Fast Track - Broadcasting & Cable

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First Amendment Award to Bradley

CBS News Executive Producer Jeff Fager will award 60 Minutes veteran Ed Bradley the Leonard Zeidenberg First Amendment Award, a highlight of the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation's annual First Amendment Awards dinner March 10 at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington. The award is named after the late B&C senior correspondent. NBC News President Neal Shapiro will make the keynote speech about new challenges to free speech faced by journalists, including WJAR Providence, R.I., reporter Jim Taricani, who was recently found in contempt of court for refusing to reveal a source and was sentenced to house arrest.

Outgoing NAB President Eddie Fritts will present Jim Keelor, a former news director who now is president of Liberty Corp. station group, with the First Amendment Leadership Award. CNN host Larry King will hand out the First Amendment Service Award to his senior executive producer, Wendy Walker Whitworth, a top producer for his show since 1993.

ABC News veteran Sam Donaldson will host the dinner. RTNDF provides training, financial assistance and research for electronic news media.—A.R.

FCC Queries “No-Power” Low-Powers

The FCC is investigating a California company holding more than 200 low-power-TV licenses nationwide since 2000 but not yet on the air with any of them, according to the Center for Public Integrity (CPI).

Per the center, Los Angeles-based MS Communications owner Mark Silberman, who began collecting LPTVs in 1992, says he had planned to launch wireless cable networks in underserved areas. He has never broadcast more than a test pattern on any of them, he told the center, saying “regulatory changes and other factors” intervened. The company could lose those licenses if that is the case.

Now Silberman appears to be looking for a buyout. He told the center, “There's going to be someone who needs my channels.” License-holders are expected to be on the air within three years or risk losing the license, and the FCC says MS has reported to it that its stations are on the air.

The FCC has sent MS a letter asking it to explain the reports of its dark stations and expects a reply by March 1, according to FCC spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher. The center also says that 60 of MS' licenses had expired, but Fisher says that is not correct.

“They have not yet come to their renewal deadlines. The first batch begins April 1,” says Fisher. “So I am not sure where CPI got that info.” CPI's Robert Morlino says the confusion may have been that the 60 expired licenses are assigned not to MS but to Silberman personally. Morlino says they are listed as “off the air” in the FCC database.—J.E.

Curtis To Front Jackson Re-Enactments

James Curtis, a four-year veteran anchor at Court TV, will host E!'s re-enactments of the Michael Jackson child-molestation trial. Based on court transcripts from the previous day's testimony, E! News: The Michael Jackson Trial will air weeknights at 7:30 and 9 p.m. ET with a one-hour wrap-up at 10 p.m. on Saturdays. Curtis will also conduct discussions with legal analysts on the proceedings. He first appeared on Court TV in 1995 as a commentator during the O.J. Simpson criminal trial and began anchoring at the network in 2001.—A.B.

ESPNU Prepares For Kickoff

ESPNU, ESPN's new 24/7 network devoted wholly to college events, will reach approximately 3 million subscribers when it bows March 3, thanks to deals with cable operator Adelphia and satellite company DirecTV. ESPN is aiming to keep the new network on basic-digital tiers as opposed to more expensive sports packages, says Burke Magnus, ESPNU VP/GM.

Initial coverage will focus mainly on football and basketball, with plans to branch out into “emerging sports” including softball, lacrosse, wrestling and women's volleyball. Says Magnus, “If we give a meaningful push to these sports, they can really take off.”

The move comes amidst competition from CSTV: College Sports TV, backed by Allen & Co., and Fox Sports digital networks. But several college athletic directors confirmed last summer that they had been contacted by the Justice Department's antitrust division, which was investigating how ESPN acquires and chooses to air college football and basketball games. CSTV reaches approximately 10 million households.

Investigators were reportedly looking into ESPN's practice of televising only a small portion of the games it acquires from a conference, then restricting the conference from selling air rights from other games to competing networks. Critics say ESPNU was launched to deflect the DOJ. ESPN has declined to comment.—A.B.

T. Howard Taps New Targets

The T. Howard Foundation—which has been lining up internships for minorities and women primarily at satellite companies and the programming networks they deliver—aims to expand its reach into the cable, wireless, film and consumer-electronics industries. The foundation, named after satellite pioneer Taylor Howard, has decided to cast its net wider, to companies like Comcast, Verizon and Microsoft, given that most of its funding comes from programming networks now carried on a number of different platforms, from cellphones to computers.—J.E.

CNN Creates Security Team

CNN, which has been actively and earnestly promoting itself as the cable news channel for information on U.S. security, is making it official.

Saying it is responding to “the new realities of a post-Sept. 11 world,” CNN has created what it calls “the America Bureau,” which will combine the network's Justice Department, Homeland Security and national-security beats into a single unit, with a former top Bush security official, former acting CIA director John McLaughlin, providing analysis.

Shirley Hung will be executive producer of the new bureau. Hung has been with CNN for 10 years, most recently as a senior producer in Washington. Correspondents will be Kelli Arena, David Ensor and Jeane Meserve.—J.E.

'Affair' Is Cleared in More Than 50% of the Country

Twentieth Television has cleared its revival of syndicated access magazine show A Current Affair in San Francisco (KPIX), Las Vegas (KVVU) and Raleigh, N.C. (WRAZ), for 2005, which means that the show is now cleared in about 50% of the country.

The revival of the syndicated half-hour, which aired for 10 years starting in 1986, will begin airing on the co-owned Fox O&Os starting this spring. The three new sign-ups will be able to give the fall 2005 show a summer start if they choose.—J.E

ABC Adds White House Correspondent

ABC has made it official: Chief White House correspondent Terry Moran is getting some help.

Jessica Yellin, who has already been a general assignment correspondent for ABC's Good Morning America, based in Washington, including covering the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan, has been named a White House correspondent for GMA and other ABC platforms, including broadband service ABC News Now.

Yellin replaces Kate Snow, who moved to New York in August to co-anchor the new weekend GMA. Before joining ABC in 2003, Yellin was an overnight anchor and correspondent for MSNBC and before that a reporter with WTVT Tampa, Fla.—J.E.

Preachers Nix Upton's Indecency Bill

Religious broadcasters, represented by the 1,700-member National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), aren't ready to support indecency-enforcement legislation that they fear could be extended beyond naughty content. At their recent convention, they turned down a proposal to endorse the tough new indecency bill proposed by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and instead suggested the FCC enforce the regulations already on the books.

Upton supporters point out that their bills do not change the definition of indecency. But bills have been known to change on their way through Congress, as the indecency bill did last year, picking up provisions on violence and media ownership. It's those potential, unknowable add-ons that scare the NRB.

“While we don't want people to take the Lord's name in vain,” NRB President Frank Wright said, “we don't want the government to prevent us from praising it either.”—J.E

'Fat Actress' Gets Wider Play

Pay network Showtime has scheduled a March 4-7 “free view” to give uninitiated cable subscribers a taste of some of its highest-profile originals. That will include the March 7 (10 p.m. ET) debut of Fat Actress, the reality series starring Kirstie Alley. The show has set the tone for the preview, which is christened the March “Big Fat Free Preview.” The show is already getting an online airing via Yahoo!, which is streaming the episode.—J.E.

Corrections

• AIM-Tell-A-Vision distributes an English-language Hispanic show now called American Latino. A story on page 30 of the Feb. 21 edition referred to the show by its old title.

• Tom Rutledge is chief operating officer of Cablevision Systems Corp. He was misidentified on page 2A of the Feb. 21 Top 100 Cable Systems supplement.

Adelphia Nixes Triple-X

Adelphia Communications Corp. is retreating from its plan to sell triple-X films to cable subscribers, responding to criticism of the recent addition of the most graphic category of adult fare to its programming lineup.

The company, which carries X and double-X films, quietly started distributing triple-X fare provided by Playboy Enterprises Inc. at the end of last year. It had planned a gradual rollout in its systems across the country.

Adult films are among the most profitable products that cable and satellite-TV operators sell. They earn relatively low profit margins on their basic plans but keep 80%-90% of the money from adult-programming sales.

Adelphia, which is in bankruptcy protection and up for sale, added X and double-X rated adult entertainment to its lineup in 2003 in a bid to boost flagging revenues. The Los Angeles Times reported Feb. 2 that the company had broadened that lineup to include XXX-rated films.

“Some concern has been expressed over this type of adult programming,” company spokesman Paul Jacobson Wednesday. “Adelphia will remove it from all of its systems.”

Definitions vary, but triple-X movies feature increasingly graphic and detailed depictions of intercourse, oral sex and other practices.

Adelphia said it plans to continue carrying X- and double-X-rated films, which it points out are distributed by other cable and satellite companies.—J.F.

FCC OKs Clothed Sex With Vampire

The FCC has concluded that it is OK to have sex with a vampire, so long as you keep your clothes on. The agency has denied a Parents Television Council indecency complaint against a sex scene in an episode of The WB Television Network's drama Angel that aired on WBDC Washington. The WB no longer airs the show.

The complaint involved a scene in the Nov. 19, 2003, broadcast in which a couple is apparently having sex. PTC described it this way: “Spike is on top of Harmony, their clothes are on, but his body rocks back and forth, and their breathing is heavy. She tries to speak, but he tells her not to spoil the moment. Her eyes start to bleed, and suddenly she turns into her vampire self and bites his neck.”

The FCC concluded that the sex scene was not patently offensive because it was brief, contained no nudity and was not sufficiently graphic or explicit.—J.E.

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