Fast Track

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Mary Hart Re-Ups at 'ET’

Mary Hart has signed a new multiyear contract to continue anchoring CBS Paramount Domestic Television’s top-rated entertainment magazine, Entertainment Tonight, after spending more than 24 years in the anchor chair.

The renewal puts to rest rumors that Hart, 55, a pioneer of the entertainment TV news genre, could meet the same fate as her onetime co-anchor, Bob Goen, who left the show in August 2004 after 11 years.

While the official reason given for Goen’s departure was that he wanted to spend more time with his new wife and pursue other projects, many assumed that his replacement, Mark Steines, represented a push by ET to reduce the average age of its audience. The program targets women 25-54.

But Roger King wasted little time in making the Hart announcement following his appointment two weeks ago as CEO of the newly merged CBS Television Distribution Group.

Hart is believed to be the highest-paid anchor on an entertainment newsmagazine, making somewhere at the low end of the mid-seven-figure range each year.

She is considered one of the pioneers of entertainment television, having joined the show as a correspondent on June 24, 1982, and becoming co-host less than two months later.

According to the syndicator, ET averages 7 million viewers per day in syndication and has held the top ratings position for nearly 1,300 consecutive weeks.

Executive Producer Linda Bell Blue, describing Hart as the “face of ET,” called her the “driving force behind the continued success” of the show. Bell Blue went on to credit her with paving “the road of entertainment news.”—Jim Benson

MGM To Distribute New Line TV

MGM will handle domestic syndication distribution for New Line Television under a new two-year strategic pact.

The distribution and future barter sales of New Line’s motion-picture packages and series programming will fall to MGM, according to New Line TV President Jim Rosenthal and MGM Worldwide Television Distribution President Jim Packer.

But David Spiegelman, senior executive VP of domestic TV distribution and marketing for New Line Television, will continue to oversee development, production and acquisitions for the company, as well as sales to network, pay, basic-cable and VOD/PPV outlets.

Under the terms of the new alliance, Spiegelman will work closely with MGM’s John Bryan, executive VP, broadcast strategy, on syndication sales for New Line TV product.

“New Line’s deal with MGM on the domestic distribution of its television content will prove to be an effective model for both companies,” Packer says.

New Line Television premiered Master minds from Court TV in syndication last week. MGM will assist New Line Television with second year renewals for the series.—Jim Benson

Telemundo Takes TV Azteca to Court

Two weeks after Mexican authorities disrupted production of a Telemundo reality show over a legal dispute between the producer and broadcaster TV Azteca, the NBC Universal-owned Spanish-language network is firing back, asserting its rights to produce the show.

Telemundo’s suit, filed last Thursday in federal court in Miami, claims TV Azteca overstepped its legal bounds when a force of Mexico City police, accompanied by TV Azteca representatives, raided the set of reality show Quinceanera Sept. 22 and tried to close down the show. Production on three remaining episodes has yet to resume, although Telemundo plans to complete the program.

The two broadcast giants are at odds over Quinceanera’s producer, Nostromos, and its host Alan Tacher. TV Azteca claims it has exclusive rights to Tacher’s image and name through 2010 and a deal that prohibits Nostromos from producing shows similar to its own for other networks, assertions that Telemundo disputes.

Telemundo says its motion is in response to a claim TV Azteca filed against it in August over contractual rights to Tacher. At the time, TV Azteca also tried to stop production on Quinceanera—about young girls competing for a lavish 15th birthday party—but withdrew the emergency request.

The legal wrangling comes as Telemundo is increasing its presence in Mexico. The network is opening a studio in the country and recently set up a Mexico City headquarters and news bureau. Telemundo’s long-term plans call for a possible Mexican broadcast channel.

—Allison Romano

TWC Taps Witmer

Time Warner Cable has named Melinda Witmer its new programming chief, succeeding Executive VP of Programming Fred Dressler, who will retire at the end of the year.

As senior VP/chief programming officer, Witmer will lead Time Warner’s negotiations with stations and cable networks. She is currently senior VP of programming, a position she has held since June 2005. —Allison Romano

Ancier Plans Talk Show

Former WB head Garth Ancier and Gail Steinberg, his one-time producing partner on Ricki Lake, are developing a syndicated talk show for next fall with Telepictures. It will be hosted by Latina magazine founder Christy Haubegger. A Telepictures rep declined to comment Friday.

Haubegger served as executive producer of the 2004 Adam Sandler picture Spanglish.

Ricki, which ran from 1993 to 2004, targeted a teen and young adult audience. —Jim Benson

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