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Fast Track - Broadcasting & Cable

Fast Track

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A Good Picture Can Land You in Jail

Fox News Channel last week axed an engineer who allegedly returned from Iraq with an illegal stash of goods, including paintings. Fox said it had fired Ben Johnson, a satellite truck engineer who traveled with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, after learning that he had admitted to the thefts. At press time, the Justice Department said it is investigating other members of the news media for looting.

Bottom Lines Near the Top

First-quarter operating profits at the Post-Newsweek
TV stations fell 21% to $26.3 million on a 6% decline revenue to $70.8 million, the company reported last week. Post-Newsweek blamed the decreases on the tough comparison to last year, when its NBC stations had the Olympics. Also hurting results was the war in Iraq, which started in mid March and resulted in "several days of commercial-free coverage." The company also cited the switch last July of its WJXT(TV)Jacksonville, Fla., to independent status after its CBS affiliation expired.

Fully Programmable

The WB has placed an early new-season order for 22 episodes of Carsey-Werner-Mandabach-produced sitcom Grounded for Life. The WB took over Grounded
in February after Fox decided not to place a full-season order for the show. Meanwhile, The WB decided to cancel seven-year veteran Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. ...

Independent cable networks would be damaged if Washington policymakers force operators to offer a tier of family-oriented programming, a top official for the Hallmark Channel
said last week. Crown Media
Chief Operating Officer Paul Fitzpatrick
told the Washington Metropolitan Cable Club that he fears that networks with family-oriented programming would be relegated to a new tier that only a portion of general cable subscribers would buy. That would be "devastating," he said. ...

ESPN
is trolling for a new SportsCenter host. The sports net is plotting a new reality show, Dream Job, to search for a sportscaster. The winner gets a one-year contract and a free lesson in tricky contracts: "They could get the 2 a.m. SportsCenter
on a Tuesday night," quipped Executive VP of Programming Mark Shapiro. ...

TNT
chief Steve Koonin
is adding TBS Superstation
to his watch. He will head both channels as executive VP/COO. The move comes after new TBS Chairman Phil Kent
reorganized the company's structure, promoting former ad-sales chief Mark Lazarus
to president of Turner Entertainment Group.

Grid and Bear it, Says Powell

The FCC launched an inquiry last week to examine ways the government can speed delivery of broadband Internet services via power lines. Despite years of idle talk of delivering telecom services over the power grid, FCC Chairman Michael Powell
predicted the idea will become a commercial reality this year: "This is a monumental moment and a breakthrough."

Corrections

Dennis FitzSimons is the president and chief executive of Chicago-based Tribune Co. A caption on page 3 of the April 21 edition misstated his title.

Also in the April 21 issue, it was incorrectly reported that CBS News executive producer Lyne Pitts, who is married to correspondent Byron Pitts, is pregnant. CBS News colleague Jim Axelrod and his wife are expecting a baby.

Where's Leeza?

Leeza Gibbons is out as host of Extra, at least for May, but she has not been axed. Warner Bros. says Gibbons asked not to have to host the show in May. It may allow her more time to devote to a charity fighting Alzheimer's disease (her mom's a victim). A spokesman said Warner Bros. and Gibbons would discuss her future with the company this summer. Sources say her contract expires around that time.

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