Fast Track


Thursday Ratings Battle Heats Up

ABC’s Thursday-night resurgence continues with Ugly Betty and Grey’s Anatomy vaulting the network into a virtual dead heat with CBS in the key 18-49 ratings. Last Thursday’s fast nationals had ABC at a 5.7 rating, CBS at a 5.6. “We didn’t think, with the loss of Monday Night Football, we would be as competitive as we are overall,” says ABC scheduling chief Jeff Bader, “but Thursday night has made up for the loss.”

But ABC may have to make a move Thursdays at 10, where freshman drama Six Degrees is retaining just 40% of its Grey’s lead-in. And with CBS rookie Shark also performing modestly out of Survivor and CSI, NBC’s revitalized ER continues to shine, easily winning its time slot with a 5.9 in the demo. “The dramas against it are struggling,” says Mitch Metcalf, head of scheduling at NBC, “and we are obviously benefiting from the tune-out.”

ABC’s next move will likely be the pick-up of a back-nine order for Betty. CBS and NBC have already announced similar moves for their strong rookie assets, Jericho and Heroes, respectively. ABC is also keeping a close eye on Tuesdays at 9:30, where rookie comedy Help Me Help You is squandering too much of the lead-in from the red-hot Dancing With the Stars. ABC may expand Dancing to two hours for the remainder of its run.—Ben Grossman

Journalist Group Condemns Killings

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement condemning the killing of 11 employees of a satellite TV station, including five journalists, in Baghdad. Commented Executive Director Joel Simon, “Iraq’s emergent press will find it hard to survive if authorities allow these kinds of targeted attacks to continue unchecked.”

Despite the decimation of its staff, the station, Al-Shaabiya, still plans to launch at the end of the month, according to the committee.—John Eggerton

FCC OK’s Wireless In “White Space”

The FCC has voted unanimously to allow fixed wireless services to operate in the so-called white spaces between broadcast channels. But it has not concluded whether they should be licensed or unlicensed and has made no ruling on mobile devices in that same spectrum.

In essentially beginning the process of allowing some types of wireless devices—for instance, a fixed antenna for wireless broadband service—into the broadcast band, the FCC took a cautious approach. It put out for comment a number of issues, like whether to allow mobile devices in that band.

But the commission did rule that mobile devices will not be allowed on channels 14-20, which are used for public safety in some areas, or on channel 37, which is used for radio astronomy.

The difference between licensed and unlicensed services is crucial to broadcasters, since they fear that the latter are too difficult to monitor. —John Eggerton

Comcast Promotes Harbert

Comcast Entertainment has broadened the role of E! Networks President/CEO Ted Harbert, giving him responsibility for the young-male–skewing network G4 in addition to his duties at the E! and Style networks.

Harbert becomes president/CEO of Comcast Entertainment Group and maintains oversight of E!’s day-to-day operations. G4 President Neal Tiles, who joined the network in September 2005, keeps his position, and Salaam Coleman Smith continues to oversee Style.—Anne Becker

Clear Channel Goes Multicast

Clear Channel Television is launching a multicast network in seven of its markets, featuring movies, children’s shows and how-to programs. The channel, dubbed Variety TV for its mixture of programming, will air on Clear Channel stations’ secondary digital channels. It’s expected to launch in Tulsa, Okla., and Fresno, Calif., in the next month, before rolling out at other stations. The network will be ad-supported, with sales (at least to start) handled by the individual markets.

Viewers will be able to access the channel on DTV-enabled televisions and, in some markets, through deals with the cable companies. Clear Channel is modeling the network after a multicast channel developed by its Salt Lake City station KTVX, The Hive, which features locally produced entertainment and sports fare.

“We’ve learned it is very difficult for markets to create and establish the content necessary for a multicast channel all on their own,” says Steve Spendlove, senior VP of Clear Channel’s western region.—Allison Romano

'Odd Couple’ Writer Dies

Jerry Belson, whose wit propelled comedies such as The Odd Couple and The Dick Van Dyke Show, died of cancer Oct. 10 in Los Angeles. The Emmy-winning writer was 68. He and longtime writing partner Garry Marshall contributed to some of television’s most celebrated series and were regarded as the preeminent comedy writing team of the 1960s and early ’70s. —Robert Edelstein

FCC Delays Vote

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Friday he will delay a vote on the merger of AT&T and BellSouth at the request of commission Democrats. He has also agreed to put out various proposed modifications to the $67 billion deal for public comment for 10 days.
—John Eggerton


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