Connecticut Candidate's Cable Connection

Ever since Hurricane Katrina catapulted him to the national stage, Ray Nagin, who ran Cox Communications' New Orleans system before he became the city's mayor, has been the most prominent cable executive to win elected office.

But after upsetting three-term U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman in Connecticut's Democratic primary last week, Ned Lamont may soon claim that dubious honor from Nagin.

While Lamont is regularly identified as a cable executive, he is not well-known in the industry—and little, if any, has been reported about his cable career.

That's because Lamont Digital Systems is known to cable wonks as a “private” system. Private cable operators serve pockets of private dwellings, typically large apartment complexes or subdivisions—in effect, skimming the cream from local cable systems, which view operators like Lamont as pariahs.

“We're not part of the club,” says Pete Daly, a former Lamont Digital executive now at equipment vendor Blonder Tongue.

Colleges are Lamont Digital's niche. Its Campus Televideo unit serves 130 colleges, with 175,000 subscribers in dorm rooms, classrooms, offices and videoconferencing facilities.

Though considered healthy and free of debt, Lamont Digital is not as valuable as a conventional cable operator. A similarly sized operator might be worth $350 million; industry executives estimate Lamont Digital's worth at $60 million. According to federal disclosure reports, Lamont's personal stake is worth less than $5 million.

Lamont and his private- equity partners tried to sell the company two years ago but pulled it off the market.

Given public antipathy toward cable companies, you can see why Lamont's signature issue was withdrawing U.S troops from Iraq. Beats having to say: “I'm a cable executive, and I'd like your vote.”

'Class' Conflict?

Did platinum-selling indie rockers the White Stripes sell out to CBS?

It sure seemed that way when a series of primetime promos for the network's new fall show The Class, about childhood friends who reunite as adults, aired in the past month. The spots, which show kids frolicking on a playground, were accompanied by a tune that sounded for all the world like the White Stripes ditty “We're Going to Be Friends”—a song about, well, children frolicking on a playground.

Asked if the network had indeed partnered with the band, a CBS spokesperson acknowledged the similarity but said the tune was penned by “in-house composers.”

But a call to Monotone Management, which represents the Stripes, turned up another story.

A Monotone rep declined to comment on the matter but allowed that the band is aware of the commercials and hinted that the duo is not pleased.

Days later, the plot thickened when the promos aired again, this time with a completely different tune.

CBS declined to comment further.

Incidentally, “Friends” is from the Stripes' album White Blood Cells, which also features a tune called “I Think I Smell a Rat.”

Beyond Tang

Emeril Lagasse kicked it up several notches last week—200 miles up into space, to be precise.

The famed New Orleans chef and host of Food Network's Emeril Live and The Essence of Emeril has collaborated with NASA's culinary brain trust to produce a variety of new dehydrated entrees for astronauts at the International Space Station.

Lagasse developed the dishes over the past year and a half, and last week the current occupants of Space Expedition 13—a Russian, a German and an American—were treated to the ultimate movable feast (in plastic bags): Mardi Gras jambalaya, “Kicked Up” mashed potatoes with bacon, green beans with garlic, rice pudding and mixed fruit.

The reviews came in last Thursday via a NASA- arranged TV interview between Lagasse and the crew. (Food Network will run the interview Oct. 7.) While they may be more intimate with actual stars than the kind awarded by the Michelin guide, the spacemen pronounced the meal a tour de force.

Emeril was ecstatic, telling reporters after the interview that German flight engineer Thomas Reiter said, “It was one of the best things he's ever had in space!”

We have to ask, though: What of the, um, after effects of all that spicy food?

“NASA was a little sensitive to that,” Lagasse says. “We toned it down a little.”

With John M. Higgins, Michael Malone and P.J. Bednarski