While McKinsey Vets, Viacom Sweats

The opportunities offered by the impending division of Viacom into two entities have both sides of the company excited, for different reasons.

MTV Networks folks, heading into the side considered the youngster with the most growth potential, love being acknowledged as the star pupils. Execs on the slow-growing side, notably CBS, see themselves as underdogs and are itching to prove skeptics wrong.

But there's one player that could spoil the fun: McKinsey & Co. The powerhouse management consultant has been tapped for a top-to-bottom review of Viacom, examining how the two parts should run after their early-2006 separation.

Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone recently promised investors he would “eliminate unnecessary costs and create two nimble, streamlined organizations.” What he didn't say was who'd be advising him. McKinsey-ites have been scurrying around Viacom's operations, interviewing senior managers about their units.

“With McKinsey, they're all about one thing: Cut, cut, cut,” says one ex-Viacom executive familiar with the review, who has worked with McKinsey in the past.

That's inducing a little anxiety in the ranks. “It's nerve-wracking,” says another Viacom executive. “You feel like you're interviewing to keep your own job.”

An MTV Networks executive, however, called the review “just par for the course, given the dramatic change in the works for both sides.

“We'd be irresponsible to not do it,” he continued. “What is the right makeup or corporate structure for two smaller companies?”

The answer in part, apparently, is: Ask an outsider.

Go Scripted? E!ureka!

Given that the E! channel recently terminated Tara Reid's beveragelicious travelogue, Taradise, and red-carpet gusher Star Jones Reynolds is reportedly unlikely to return after her recent Emmy shmoozefest, the question arises: Whither E!? One likely answer, which should get Hollywood agents, writers and producers salivating: into original scripted series.

Industry insiders are buzzing that, next month, E! Networks President Ted Harbert is going to present a budget to Comcast, the corporate purse-string holders, calling for an investment in programming that would represent a decided departure from the network's usual fare of celebrity-laden video-clip shows, reality TV and late-night Howard Stern Show reruns.

Harbert says he's still finalizing the budget and acknowledges only that “we're discussing every type of program” in an ongoing effort (it's a sort of E! mantra at this point) to “burnish the brand” in the eyes of cable operators. But Harbert did confirm that he's considering the comedy pilot Illeanarama, with Illeana Douglas as an actress who quits the business and goes to work in a grocery store.

Veiny, Vidi, Vici

The New York Times' TV critic Alessandra Stanley suffered the indignity of a Times “Editors' Note” last week as the paper finally budged on Nudge-gate, admitting on Sept. 27 that Fox News Channel's Geraldo Rivera did not use a “factual” nudge when beating a Hurricane Katrina rescuer to the assistance of a woman in a wheelchair.

On the same day the clarification ran, Stanley's review of ABC's Commander in Chief also appeared—and reminded us why people read her stuff so closely. She's a smart, provocative writer. We especially admire Stanley's one-woman campaign to popularize the use of “vein” as a verb.

Commander in Chief, Stanley said, is “veined” with “a devilish look at the vanity of public servants.” Kind of like how (Nexis tells us) Pope John Paul II's funeral in April was “mass spirituality veined by the political intrigue of the Medici court.”

Other examples in that vein: The creators of Over There, “have been careful to vein their drama with a message that is cautiously bold: hate war, love the troops.”

Curb Your Enthusiasm? “Veined,” Stanley said, with “pessimism, loony narcissism and political incorrectness.” Oops, she forgot “misanthropy,” which on another occasion Stanley said “veins 'Curb' and makes it so distinctive.”

Will & Grace, Frasier and Just Shoot Me? “Noel Coward humor veins such hits.”

Sometimes it seems like whenever Stanley writes about TV, her copy pulses with a certain word. The former co-chief of the Times' Moscow bureau, writing in 1996 about Russian President Boris Yeltsin, mentioned a new current-affairs TV program on the state-controlled ORT network. The show, Stanley noted, was “veined with attacks on the West.” She didn't say if the attacks drew any blood.