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'Night Stalker' Just Won't Die

Sci Fi gives cancelled series a home By Jim Benson

After ABC pulled the plug last month on Night Stalker, the update of the 1970s series about a ghoul-hunting reporter, it looked like danger-seeking journalist Carl Kolchak had met his demise—done in by six low-rated episodes.

But NBC Universal's Sci Fi Channel is expected to announce it has acquired all nine episodes produced and will air them at 7 p.m. Fridays next summer. Press reps for Sci Fi and Stalker producer Touchstone Television declined to comment last week.

Touchstone is believed to have fetched only $15,000-$50,000 per episode, and competitors think Stalker may fall on the lower end of that scale, since there were so few episodes produced and Sci Fi was its only logical cable home.

Only one of the three unaired episodes has so far appeared on iPods as part of an overall programming agreement announced in October between Disney and Apple's iTunes. The two remaining unaired episodes are slated to be available for downloads later.

The Sci Fi sale does raise a conundrum for Touchstone: whether it will have to pay broadcast or much lower cable residuals.

On Cablevision, It's a Two-Way 'Sesame Street'

Children whose parents are CablevisionSystems Corp. digital subscribers will be able to play games starring their favorite Sesame Street characters through their television sets, under a new deal between the cable company and the non-profit Sesame Workshop.

A subscription service for 2- to 5-year-olds, Sesame Street Games, at $4.95 a month for unlimited use, will offer three new interactive games per month featuring series characters. Games are available to Cablevision's 1.8 million digital subscribers with the iO: Interactive Optimum service, some 60% of the company's customers.

Anne Becker

Martha Weak Nights, But Gets Day Break

While Martha Stewart's version of The Apprentice in prime time got canned by NBC after its first batch of episodes, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution plans a second season for her daytime talker and has Martha signed up in more than 90% of the country for next year.

Stewart's daily show debuted in September with a 2.0 national household rating for its first week, then dipped immediately, recovered and came back to a 1.9 as recently as the week ended Nov. 27. The show was cleared in 98% of the country in its rookie season, and NBC U still expects to equal or surpass that coverage next year. A significant number of the original deals were for two years. Big station groups carrying her include Viacom, Hearst-Argyle, Gannett, Scripps and Belo.

Ben Grossman

E! Has a Plan To Replace Stern's Gross Revenue

E! will replace late-night episodes of The Howard Stern Show with reruns of the 2004 and 2005 seasons of Saturday Night Live, when the shock jock ends his 12-year stint on the network later this month. Stern has moved his TV work to video-on-demand, through In Demand Networks.

E! concedes SNL won't get the Stern audience but, on the bright side, will be easier to sell to advertisers. “This ends up being, revenue-wise, a positive for us,” says E! Networks President/CEO Ted Harbert. The network will run a farewell stunt for Stern Monday through Friday beginning Dec. 26, running the ten most memorable episodes of his show. New Year's Eve, the network will run six fan-favorite episodes —A.B.

Woodruff, Vargas Will Top ABC's 'World News Tonight'

Confirming a report in the Dec. 5 B&C, ABC named Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas co-anchors of ABC World News Tonight.

The two will begin their duties Jan. 3, when the newscast will launch a host of other changes. It will begin producing a second, separate WNT for Pacific and Mountain Zone audiences. World News Tonight will also focus much more heavily on creating product for use online and on cellphones and other mobile devices.

The decision cut out ABC News veterans Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson, co-hosts of Good Morning America. Sawyer had quietly campaigned for Jennings' slot, while Gibson openly sought it. Gibson had also frequently substituted at World News Tonight.

ABC News President David Westin says Gibson has told him he loves working at GMA, would love the evening job and would be happy with any decision Westin makes. “Charlie has been wonderful in every respect,” Westin says. He adds that Sawyer offered “from day one” to help in any way but “she regards her primary responsibility as GMA.” —John M. Higgins

NASCAR Revs Up Rights Fees

Starting in 2007, NASCAR is getting a nearly 40% boost in rights fees from its new TV package that divvies up the Nextel Cup season with Fox Sports, TNT and ABC/ESPN. The three deals are worth nearly $4.5 billion over eight years, up nearly 40% from the $400 million annual price tag on the current eight-year deal that expires after the 2006 season, which was shared by Fox and a partnership between NBC and TNT.

Sources close to the networks put ABC/ESPN's portion of the deal at $270 million annually, Fox's at $208 million, and TNT's at $80 million-$85 million. —B.G.

Numbers Reduced At Spelling TV

The new CBS Corp. last week laid off a good portion of the 30 or so remaining staffers at Spelling Television, which has operated as a separate division of Viacom, and converted it into an independent pod—or studio-funded production company—according to those familiar with the plan.

Legendary Aaron Spelling will remain as chairman, and President Jonathan Levin, an 11-year vet and former CBS executive who handled all programming, business affairs and strategic areas for the company, will remain.

All Spelling has left on the air are The WB's 7th Heaven and Charmed. Spelling also has a series for TNT slated for midseason. —J.B.

'Geraldo' Moves In New York

WNYW, the Fox station in New York, moved co-owned Twentieth Television news strip Geraldo at Large, hosted by Geraldo Rivera, from 4 to 6:30 p.m. The station is looking to run the strip after its local news since it has performed better in news-adjacency time periods. Currently, it airs between a court show and Inside Edition.

Additionally, the show has been cleared on Fox affiliate WSVN Miami at 12:30 a.m. starting Dec. 26, with the chance for an upgrade to 4:30 p.m. if Geraldo makes it to next fall. The WSVN deal pushes the show's clearances to 60% of the U.S.—J.B.

'Christina' to Hold Court in 2006

Twentieth Television has provided a production commitment for its latest court strip, Cristina's Court, after clearing the fall 2006 show in 55% of the U.S. on the Fox O&Os and Sinclair stations.

The clearance brings to nine the number of new and returning court shows announced or expected to return next season. Several more are known to be in development at various studios, although the genre is showing signs of ratings fatigue.

A Twentieth spokesman says a second court show with Judge Lynn Toler is also still in development.—J.B.

Networks Up to Their Own Devices

CBS has staked a claim in cellphone content. In a first for the network, it will make clips and other content related to prime time and late-night programming available via Verizon's V Cast phones starting this month. Content will include news updates and feature previews for a handful (literally) of entertainment shows before they air. Shows include CSI, Survivor, Amazing Race, King of Queens, The Late Show With David Letterman and the syndicated Entertainment Tonight (owned by CBS' close cousin, Paramount). It will also show news content from The CBS Evening News and The Early Show. V Cast already has content deals with NBC News, ESPN, and E!.

Meanwhile, NBC Universal will make content available on Apple's video iPod—as well as computers—via Apple's online iTunes service as part of a deal for 300 episodes of 16 old and new series.

New programming from prime time, cable and late night includes Law & Order, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, Surface, Conan O'Brien, The Office and Monk. They join library product including Adam-12, Knight Rider and Dragnet.

Current shows will be available the day after they air in NBC U-branded (NBC, USA and Sci Fi) areas of iTunes. The episodes of Adam-12 and Law & Order will go for the same price: $1.99 apiece.

—John Eggerton

Clarification

A story on high-definition–enabled helicopters (Station to Station, 12/5, p. 12) did not include WRAL Raleigh, N.C. The CBS affiliate was the third station to add such a helicopter and broadcasts all of its local news in high-definition.

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