Fast Track

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AOL Scraps CNN/ABC Merger Talks

AOL Time Warner on Thursday pulled out of negotiations to combine CNN with ABC's news division. Jeff Bewkes, chairman of AOL's entertainment and networks group, made the announcement at the company's retreat for senior managers; the idea of combining CNN with either CBS or ABC news divisions has been batted around for months but apparently, most seriously with ABC. In a statement, AOL Time Warner said, "It was determined that although there are great merits and possibilities to a merger of ABC and CNN news, for us, the potential problems associated with the completion of such a transaction and the integration of these two distinct and great cultures was more than we want to pursue at this time." The potential efficiencies always looked promising, but the immediate operating nightmares and long-term political infighting were daunting. What's more, CNN founder Ted Turner is the company's largest shareholder and especially disliked the idea.

Networking

UPN
will drop its Disney-produced kids blocks when its contract is up in August, sources said. UPN made the decision after affiliates gave the network the thumbs-down on renewal, saying kids shows weren't profitable. UPN will pull the plug on Sunday mornings Aug. 31 and its weekday schedule soon after.

Also at UPN, which wants to add four or five sitcoms next fall, the netlet last week ordered three comedy pilots: Game Over, from Carsey-Werner-Mandabach, featuring a digitally animated family; Old School, from Paramount, which looks at twentysomethings as they move to adulthood; and an untitled project from Warner Bros.

Fox
ordered three more comedy pilots: Arrested Development, from Ron Howard's Imagine
and Twentieth Century Fox, about a young widower; The Pool at Maddy Breakers, from Twentieth, about three 28-year-olds who long for the days when they were the hottest, most popular girls in school; and the classic Mr. Ed, from Twentieth.

NBC
is looking at up to 14 comedies. The one we'll call attention to is The Ripples, about a couple who have been married for 4,000 years and have a son who is 3,985 but looks 15.

CBS
has ordered a drama presentation and a comedy for fall. Drama Joan of Acadia is a contemporary take on Joan of Arc, featuring a young girl to whom God appears in a different form each week. Family Show, from Sony, is a sitcom about parenting.

While the big broadcast networks are exiting the made-for-TV-movie business, The WB
is just getting started. It plans to make a TV-movie franchise out of Mattel-owned Pleasant Co.'s American Girls dolls.

ABC
will air six episodes of Profiles From the Front Line, starting Thursday, Feb. 27, at 8 p.m. ET. Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer
and Bertram van Munster, it puts reporters and producers side by side with American troops fighting terrorism in central Asia.

In and Out

ABC News
Executive VP Paul Friedman, once considered to be the man most likely to replace Roone Arledge, is stepping down as managing editor of the network's hard newscasts. He will instead become something of a jack-of-all-trades under a new multiyear consulting agreement with the division. A source says ABC News chief David Westin, who did
replace Arledge, has yet to decide whether to replace the 21-year ABC vet. ... Fox News Managing Editor and Washington bureau chief Brit Hume has signed a multi-year deal.

Clarification

A Jan. 13 story titled "Cable's Catching a New Non-Scripted Wave" reported that Bill Maher, former host of ABC's Politically Incorrect
made controversial on-air comments about U.S. bombings in Afghanistan. The comments, in fact, referred to past U.S. bombing campaigns and occurred before the U.S. began military action in Afghanistan.

TNT Likes Mike

TNT tipped off its first NBA All-Star game Feb 9 to a stunning 9.8 overnight Nielsen rating in metered markets. That is the highest-rated basketball game ever on cable, according to Turner folks. It was a farewell to NBA great Michael Jordan.

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