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ABC Lets F-Word Slip

The Parents Television Council has filed an indecency complaint against ABC at the FCC.

The group, one of the most active indecency complainers, says ABC allowed an f-word to slip by its screeners and into a broadcast of Live 8: A Worldwide ConcertEvent July 2.

During The Who’s performance, says PTC, the line “Who the f*ck are you?” aired unedited. The complaint was filed against Allbritton’s WJLA Washington by Dan Isett, director of corporate and government affairs, on behalf of the PTC. (Complaints must be filed against a station, not a network.)

ABC concedes it missed the offending lyric. “Producers successfully edited out numerous instances of inappropriate language from the Live 8 performances before they were aired on the ABC Television Network,” the network said in a statement. “Unfortunately, one inappropriate phrase sung by one performer was initially missed and made it into the East Coast network feed. It was subsequently edited out of the West Coast feed.”

“The program was aired on a tape delay, which should have given ABC ample time to edit all obscenities from the concert prior to broadcast,” said Tim Winter, PTC executive director. “ABC took steps to edit other profanity from the broadcast. But given the time of day that this program aired [8 p.m.], the broad family appeal of the Live 8 event, as well as the program’s PG rating, ABC should have been more diligent.”—J.E.

Bells Have Life In Texas Fight

The Texas Senate passed legislation last week that would allow SBC and Verizon to apply for statewide pay-TV franchises, eliminating the need to obtain permits in every Lone Star State municipality where they want to compete with cable. The vote occurred during a special session of the legislature and is identical to a version defeated during the legislature’s general session. The special session allowed the legislature to debate a sweeping overhaul of Texas telecom laws.

The franchise provision must overcome opposition from municipalities and cable to pass the state House before the special session ends next week. Unless the House version is identical to the Senate’s, any differences in the bills would have to be worked out quickly. Policy analysts at Legg Mason’s Washington research office gauged the bill’s prospects for passage as “fairly good.”

Besides helping SBC and Verizon, the bill would give momentum to other telephone-company efforts to obtain statewide franchises around the country. What the Bells really want is a national-franchise model. Absent that, however, they will settle for the statewide option wherever they can get it.

The cable industry opposes any deregulation of franchise obligations that doesn’t also include the cable industry. Cities, on the other hand, oppose all efforts to erode their power to bargain for terms on franchise fees, service areas and other obligations.—B.M.

ESPN Would Pony Up for Pucks

ESPN is still willing to pay a rights fee for hockey—just not the $60 million option it dropped last May for rights to the 2005-06 season.

ESPN Programming Chief Mark Shapiro says he told NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman the network would be willing to pay but the $60 million figure is no longer realistic.

NBC’s NHL deal is a revenue-sharing model in which it pays no rights fee, but Shapiro says he is not looking to pay zero upfront.

The conversation with Bettman was prompted by the fact that it appears there will actually be a 2005-06 season. The league and players struck a deal last week that paves the way for the puck to hit the ice after a lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season.

Shapiro said Bettman “wants to do the deal we had on the table and that deal’s not there anymore. We have a good relationship, and when they are ready to talk about alternative models, we’ll be right there.” But he didn’t sound sanguine about his prospects of getting the rights. When asked whether the league would get its asking price, he said, “Somebody will [pay]. There’s always somebody, whether it’s Spike TV or someone else.”—B.G./A.B.

ABC Commits To Cowell Show

First, it was Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Now it’s Who Wants To Back a Millionaire?

ABC has ordered nine episodes of The Million Dollar Idea (working title), a new reality series from executive producers Simon Cowell, Nigel Hall and Cecile Frot-Coutaz of FremantleMedia North America (which produces American Idol).

Over the course of the series, the show will search the country for the greatest entrepreneur with the best business idea or new product. The winner will get $1 million in business support, including cash, entrepreneurial counsel and physical resources.

As with American Idol, Cowell and FremantleMedia will reportedly get a piece of the action from the winning product or idea.—J.B.

Cable Networks Unwrap Wares at TCA

Cable networks presented their upcoming fare at the Television Critics Association’s Summer Press Tour (TCA) last week. Broadcasters will present over the next two weeks. Some cable highlights:

  • Fashionista Isaac Mizrahi will host a lifestyle-focused talk show for The Style Network. Called Isaac, it will premiere late this year. Mizrahi hosted a talk show on Oxygen for three years starting in 2001.
  • A&E is developing two convict-themed pilots. New Line Television’s Restorative Justice (working title) will profile victims confronting convicts who wronged them. Scott Sternberg ProductionsReleased chronicles ex-cons’ reentry into society. Three original movies are in development: Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho; Back in Action, about a soldier who returned to Iraq; and Live From New York, about Saturday Night Live.
  • Bravo will spin off a documentary from Emmy-nominated Project Runway’s first season. Project Jay (Miramax and the Weinstein Co.) will follow Jay McCarroll as he moves from rural Pennsylvania to New York to start his own fashion line. The network has also slated new six-episode real estate reality series Million Dollar Listing: Hollywood (World of Wonder) for first quarter 2006.
  • HBO locked in a Sept. 25 premiere date for the return of Curb Your Enthusiasm and new Ricky Gervais series Extras. Curb’s 10-episode fifth season debuts at 10 p.m. ET, following a new episode of the network’s epic drama Rome, which bows Aug. 28. Extras’ six-episode first season will follow Curb at 10:30.
  • ABC Family will premiere two original movies later this year. If Only stars Jennifer Love Hewitt and Paul Nicholls as a couple who get to relive a day in which they fought. Same as It Never Was stars Lacey Chabert as a self-absorbed college student who must raise her stepsister.

—A.B.

AMC May Have To Lower Ticket Price

AMC could lose some big bucks if Time Warner Cable either drops the channel from its lineup or, more likely, begins paying less to carry it following the cable operator’s victory in a New York State Supreme Court suit.

The court ruled AMC had breached its carriage contract with Time Warner by reducing the number of classic movies it airs. AMC has aired younger-skewing movies in recent years to attract a younger audience.

According to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. LLC, the loss of those 10.9 million Time Warner subs could mean a drop in the value of Rainbow-owned AMC by a whopping $267 million in affiliate fees and ad revenues.

Although Time Warner can drop AMC, it will most likely use the ruling to renegotiate its contract to lower its monthly fee to carry the channel. Time Warner currently pays about 23¢ per subscriber in affiliate fees.

If Time Warner cuts a better deal, other cable operators will likely follow suit. That could reduce the value of Rainbow and parent company Cablevision by between $67 million and $111 million—about 3% of Rainbow’s value, according to Oppenheimer analyst Thomas W. Eagan.—A.B.

Meyers Exiting CNBC Prime Post

Bob Meyers is being replaced as CNBC’s prime time and weekend- programming chief.

Meyers will “transition from his prime time leadership role to assist me with a series of projects related to the execution of key business initiatives at CNBC,” says one internal e-mail.

A search has begun for a replacement, but in the interim, Susan Krakower will take over prime and weekend programing. Last August, Meyers named her to a program development position; she had shepherded The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch.

Prime time has had its troubles. In May, Dennis Miller left his weekday talk show. He had been on the network since January 2004, but the audience never got very large—100,000 viewers on average. Miller’s exit followed closely that of Tina Brown, who ended her weekly prime time show, Topic A With Tina Brown, which got even weaker ratings, averaging about 75,000 viewers.—J.E.

Hudlin Named BET Entertainment Chief

BET named filmmaker Reginald Hudlin president of entertainment. Hudlin, 43, is best-known for film work including 1990 comedy House Party. He will now handle the African-American network’s music, entertainment, specials, sports, news and public affairs, acquisitions, home entertainment, and programming development out of Los Angeles, New York and the network’s Washington headquarters.—A.B.

Clarification

Project Runway was a Bravo reality program and will return to the cable network. In the B&C Critics Poll (7/11, pages 14-16), the listing of critics’ top picks in the reality genre misidentified the network.

Broadcasters Commit To Hard Date

Two things appeared clear from the DTV hearings in the Senate Commerce Committee last week: The hard date for the return of analog spectrum and the switch to all-digital broadcasting is going to be in 2009, and there will be some kind of subsidy for digital-to-analog converter boxes.

Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) said the committee was in general agreement that there would be a subsidy to make sure viewers are not disenfranchised when their analog sets no longer work without converters. Legislators and broadcasters also seemed in agreement that the 2009 hard date is now a practical reality, if not yet a legislative one.

NAB President Eddie Fritts said the industry accepted that Congress will implement a 2009 hard date for the end of analog broadcasts and that the industry “is ready.” He said the NAB board voted three weeks ago to accept a hard date set by Congress and to accept the fact that an 85%-penetration requirement will be removed. Fritts also said that broadcasters are prepared to accept specific DTV public-interest obligations.—J.E.

Wolzien To Depart Sanford Bernstein

Media analyst Tom Wolzien is leaving investment firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc., planning to semi-retire and start a consulting practice.

Wolzien, 58, spent 14 years as a securities analyst after years as a TV journalist and NBC executive.

He carved out a niche studying the media industry and getting a handle on trends before they became trends. “During that 14 years, some of my calls were very right, and some horribly wrong,” Wolzien told clients Friday morning. “ Sometimes my industrial views came to pass in a year; sometimes they took a decade to play out.”

In an interview, Wolzien said he is starting a consulting practice, Wolzien LLC, and counts Bernstein as his first client.—J.M.H.

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