back-to-school-themed push featuring an on-air and online sweepstakes, a radio promotion sponsored by Apple and a guerilla campaign.

“We are selling this as a traditional family sitcom, and that’s why we are using the whole back-to-school idea,” says Twentieth Television Senior VP, Marketing & Creative, Susan Kantor. The on-air sweepstakes is a “watch-and-win” sponsored by Hewlett Packard.—Ben Grossman

Harris Broadcast Acquires Leitch

Harris Broadcast, a Melbourne, Fla., company known for its automation and transmission products, has acquired Leitch, a maker of broadcast infrastructure and production equipment, for $450 million.

“Leitch fits very well into our end-to-end content-management delivery model,” says Jeremy Wensinger, president, Harris Broadcast Communications Division.

The deal is the second major purchase for Harris in less than a year. Last November, it acquired Encoda Systems, a traffic-and-billing-system supplier, for $340 million.—Ken Kerschbaumer

Television Comes to Hurricane Victims’ Aid

As the devastation from Hurricane Katrina continues to unfold, local stations and national networks are mobilizing to raise money for its victims. TV stations from New York to Los Angeles are joining the American Red Cross in collecting donations. Media companies, including Walt Disney, Viacom, Time Warner and Comcast, will contribute millions of dollars, and broadcast-station groups, including Emmis and Tribune, have established internal funds to benefit employees impacted by the disaster.

The National Association of Broadcasters says its member radio and TV stations have pledged to raise $100 million. The NAB is making free public-service announcements encouraging viewers to donate to the Red Cross’ Disaster Relief Fund available to radio and TV stations. Several TV stations, including WNBC New York, aired a fundraising special last week, while anchors in other markets manned donation hotlines during telethons.

The six broadcast networks will simulcast a commercial-free concert Sept. 9.The “Shelter From the Storm” special will air live from locations in New York and Los Angeles.

MTV Networks is planning a live benefit concert to air Sept. 10 on MTV, VH1 and CMT. Sister Viacom-owned network BET will run a telethon Sept. 9. The Weather Channel Companies pledged to make a $1 million cash donation to the American Red Cross.

NBC and its sister cable networks MSNBC and CNBC planned to carry a special last Friday night. —Allison Romano/A.B.

Fox Plots 'Prison Break’ Plan

Buoyed by a strong opening night for Prison Break, a “relieved” Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori says the network will throw more marketing muscle behind the new drama.

The Aug. 29 two-hour series premiere of the show featured a story about a man who deliberately botched a bank robbery so he could be sent to the same prison where his brother was on death row. The debut earned a 4.6 rating/12 share among 18- to 49-year-old viewers, according to Nielsen fast national ratings. It also increased 31% from the first half-hour to the last.—B. G.

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