Fast Track


Howie Says No To Syndicated 'Deal'

Talks on hosting half-hour version collapse

By Jim Benson

A deal by NBC Universal to bring Deal or No Deal host Howie Mandel to a 30-minute syndicated version of the hot hour-long network game show has collapsed, according to people familiar with the matter.

NBCU declined to comment on talent negotiations late last week, but the syndication company had revived talks with Mandel after parting ways with Arsenio Hall, who was originally slated for the host role (B&C, 11/20).

NBCU could still come to terms with Mandel if it is willing to meet what is believed to be a hefty asking price, since having him as host could make the show an easier sell to a station group like Fox.

NBCU has pitched the show to stations, which are believed to be waiting to see who the host will be before committing. Comic actor Mark Curry has also been mentioned as a candidate.

With Deal on the back burner for the moment, the fate of Joker's Wild and Combination Lock remained up in the air last week. A spokesman for distributor King World, now under the CBS Television Distribution Group banner, denied rumors that the game shows are dead due to lack of sufficient time periods, saying a decision has yet to be made.

Twentieth Television is also considering bringing out a game show as one of its fall 2007 projects, although whether the market can support any more beyond the four successful quizzers currently on the air—King World's Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, Buena Vista Television's Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, and FremantleMedia's Family Feud—remains to be seen.

Ovation Hires Programming Chief

Arts network to relaunch

By Anne Becker

The Weinstein-backed Ovation channel has tapped a veteran of arts-focused cable networks Bravo and Trio to head its programming. Kris Slava, former Trio executive and current digital chief at Bravo, is moving from New York to Los Angeles to be Ovation's programming chief, a network spokesperson confirms.

Tiny Ovation, which has only about 5.3 million subscribers, is gearing up for a relaunch thanks to new backing from Hubbard Broadcasting, which has invested $56.5 million in the long-struggling venture. Veteran broadcaster Stanley S. Hubbard and son Stanley E. Hubbard II have a deal granting them slots for three channels on DirecTV and are hoping to use those rights as leverage to secure carriage. The channel is backed by investment banker Lazard Freres, The Weinstein Co. and Tennis Channel Chairman Ken Solomon, who is acting chairman of Ovation.

Slava was VP of acquisitions and scheduling for Trio, a quirky, arts-focused cable channel, where he largely shaped the programming grid. He was VP of Trio's digital content and acquisitions before the NBC Universal-owned basic-cable channel folded last November for lack of audience. Since then, Slava has been VP, digital content and acquisitions for sister arts/entertainment/pop-culture cable network Bravo. He is a longtime colleague of Bravo President Lauren Zalaznick from their time working together at Trio.

Bravo has relaunched its Website over the past few months with Slava at the helm, building microsites for various programs, including its popular reality show Project Runway.

Long-struggling Ovation got a boost in August when an investor group including Hubbard Media and arts-focused film company Weinstein took control of the channel with plans to overhaul its programming and increase distribution.

Hubbard, a well-known broadcaster, owns movie cable network ReelzChannel. The Weinstein Co., which also produces Bravo's Project Runway, is controlled by Miramax Films founders Harvey and Bob Weinstein. The channel is also backed by a fund controlled by Lazard & Co., Perry Capital and Arcadia Investment Partners.

As of August, the channel planned to rebrand and program operas, ballets and artist biographies, as well as shows on more obscure facets of art, such as pottery and jewelry design.

Writers Guild Warns Of “De Facto Strike”

Network executives fear that reality shows and newsmagazines, two of the most solidly performing TV genres, could suffer from overload leading up to a possible strike by writers, actors and, perhaps, directors.

The issue came to the forefront last week when Nick Counter, the producers' lead negotiator with Hollywood guilds, warned that resistance by the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) to early contract renewal talks could force the industry into a “de facto strike” mode.

Scripted-pilot orders plunged and non-scripted fare rose during a de facto strike preceding a threatened labor action by writers in 2001, when a walkout was narrowly averted.

With another season off to a strong start for reality, and newsmagazines proving effective at plugging scripted-programming holes, a network executive, speaking anonymously, says the idea of producing more such programs to prepare for a possible strike is “not ideal.”

“While it would be what we would do if we had to, all of us are happy with the scripted versus unscripted ratio now,” he says. “If that gets out of whack and there is too much product too quickly, the odds are against you.”

Counter, the longtime chief negotiator of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, went to the media last week to claim that the board of the WGAW, whose contract expires next Oct. 31, had abruptly retreated from its earlier offer to producers to jumpstart negotiations this coming January.

The turnabout gave rise to speculation that the WGAW board, vowing to stick with tradition and meet closer to the expiration of a contact, wants to use the threat of an immediate strike as bargaining leverage.

In response to Counter, WGAW executive director David Young said in a statement, “The WGA will be prepared to commence negotiations in the summer of 2007, well in advance of the November contract expiration.”—Jim Benson

Turner Exits NBCU

NBC Universal Sales and Marketing President Keith Turner is leaving the company.

In an internal memo obtained by B&C, NBCU Chairman Bob Wright says Turner has been “an outstanding leader of our Sales organization for the past eight years and has played a significant role in our success throughout his almost 20-year career at NBC.”

Turner has been with the company since 1987, beginning in NBC network sales. In the memo, Wright says Turner is leaving to “pursue career opportunities outside the company.”

His departure follows the recent resignations of NBCU Television Group President/COO Randy Falco to join AOL and NBCU Cable and Domestic TV and New Media Distribution President David Zaslav to join Discovery.

The major moves come as rumors continue to swirl about a massive executive reorganization that has many hypothesizing that NBCU Television Group chief Jeff Zucker will ascend to replace Wright.

NBC says an announcement regarding a replacement for Turner is expected in the near future.—Ben Grossman

CBS Takes Viewers, ABC Tops in 18-49

CBS finished first overall, and ABC won the adult 18-49 demo, but NBC was the only broadcast network to see year-over-year growth in the recently completed November sweeps.

CBS averaged just over 13 million viewers, followed by ABC's 11.6 million, NBC's 10.5 million and Fox's 7.4 million. This marked the sixth straight November-sweeps win for CBS in total viewers.

In the 18-49 demo, ABC danced to its first November sweeps win in seven years. Without Monday Night Football, the network averaged a 4.1 rating/11 share, besting CBS and NBC, which tied for second with a 3.8/10. Fox averaged a 3.0/8.

NBC was able to climb back into a tie for second, thanks to a 15% boost in its demo numbers over last November. ABC (-7%), CBS (-14%) and Fox (-6%) all were down.—Ben Grossman

Catch a CAB At Cable Show

The Cabletelevision Bureau of Advertising (CAB) will merge its annual sales-management conference into the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) annual confab, The Cable Show, starting this year, May 7-9 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

The CAB will have its own keynote speaker and will sprinkle cable advertising–related sessions —at least a half dozen or so—into the NCTA schedule, says CAB President/CEO Sean Cunningham. He also says CAB will find a place and a time for the annual Cable Advertising Awards Show.

The CAB gave up its New York show years ago but hosted a Sales Management Conference, mainly for local-cable ad-sales personnel, for the past 25 years, which Cunningham says “trendlined” at about 1,000 attendees a year. As local-cable ad sales have perked up—with advertising opportunities in video-on-demand (VOD) programs and addressability of specific ads to specific households—the sessions seemed to cry for a bigger audience. Last year, for example, General Motors made headlines at the CAB show by proclaiming that it was upping its ad budget for new-media ad ventures like VOD.—P.J. Bednarski