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Cable Honchos Gauge War's Effect on Ads

The war in Iraq is not likely to affect television advertising the same way the events of 9/11 did, some cable programming chiefs predicted at a Los Angeles luncheon last week. In fact, it could mean more business for cable.

In the first days of the war, broadcast networks are expected to go wall-to-wall with news coverage, bumping planned advertisements. But that means advertisers could come to cable networks that are programming as usual, said Billy Campbell, president of Discovery Networks.

Garth Ancier, executive vice president of programming for Turner Broadcasting System, said this situation is different from that of 9/11 because that was such a flagrant attack on Americans, it would have been inappropriate to quickly return to airing commercials. "Advertising is not quite as much of an issue this time."

MTV Entertainment President Brian Graden said MTV's coverage of the war in Iraq will be like nothing the network has done in the news arena. "While MTV News is a name I always considered to be purposely oxymoronic, after 9/11, we found that more people 12-24 get their news from MTV than all the other news organizations combined. So this time we have 50 to 60 pieces that are on the shelf and ready to go."

The programmers spoke before the Hollywood Radio and Television Society, and, for Ancier, the appearance was also something of a homecoming.

He is following his boss, Jamie Kellner, back out to California, although he will remain with Turner; he's just leaving Atlanta for Los Angeles. Kellner departed as CEO of TBS in late February to head back to The WB and was replaced by old Turner hand Phillip Kent. Now Ancier's mandate is to work with Turner entertainment chief Mark Lazarus to develop a scripted-series hit for TNT.

Hit original shows have become a sort of Holy Grail for basic-cable networks. Trading Spaces
on Discovery-owned TLC is an ideal cable hit: It's inexpensive to produce and skews young while creating a lot of buzz and making stars of its hosts and designers. "All it takes is one or two hit shows to brand a network. It's hard to do, but you sort of luck into it," said Campbell.

No one knows that as well as Graden, known for brand-making shows like The Real World, Road Rules
and, most recently, The Osbournes.