Jackson, Sanchez Tapped for Twentieth Talker

Randy Jackson and Lauren Sanchez know something about intense competition and the merciless rejections that show business can offer up. Jackson is an American Idol judge, and Sanchez hosts So You Think You Can Dance. Now the two are joining together to plunge into an entertainment realm that's every bit as unforgiving as their prime time series on Fox: the syndicated–talk-show business. Jackson and Sanchez have been recruited by Twentieth Television for a pilot of what insiders are touting as an “urban” Regis and Kelly.

Word of the project comes at an interesting time. Roger Ailes, the maestro of Fox News Channel's success, last week added Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television to his areas of responsibility at News Corp. Much speculation has focused on what Ailes will do to buttress Fox channels in the morning following local breakfast broadcasts, since one effort, Good Day Live, was abandoned earlier this year. But it's not clear whether the Jackson-Sanchez show is intended for that slot. Neither Twentieth nor Endeavor, the agency that reps both Jackson and Sanchez—and packaged the show—would comment.

But a Fox pairing of Jackson and Sanchez in the morning makes sense: It would play to the O&Os' strength with urban viewers—a demographic so important to Fox that it has waged a bitter campaign against Nielsen over its use of local people meters to measure TV audiences, alleging the devices undercount minorities.

For Jackson, the talk show would present an opportunity to capitalize on his Idol success. He is widely regarded as the most likable of the Idol judges, but fellow panel members Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul have considerably higher profiles. Jackson is already making some headway in that department: In June, the Grammy Award-winning producer and 20-year music-industry veteran, who came to fame as a bass player for Journey, signed with radio syndicator Westwood One to host a weekly three-hour top-30 countdown show starting in September.

In addition to her Dance duties, Sanchez works as a nighttime entertainment reporter for KTTV in Los Angeles and news co-anchor for KCOP, the market's Fox duopoly station, where the motto is “Get It On.” The plan for her project with Jackson, if all goes well: Get it on the air next fall.

MTV Courts Comcast

You'd think that MTV Networks is rich and powerful enough to launch cable networks without anyone's help. But a startup that has been gestating at Viacom's star unit may have a surprise partner: Comcast. MTVN has been talking to the No. 1 cable operator not only about carriage for a planned lifestyle network but also about becoming a partner.

The venture is being cooked up by John Sykes, who was eased out as CEO of Infinity Broadcasting in January and tucked into an MTVN business-development unit. It was no make-work job. The new project calls for a slate of channels and broadband products aimed at 25-54s, while still maintaining the MTV attitude.

One industry executive familiar with the project says it will emulate the approach of such MTV hits as Cribs and Pimp My Ride. (Maybe a hipper HGTV? )

MTV and Comcast declined to comment on the project, but we hear it may be unveiled as early as next month.

An NCTA Fish Tale

Soon after former Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow was named president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association in January, the cable novice joked that the industry lobbying group had already taught him one important lesson: “Alaska is a fantastic state.” The line was a sly reference to the power of Ted Stevens, the Republican from Alaska who runs the Commerce Committee—the Senate's arbiter of cable and telecom issues.

Last week, McSlarrow experienced first-hand the splendor of Stevens' home state. Departing from his own family's vacation in North Carolina, McSlarrow jetted to Alaska to take Stevens fishing. Comcast Chairman Ralph Roberts and Bill Phillips, a lawyer and former Stevens aide, joined the outing. The haul included 24 silver—a.k.a. coho—salmon and a hefty 140-pound halibut.

The NCTA wouldn't discuss the schmooze trip. A Stevens spokesman also refused to rise to our bait: “I can tell you that my senator is a very good fisherman and the silvers are running right now.”