In the Loop


The Buck Stopped Here

Bob Johnson is a billionaire. And he didn't get that way by sharing the wealth. The founder of Black Entertainment Television was so tight with cash that long after the network was solvent, staffers had trouble getting basics, such as blank tapes or a well organized show archive.

That's just one of the revelations in the pages of The Billion Dollar BET, an upcoming April book on Johnson by Forbes
reporter Brett Pulley. The taut account traces Johnson's path from National Cable Television Association staffer to creator of the first cable network aimed at blacks. Though Pulley gives him his due, he also spotlights BET's flaws, including financial scandals and starving programming, settling for raunchy music videos and standup comedy when the network could have bankrolled more-ambitious fare.

Johnson had been interviewed by Pulley for Forbes
but wouldn't cooperate on the book. Pulley says the BET chief wrote letters asking some associates not to talk, either. Small wonder: Pulley explores Johnson's affairs with BET employees. He did get help from ex-BET affiliate sales chief Curtis Symonds and, of course, Johnson's ex-wife, Sheila.

Is Nate the Next Martha?

Speculation in syndie land is that Harpo Productions is looking at another Oprah
spinoff, this one featuring the lord of décor, Nate Berkus (right). He is a Chicago-based home decorator whose room remakes on Oprah
have drawn raves from the audience. Although Harpo denied the rumor, one well placed TV programmer says the company sees an opportunity to capitalize on makeover madness and parlay Berkus into the next Martha Stewart, minus those unflattering horizontal stripes.

People Who Don't Need People

Look for more delays on the Nielsen front. At a recent client meeting, executives of the ratings giant said it was delaying the phase-in of its new digital-age people meter, one that measures specific shows rather than channels. The early model wasn't capable of measuring playback viewing for DVRs. Now the new devices (known as active/passive meters) will be phased in by mid 2005, when Nielsen begins to measure playback of DVR viewing.

Delay No. 2: No final decision on the planned April 8 start of local-people-meter service in Los Angeles and New York. Insiders hope for a decision next week. The L.A. start, originally slugged for March, has already been postponed once. If it's postponed again, "that's actually good news," says one Nielsen client. "What's the rush? Better they should get it right."

Walk on the Wild

Discovery Channel is looking for a few good candidates to go Into the Wild.
City style. The show will be a new three-part reality series about urban exploration. Casting is under way to assemble an "A-team" that might include a hip engineer, a female extreme athlete, an urban archeologist, and a young anthropologist. The crew will be dispatched to examine the underbelly of bridges, tunnels, and abandoned buildings—places city folk typically avoid. Hour-long episodes should premiere in the fall.

Rupert's Raider

Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan (below) keeps stealing everybody else's toys. Having taken King World's Everybody Loves Raymond
from Tribune in five key markets, the new head of Fox TV stations last week swiped Sony's Seinfeld
from Hearst-Argyle's KMBC Kansas City, Mo., and Clear Channel's WPTY Memphis, Tenn. Two weeks ago, Raycom waved bye-bye to Seinfeld
on WUAB Cincinnati. Accruing lots of A-list off-net product is a big part of Murdoch's aggressive strategy for building Fox TV Stations into a mega powerhouse group.