Fast Track


Anna Nicole Judge May Get Show

By Jim Benson

Judge Larry Seidlin plans meetings with producers

Judge Larry Seidlin, the colorful Florida jurist at the center of the recent media frenzy over the burial of Anna Nicole Smith, will be holding his first spate of face-to-face meetings with prospective court-show producers this week during a planned spring-break family visit to Los Angeles.

Although Seidlin's wife, Belinda, would confirm only that the couple was planning to take its young daughter to Disneyland, the 56-year-old judge lined up meetings with a variety of syndicators and networks.

According to reports following the Smith trial last month, he had been inundated with at least 200 phone inquiries from TV recruiters, including CBS' weekend Early Show, and publishers.

Overwhelmed by the sudden attention, say industry executives, Seidlin is being "advised" during his foray into Hollywood by two well-known industry figures: investigative reporter/producer Art Harris, a familiar face on CNN and Entertainment Tonight's Website, who has known Seidlin for years and covered the Smith trial extensively; and Judge Joe Brown Executive Producer John Terenzio. Neither could be reached for comment at press time.

According to industry executives, CBS Television Distribution (CTD), Warner Bros.' Telepictures unit and Fox's Twentieth Television, all of which are heavily into the court genre, have the best chances of landing Seidlin. They say Sony Pictures Television, which has three court shows, could also make a run.

In recent years, CTD has occasionally looked at expanding its court portfolio beyond Judge Judy and Joe Brown, which are ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively. But those projects never went ahead. Executives have said that they were waiting to grab a big name that would allow them to secure strong time periods. Twentieth also steered clear of the court this past year, and Warner Bros. abandoned a project called Celebrity Jury.

Studios have been in hot pursuit of Seidlin since the surreal trial ended in late February, when he awarded Smith's remains to her 5-month-old daughter, Dannielynn. Seidlin's oversize personality, one-liners, emotional outbursts and pleas to end the squabbling among the warring parties during the televised proceedings turned the probate judge into a household name. The dramatics, which those close to him say were nothing new, became a cable news staple for days, earning the judge adulation from the public and condemnation from legal experts.

The Website, which is co-owned by Time Warner's AOL and Telepictures, had reported that Seidlin was shopping an audition tape, fueling widespread speculation that he had been hamming it up on the bench to fetch his own show. But others say there never was a tape and blame the report on a local producer who had unsuccessfully sought to represent Seidlin. The producer had considered the idea of compiling footage of him from cameras in the courtroom, but those familiar with the matter say he never followed through.

McDowell To Vote For Violence Report

FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell says he will vote to approve the FCC's upcoming report to Congress on TV violence but has not done so yet because he is still vetting it to make sure it is "thorough and constitutional."

"I'm not going to vote against it," he says.

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin and Commissioners Deborah Taylor Tate and Michael Copps have already voted to approve the report, which left McDowell and Jonathan Adelstein remaining to sign off.

The report is expected to tell Congress that studies show media violence can harm kids, that there is a constitutional way for Congress to rewrite the definition of indecency to include violence, and parents should have more control of their channel choices. Congress asked for the report in 2004 during the post-Janet Jackson push for a larger government role in broadcast-content regulation.—John Eggerton

NFL Modifies Camera Ban

The Radio-Television News Directors Association applauded the NFL's decision to modify its ban on station sideline cameras.

The league says it will allow up to 10 station crews, five from the home city and five from the visiting team's market, to cover the games from the sidelines and provide pool coverage for other stations, according to RTNDA.

"This change represents a major improvement over last season's restrictions," says RTNDA President Barbara Cochran, who had complained loudly to the league.

The policy, which limited coverage to pool coverage by two stations—one from each team's market—was created to protect exclusive NFL video from unauthorized use.—John Eggerton

Citadel Sweetens Offer for Ion

Citadel has increased its $75 million offer to buy Bud Paxson's controlling interest in Ion Media Networks (formerly Paxson) by a $100 million cash investment in the network/station group if the restructuring, proposed by NBC and Citadel jointly, is approved. It has also promised to boost the upside for preferred stockholders.

Citadel had promised to invest in the company, but this is the first time it has put a figure to the pledge.

The sweetener comes in response to a preferred stockholder-driven counterproposal that was offered in February. That proposal also included the possibility of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which Ion has said is not on the table.

When Paxson exited the business in November 2005, NBC was required to transfer control of his stake to a strategic partner—Citadel, already an investor, stepped up—because FCC regulations prevent NBC from owning a controlling interest in Ion's stations.

In an amended filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission March 29, Citadel said it would pay $1.41 per share, which at the time of the proposal was several times the share price.

Both the NBC/Citadel and shareholder restructurings are subject to a board vote and FCC approval of the transfer of the stations.

NBC/Universal had no comment. —John Eggerton