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Freston and Chernin Kill—With Hired Guns

Last week's roast of ex-Viacom CEO
Tom Freston at New York's Center of
Communications looked like a night at the Improv. Host Stephen Colbert was in full bluster, but it was Freston
himself and News Corp. CEO
Peter Chernin who killed.

Both are known to be funny guys, but this time, they had professional
help.

Freston pals say his bit was largely crafted by Mark Katz, best known as the Clinton White House's joke man. Katz, who also wrote for
the short-lived ABC sitcom
Madigan Men, is now
"resident scholar" of the Sound Bite
Institute
, which specializes in humor routines and speeches for
corporate bigwigs, including Time Warner
chieftains Dick Parsons and
Jeff Bewkes.

Katz charges between $10,000 and $20,000 for an elaborate bit. "He's
worth it," says a onetime client. "His stuff can be gold."

Freston, who was ousted last month by Viacom Chairman
Sumner Redstone over his apparent lack of a
"digital strategy" (read: failure to buy MySpace), got laughs when he outlined his new "personal
digital strategy": buying a computer and posting clips to his MySpace page.

Chernin cited Freston's tenure at MTV
for creating "a generation of self-absorbed, celebrity-obsessed, book-burning
Peter Pans with a sense of entitlement that is only matched by your $75 million
severance package."

Far from coy about getting help on his spiel, Chernin says he called
on several writers under contract to Fox's
network and TV studio: "There's $16 million worth of talent behind this."

Fan Fiction

NBC is a big fan of user-generated
content. But the "user" part still makes them a bit uneasy.

Since inviting fans of its comedy The
Office
to post their own promo spots to video-sharing
site YouTube over the summer, the network has
largely indulged the "mashups" that litter the site, including those
celebrating the romance between the show's characters Pam and Jim. Except
one.

While most are treacly music-video tributes to the characters'
unrequited love, "Pam & Jim Uncensored" edits in dialogue that lets the two
cut to the chase in frankly sexual terms that we won't even attempt to
paraphrase here. The clip was posted in September; this month, NBC asked the
site to remove it.

Network executives were unavailable to comment, but
Office Executive Producer Ben
Silverman
says he enjoys the creative efforts of the show's
fans.

"Oh yeah, I see them all the time. They're hysterical," he says,
although he hasn't seen the yanked clip.

Noting that he and his colleagues considered "seeding the Internet"
with their own mashups, Silverman says, "We definitely could not have seeded
something like that one."

Gonzo Promo

Thinking about dressing up as the late Hunter S.
Thompson
for Halloween? If you're in the business of getting press
materials from the Starz cable network, you're
in luck.

For its new documentary Buy the
Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film

(premieres Dec. 12), the creative minds at Starz shipped 1,200 cardboard
mock-ups of an IBM Selectric typewriter filled with the iconographic
accoutrements of the father of gonzo journalism: orange-tinted aviator glasses,
a canvas fishing hat and a plastic cigarette filter loaded with a Dunhill
cigarette.

The press kit is the latest in a succession of elaborate promo
materials for the Liberty Media-owned
network's original programming. Most recently, Starz sent out a "body bag" and
a T-shirt bearing a gory chest wound to promote its documentary
Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the
Slasher Film
.

"Everybody's sending out so much stuff, you got to get noticed," says
Starz Director of Programming & Entertainment Publicity
Steve Belgard, adding that the kits are
created by in-house designers.

Apparently, the legal department didn't object to sending tobacco
across state lines, but it did put the kibosh on plans to include a bottle of
Flying Dog Brewery's commemorative
Gonzo Porter.

We guess tabs of LSD and a loaded .44 Magnum were out of the
question.

With John M. Higgins, Ben Grossman and Anne
Becker

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