Fast Track


Valentine Pulls Strings for Muppets

Former UPN
president Dean Valentine
and Europlay Capital Advisors
plan to purchase a 49.9% stake in the Jim Henson Co., creator of the Muppets, from German media company EM.TV. Valentine, who left UPN earlier this year, is expected to be in charge of the company's Los Angeles-based operations. EM.TV bought the Jim Henson Co. and rights to the Muppets in February 2000 for $680 million in cash and stock.

Vivendi, EchoStar Make a Deal

Vivendi Universal
sold its stake in EchoStar Communications
to EchoStar for $1.066 billion in cash. That's about $500 million less than what Vivendi paid for the 10% stake when it bought in 2001, but it needs the cash.

Charter Axes Execs

David G. Barford, Charter Communications' former executive vice president and chief operating officer, who had been on paid leave since October, and Kent D. Kalkwarf, former executive VP and chief financial officer, are both gone, in the wake of a grand-jury investigation into a budding accounting scandal. Replacing Barford as COO is Margaret A. Bellville, who joined Charter earlier this month. Assuming Kalkwarf's position is Steven A. Schumm, most recently Charter's executive VP and chief administrative officer. Schumm will serve as interim CFO until a permanent replacement is found.

While We Were Out

Dr. Phillip McGraw
—Dr. Phil to you—has extended his contract through 2005-06. …

Starting Over, the syndicated reality show from NBC Enterprises
, has been cleared in almost half the country and seven of the top 10 markets for fall, thanks to a deal with all the co-owned NBC stations. Starting Over is the first reality-style program being produced for daytime syndication. …

GRB Entertainment
will pitch the format of NBC's summer 2003 reality show, The Next Action Star, to international buyers at NATPE
in New Orleans next month. The two winners of the NBC version—a man and woman—will get a chance to appear in a Joel Silver
(Die Hard)-produced action film. …

Former FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick
has been named to head National Geographic's cable channels, TV and film production and more as president of National Geographic Ventures, effective Jan. 6. …

HBO's 26 nods dominated the Golden Globe
nominations, announced Dec. 19. Among the major broadcast networks, NBC
was tops with 13 nominations; Fox
got seven, and CBS
and ABC
each got two. …

Pax TV
ordered 13 episodes of game show Dirty Rotten Cheater fromJonathan Goodson Productions. The hour show, which will air Monday at 8 and be repeated Sunday at 7, launches Jan. 6. Cheater features six players, one of whom is a mole of sorts, having been fed all the answers. …

At Pax, Jeff Sagansky
stepped down as president and CEO of Paxson Communications; he will become vice chairman of the board of directors and serve as a companyconsultant. Company Chairman Bud Paxson, recovering from medical problems, re-assumes the CEO role; Dean Goodman, head of Pax TV
and COO the past year, now gets the title of president as well.

Just days earlier a filing with the SEC had Paxson
and NBC
amending the terms of their strategic alliance. The amendment extends to next spring a window that lets NBC demand that Paxson buy NBC's stake in the company at cost plus 8% interest. The window was to have expired in November. Now it expires April 4, but NBC has promised not to execute it prior to March 28 and then only with five days notice.


In the Dec. 16 Syndication Ratings, page 17, That '70s Show tied with Will & Grace and should have been listed among the Top Off-Net Sitcoms.

A technology article on page 34 in the same edition should have said that ESPN's coverage of Major League Baseball
will begin in April 2003.

Back for the Dead

USA Network's thriller The Dead Zone returns for season two on Jan. 5. In its first installment, the series averaged an impressive 3.1 rating with 4.2 million viewers. A sign of USA Network's original programming success: Dead Zone's Nielsen marks were second to USA's other summer series, Monk, which grabbed an average 3.4 rating and 4.5 million viewers.