In the Loop


FCC Eyes WOW Factor

Comcast's attempts to prevent subs from bolting to competing overbuilders and satellite providers are being investigated by the FCC.

Wide Open West (WOW), an overbuilder competing against Comcast in Detroit, alleges that Comcast is violating customer-service rules by offering price discounts to subscribers who threaten to drop Comcast for a competitor. WOW says the tactic is illegal because rates and promotions must be publicized. WOW and other overbuilders unsuccessfully tried to make something out of it during the FCC's review of Comcast's merger with AT&T Broadband. (The FCC said it would deal with complaints separately and, in August, asked Comcast about its marketing in Warren, Mich., where it competes with WOW. The Justice Department also is examining cable marketing practices and revealed in September that it was investigating an unnamed incumbent.—B.M.

Armstrong Vindicated

All together now: Mike Armstrong got hosed. For many of his five years as CEO of AT&T, Armstrong suffered blistering criticism from Wall Street for the sluggish performance of AT&T's long-distance division, compared with rival companies'. Especially one: Worldcom. Yes, the parent of MCI whose executives, as it turns out, were cooking the books like Emeril. "Since 1999, they perpetrated $9 billion worth of fraud," said Armstrong, who became chairman of the board of Comcast last week. "Why was I getting bad press? Because they were comparing the performance of AT&T to Worldcom's fraud. Their revenues were false, margins were false, their costs were false. All of a sudden it comes out, it's a big fricking fraud." So he's a little annoyed.

So, how about that Jack Grubman? The ex-Salomon Smith Barney analyst who, if you believe his e-mail, upgraded his rating of AT&T not just to get investment-banking business from AT&T but so Solly Chairman Sandy Weill would get his kids into a posh Manhattan preschool. Grubman said his e-mail boasts about his AT&T ratings were just that, boasts. "Can't talk about that," Armstrong said: "I agree with his confession … [the boast] was invented, it was baseless, and it was stupid." Armstrong did recall that Worldcom-touting Grubman once proclaimed that AT&T would "dry up and blow away."—J.M.H.

Fox Widens NFL Coverage

Fox takes a lot of heat for not committing to HDTV, but it certainly can't be accused of not committing to a widescreen DTV format for its football coverage. This past Sunday, Fox Sports was scheduled to televise two NFL games in widescreen/480p (St. Louis vs. Washington, and Green Bay vs. Tampa Bay) and will continue to do two games a week the rest of the season. Fox is also offering this week's Thanksgiving Day game in widescreen/480p.—K.K.

ET: Isn't That Special

Linda Bell Blue, come blow your own horn. Your special's in the hopper, and your show's been reborn (on cable, that is).

OK, we've just always wanted to write that.

Entertainment Tonight
is not just for syndication any more. In addition to producing two cable versions of ET, a second prime time special is in the works, with ET
executive producer Linda Bell Blue at the helm. ET
made its first foray into prime time network-TV production with Entertainment Tonight Presents: Laverne & Shirley Together Again, also headed by Bell, which was a hit on ABC during last May's sweeps. Paramount Domestic TV programming chief Greg Meidel has said he hoped the Laverne & Shirley
special would be the first of many such shows tapping the company's extensive TV library. The new special will air in the first quarter, likely in the February sweeps.—P.A.

No Sign Yet of Adelstein

Jonathan Adelstein's swearing in as the fifth FCC commissioner will probably have to wait until after Thanksgiving. Seems President Bush was tied up overseas last week—something about lining up NATO support for war on Iraq and asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to cool it a bit in Chechnya. Consequently, he didn't get around to signing the necessary papers for Adelstein and other nominees.—B.M.