Dick Robertson's Heirs: Not So Apparent

There's intrigue brewing at the Burbank studios of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution (WBDTD).

According to numerous high-level accounts, over the past several months, Warner Bros. Chairman Barry Meyer and Television Group President Bruce Rosenblum have been looking for someone to succeed longtime WBDTD President Dick Robertson.

Speculation that Robertson, a syndie-world institution, would retire has circulated for so long that many assumed it would be a done deal by the National Association of Television Program Executives conference last January.

Instead, Robertson has been front and center handling sales for the CBS comedy Two and a Half Men (see Fast Track, page 6). Some say he's staying on at the behest of the show's producers, while others say it's his choice alone.

Jim Paratore, executive VP of WBDTD and president of Warner Bros.' Telepictures Productions unit, had long been the presumed heir apparent—until now.

Those said to have been approached include Steve Rosenberg, former domestic syndication president and co-president of worldwide TV distribution at Universal; Debmar Mercury co-owner and former Buena Vista Television President Mort Marcus; and Jim Packer, executive VP of worldwide TV distribution at MGM. (It's believed that Rosenberg won't leave New York for a post limited to domestic broadcast sales and that Warner Bros. has passed on Marcus' demand for a pricey buyout.)

Although Paratore isn't out of the running, there are doubts that he'll remain beyond April 2007, when his contract expires, given that Warner Bros. Television President Peter Roth is taking over prime time reality development from Telepictures—not to mention persistent speculation that Paratore will strike a deal with NBC to develop for syndication, the station group and prime time.

For his part, Paratore says there is a good deal of misinformation floating around but declines to comment further.

Trauma TV

Here's a new slogan for ABC's entertainment programming: “Operators are standing by.”

On May 9, the network will do its part to stoke the not-if-but-when hysteria over bird flu by airing Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America. And since Virginia was the lucky state chosen to be the movie's fictional Ground Zero, government officials in the state are bracing for the public fallout.

A memo e-mailed around Virginia county offices has been soliciting volunteers for a bird flu “call center.”

“Based on the anticipated hype,” the memo reads, “we will set up a call center the day after the broadcast to manage calls from the public.”

An Associated Press review accompanying the memo begins: “Bodies piling up so quickly it takes dump trucks to haul them away.”

It isn't the first time an ABC broadcast has prompted such preparations. When the network aired its 1983 nuclear holocaust drama, The Day After, local phone banks fielded calls from viewers (many inquiring about building fallout shelters). And incest drama Something About Amelia aired the next year with hotline numbers on-screen.

Fairfax County Health Department, which already has a hotline for recorded information on avian flu, is recruiting nurses to take expected calls.

The Department of Health for the Northern Virginia region has contacted ABC affiliates offering public-health officials for post-broadcast interviews to help viewers distinguish fact from fiction. (The barbed wire festooning the quarantine camps, for example, is a cinematic flourish.)

ABC says it will air a PSA and direct viewers to www.pandemicflu.gov, where the government's just-released “action” report will likely induce true panic.

Viva KNLA!

TV stations don't always have to chase news; sometimes it comes to them.

Small Spanish-language station KNLA Los Angeles found itself in the catbird seat during last Monday's nationwide immigration march.

Located on Wilshire Bvd., the station was just two blocks from the city's major rally. While other Los Angeles-area stations were primarily cutting into programming with updates, KNLA, which caters to Central American immigrants rather than Mexicans, augmented its tiny news outfit with freelancers and mobile gear and covered the entire march and rally live.

“It was really an amazing experience,” says Paul Koplin, president of KNLA owner Venture Technologies. “The question is, how do they keep momentum on this issue?”

Watch KNLA to find out!