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She's Reading for Two

ABC's Vargas spotlights child-rearing issues

In the era of the Brokaw/Jennings/Rather superanchors, each would put a personal stamp on the newscast he fronted. When those men departed, observers thought, so did that kind of power. But at ABC's World News Tonight, the newly arrived Elizabeth Vargas has seemingly settled on a more personal news agenda: motherhood.

Vargas, whose pregnancy was announced in January, served as sole anchor on every one of the 45 weeknight broadcasts from the beginning of March through the first week in May, while her deskmate Bob Woodruff recovers from serious injuries he sustained in Iraq.

An analysis of the feature-story selection leaves no doubt about the happy event that looms in her future. After covering the big news of the day, World News seems to have a recurring theme. Here are the child- related stories, week by week:

May 4: Autism under­diagnosed among preschoolers.

April 27: Toddlers' body mass to be screened for obesity.

April 21: Taste buds develop pre­natally from the mother's diet.

April 14: New Jersey screens mothers for post-partum depression.

April 5:Sesame Workshop unveils a video-for-toddlers entry.

March 29: The incidence of childbirth by Cesarean section increases.

March 17: Person of the Week is Paul Gillespie, who chases child pornographers. (Vargas reported that one herself.)

March 8: The impact over abortion parental-notification laws for teenagers in Texas.

Vargas is not the only anchor with a strong point of view. Anchor Brian Williams' first-hand experience in New Orleans explicitly shapes continuing aggressive coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina on the NBC Nightly News. Since March, Nightly has devoted 59 minutes to Katrina coverage, versus 18 at World News and 16 at CBS Evening News.

But the Vargas touch is just as distinct. In March and April, ABC devoted more time to sex-and-family stories than its two competitors combined (39 minutes versus CBS' 13 and NBC's 18). That doesn't hurt ratings, by the way.

That desirable 25-54 demographic is somewhat baby-centered, too. During the two-month span (according to stats posted on tvnewser.com), Vargas' newscast has lagged behind NBC in total viewers (7.9 million versus NBC's 8.7 million) but has been virtually neck-and-neck (2.2 rating vs. NBC 2.3) in the adult news demo. You go, mama!

ANA Aims To Replace Upfronts

Advertisers group to test online ad trading

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) plans to create an electronic trading system with e-commerce giant eBay to see if an online trading system is a better way of buying and selling media than traditional upfront and scatter markets.

The plan, unveiled during the ANA's Financial Management Conference in Naples, Fla., calls for an ambitious test with a proposed budget of $50 million. Further details have not been disclosed.

eBay first pitched the concept to the ANA's Television Advertising Committee in January. The system, which has been likened to Wall Street's Nasdaq exchange, would create an open marketplace for advertisers to bid for media time and space, although it may end up working more like an online auctioning system.

Asked how the task force came up with that budget, one member, Carat Media Group Americas President Ray Warren, quipped, “$100 million felt like too much, and $10 million felt like too little.”

The effort faces many challenges. Among other things, there is fighting within the ANA, the powerful trade group that represents the nation's biggest advertisers. Some of its preeminent members—companies like General Motors Corp. and Procter & Gamble Co.—are opposed to it, according to insiders. The ANA has not endorsed the plan but is conducting surveys of its members to gauge support and is using forums like its conferences to vet the idea.

One of the effort's biggest obstacles is winning support not only from national advertisers but from big broadcasters, which have historically resisted attempts to create an open market for buying and selling their ads for fear they would lose control of the process.

In 2000, when big food marketer Heinz tested an online auction system for a portion of its upfront TV advertising buy that year, none of the major broadcast networks and only a couple of big cable networks participated. The trial was conducted via a system known then as Freemarkets.com (now Arriba). Although deeming the test a success, Heinz never implemented the process. Advertisers and agencies were intrigued by the concept in the late 1990s, but few major media companies made their ad inventory available for the Heinz test.

Time Warner Buys Rest of Court TV

Time Warner finalized an agreement to take full control of Court TV, buying partner Liberty Media's half of the channel for $735 million.

Court TV will now become part of Time Warner's basic-cable networks unit, Turner Broadcasting System, reporting to Entertainment Group President Mark Lazarus. “We know that Court TV will make Turner stronger and Turner will make Court TV stronger,” Lazarus says.

As reported earlier, Court TV chief Henry Schleiff will exit, serving out the year as “non-executive chairman,” focusing on Court TV's transition to Turner and public-service initiatives. President Art Bell will become the network's top executive, overseeing programming and marketing. Ad sales, affiliate sales and other business functions will be dispersed to other parts of Turner. The deal values all of Court TV at nearly $1.5 billion, more than double its $600 million valuation when Schleiff took charge of the network in 1998.

—John M. Higgins

ABC Picks 3 Dramas, 3 Comedies

ABC has greenlighted three comedy pilots it hopes will help turn around its fortunes in the genre and has also added three dramas, according to sources close to the process.

Set to announce its schedule this week in New York, the network has picked up comedies In Case of Emergency, from Disney's Touchstone Television and starring David Arquette; Notes from the Underbelly, from Warner Bros. TV; and Help Me Help You, from Regency Television and starring Ted Danson.

In dramas, ABC will go with Daybreak and JJ Abrams' Six Degrees, both from Touchstone, and The Nine, from Warner Bros. ABC declined to confirm the moves.

—Ben Grossman

Cooper Lays Out '60 Minutes' Plan

As expected, CNN's Anderson Cooper has been named a contributor to CBS News' 60 Minutes, according to CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus and CNN/U.S. President Jonatjam Klein. He remains a full-time CNN employee.

The anchor of CNN's two-hour evening newscast, Anderson Cooper 360, will contribute up to five reports a year beginning next season, with a one-time rebroadcast of the reports on his CNN program.—Melanie Clarke

Peacock Adds Five

NBC has picked up two comedies and three dramas for next season's lineup.

In comedies, The Singles Table, from 20th Century Fox Television, features a group of people who meet at a friend's wedding. Twenty Good Years, from Warner Bros. TV and Werner-Gold-Miller, stars John Lithgow and Jeffrey Tambor as a new-age “Odd Couple.”

On the drama side, Friday Night Lights, from Imagine TV, is a football drama based on the book and feature film of the same name. Heroes, from NBC Universal TV Studio (NUTS), focuses on regular people who gain super powers. Raines, also from NUTS, features Jeff Goldblum as a cop who talks to dead victims.

—Ben Grossman

Cable Center Summit

Academics and corporate leaders will explore how business models are adapting to new media at the First Annual Summit on Intellectual Property and Digital Media at the Cable Center in Denver May 22-23.

The summit, “From Creator to Consumer: Working Together in the Digital World,” is hosted by the Center and the University of Denver. One of the keynote speakers, Maria Mandel, executive director of digital innovation, OgilvyInteractive, will offer an in-depth look at how Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials use digital technology and what the implications are for national and global advertising. For information, visit digitalipsummit.org.

HBO's Great Ukrainian Hope?

You can hardly blame HBO Sports executive producer Rick Bernstein for getting a little excited as he watched the spectacle of Wladimir Klitschko pummeling Chris Byrd to win the International Boxing Federation's heavyweight title last month.

After all, not only could the Ukrainian pugilist bring fans back to boxing, but he's Bernstein's best chance in a long time to bring boxing fans back to HBO—along with hundreds of millions of dollars in pay-per-view grosses.

“We are just sitting back and hoping,” says Bernstein.

Not since the heyday of the erratic yet captivating Mike Tyson has there been a charismatic heavyweight champion with the potential to draw non-boxing fans. Tyson's 2002 fight with then-champ Lennox Lewis was the last big heavyweight event, a match jointly distributed by HBO and Showtime that grossed $103 million from 1.8 million pay-per-view buys.

Klitschko might have that magic combination of looks and personality that could bring back the big paydays. Towering at 6 foot 6, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist looks like he could have played Ivan Drago, the Russian villain portrayed by Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV. But, often a fan favorite, he speaks English, holds a Ph.D. in sports science and plays chess. Of course, Klitschko needs to keep winning. Before a recent string of victories, he suffered upset defeats in 2003 and 2004.

Says Bernstein, “You are only as marketable as how well you can fight.”

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