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Fast Track

Amid Father-Son Gloom, Cablevision Sells Voom

Cablevision Systems Chairman Chuck Dolan's quest to create a new DBS service crashed and burned as Cablevision's board—including Dolan's son, CEO Jim—voted to sell its assets.

The board cut a deal to sell Voom's satellite and other facilities to DBS rival EchoStar Communications for $200 million. While Voom has some other assets to sell, a shutdown could leave Cablevision with $300 million or more in losses on the venture.

That's preferable to what some analysts had feared. Chuck Dolan wanted to build and launch even more satellites and spend on marketing and programming. Fulcrum Capital analyst Richard Greenfield, who has practically crusaded against Cablevision's investment in Voom, believed that Cablevision faced losses of $1.5 billion if the service went forward.

EchoStar already has another bird near Voom's satellite location, meaning that many subscriber dishes are already pointed that direction. EchoStar will use the satellite capacity to beef up its delivery of local broadcast stations, including their high-definition signals, to specific markets. That's important, because cable operators are touting their ability to deliver more HD channels than DBS. The deal gives EchoStar 13 DBS frequencies and rights to 11 additional frequencies.

Voom was greeted with extreme skepticism from the moment of its 2003 launch. The company was the third entrant into the DBS business and would require around $2 billion to get fully up and running.

The startup attracted just 26,000 subscribers during its first year. Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen estimates that the service lost $275 million last year, while Cablevision invested another $200 million in capital spending and buying licenses for additional frequencies.

Voom has been the 78-year-old Cablevision founder's dream for three years, but industry executives say his son never believed in the venture. The sale of Voom's assets triggers speculation on Wall Street whether Cablevision will sell other assets, either its valuable Rainbow networks, including AMC, or even the core metro New York cable systems, a $12 billion asset that Time Warner has coveted for more than a decade.

Zucker: Guard Story Couldn't Happen Here

NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker slammed rival CBS News over the Bush National Guard scandal, insisting that the story would never have made the air at his network.

Speaking at the Television Critics Association in Los Angeles Friday, Zucker said it is was “shocking” to see “the degree to which responsibility was abdicated on a piece about the president of the United States, six weeks before the election.” He specifically cited Dan Rather's “lack of involvement on a piece like that.”

Zucker expressed surprise that CBS seemed to have none of the safeguards that his network put in place after its own 1991 scandal involving Dateline.

That newsmagazine failed to disclose that a General Motors car had been rigged to explode during a crash test or that the order of some footage had been switched.

Zucker contended the Bush National Guard scandal would never have happened under Tom Brokaw or Brian Williams.

He drew a laugh when asked about CBS' possibly luring Katie Couric away from NBC's Today show to anchor the CBS Evening News. “If CBS goes after Katie Couric, we're going after Julie Chen.” CBS' Early Show anchor recently married CBS Chairman Les Moonves.

E! Wins Red-Carpet Race

In the battle of Golden Globes red-carpet specials Jan. 16, E! Entertainment Television beat out Joan and Melissa Rivers' new TV Guide Channel show, but E!'s ratings slipped from last year.

E!'s two-hour Live From the Red Carpet: 2005 Golden Globe Awards, hosted by The View's Star Jones Reynolds, averaged a 2.1 overnight HH rating in metered markets, down from a 2.6 HH rating for the 2004 program, when the Riverses hosted the E! show. Still, TV Guide Channel, which poached the Riverses away from E! earlier this year, recorded a 1.0 HH rating for Joan and Melissa Live at the Golden Globes, the network's best-ever rating.

GOP: We'll Still Get Our Message Out

Republican leaders vow to stay aggressive when it comes to getting the party message on TV and other media, despite the recent controversy over White House payments to TV commentator Armstrong Williams.

In return for a payment of $240,000, the conservative host used packaged news clips backing Bush administration policies, including President Bush's No Child Left Behind Program

“Let's use the tools that produced victory on Election Day,” Ken Mehlman implored the party faithful as he accepted his appointment as chairman of the Republican National Committee last week. In his words, that means volunteers calling talk radio, writing letters to the editor, bloggers “separating fact from fiction” and “surrogates on cable television.” “Surrogates,” in this case anyway, means openly pro-Republican consultants like Mary Matalin and former officials like ex-White House spokesman Ari Fleisher who can be easily booked on news shows to give the party line. “There are no payments to anyone,” says one source.

CBS Commits To 'Commuters'

CBS, the network that brought us Dallas, Knots Landing and Falcon Crest, is back in the business of developing nighttime soaps. looking to diversify a schedule dominated by crime dramas, CBS has ordered the pilot for the new soap, which is dubbed Commuters. The show chronicles the secret lives of suburbanites who commute by train to jobs in the city. It's the first soap pilot CBS has signed this development season. The network currently doesn't have any soaps on its prime time schedule.

Although it may sound like a knock-off of Desperate Housewives, it's not. The show's creator, Dan Bucatinsky, penned Commuters three years ago. CBS read it and passed on it, and Bucatinsky moved on, penning two other scripts. Bucatinsky will be its writer and executive producer. Co-owned Paramount is the studio.

WBTV, dePasse Pitch Negro Leagues Mini

Warner Bros. Television and miniseries maven Suzanne dePasse (Lonesome Dove) are teaming on a four-hour network TV miniseries on baseball's Negro Leagues, targeted for fall '06.

A driving force behind the TV project is Dick Robertson, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, who was pitched the story by a friend in the form of a “white paper” on the leagues by Kansas State University President and Negro Leagues fan Jon Wefald.

Robertson says the proposal struck an immediate chord. DePasse was a natural partner, since Lonesome Dove is Robertson's favorite miniseries. The Negro Leagues story, he says, combines baseball and the struggle for racial equality and Hollywood. (With no other pro baseball on the West Coast at the time, the Negro Leagues were a movie-star favorite in the town's golden age.)

Robertson says a blue-chip advertiser has been lined up as presenting sponsor for the project, pending a commitment from one of the networks; selling has not yet begun. Warner Bros. TV and dePasse will deficit-finance the film, which could cost $15 million.

'Judge Alex' Clears 50% as Fox Favorite

Twentieth Television has cleared its new court show, Judge Alex, in half the country, the majority on stations owned by the syndicator's parent, Fox. The half-hour strip, which Twentieth says would be the first new court show in four years, features Florida Circuit Court Judge Alex E. Ferrer. It's executive-produced by Karen Melamed, Sharon Sussman and Burt Wheeler.

In addition to being cleared on the Fox group, which covers 40% of the country, Judge Alex has also been picked up by Cox's KTVU San Francisco and Viacom's WFOR Miami. Other markets cleared include Cincinnati; Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C.; Indianapolis; Louisville, Ky.; and Nashville, Tenn.

Brooks Preps Small-Screen 'Spaceballs'

Mel Brooks is partnering with a German company to bring his 1987 theatrical spoof Spaceballs to the small screen.

Brooks, BFC Berliner Film Co. (BFC), and MGM (which will distribute) will produce a pilot and 13 half-hours of the animated show, for which Brooks will voice two of the characters, as well as co-write the pilot with Thomas Meehan (they co-wrote the original screenplay), help supervise the writing on other scripts and co-executive produce.

The show will be pitched as a prime time series, for either a network or cable.

MGM will have domestic and international distribution rights, with the exception of Germany, which BFC gets, since it is based in Berlin, where the show will be produced.

'Star Trek': The Last Generation?

Star Trek's five-year mission—now going on 40—could be coming to an end. The ailing franchise could be nearing the end of a journey that began four decades ago when creator Gene Roddenberry began work on the pilot of the Paramount series that spawned five TV spinoffs and 10 feature films. Viacom Co-President and Co-COO Les Moonves told reporters that Star Trek's time may have come and gone.

“The Star Trek franchise has obviously been a very important franchise for Paramount, for the studio,” he said. “The last movie didn't do particularly well. The series is struggling.”

Paramount and UPN, both controlled by Viacom, haven't decided whether to renew Star Trek: Enterprise for another season, Moonves said.

'Idol' Still Golden

So much for American Idol showing some viewer erosion.

At the TV critics press tour in L.A. Monday, Fox warned that ratings for its flagship program, American Idol, will likely shrink this season as the talent contest's format becomes more familiar to viewers.

That prediction appeared off the mark—or was perhaps some gamesmanship, given the 33.4 million viewer average for its Tuesday-night premiere. That compares with 28.6 million for the 2004 premiere, 26.5 million for 2003 and only 9.8 million for 2002.

Cojo Gets Kidney

Steven Cojocaru, fashion guru and correspondent for syndicated entertainment TV mags Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, received a kidney transplant Jan. 14. ET/Insider producer Linda Bell Blue says Cojocaru is doing “great.” He suffered from genetic polycystic kidney disease. Cojocaru, known to fans as Cojo, is working on an hour daily talk show that ET parent Paramount hopes to bring into syndication next fall.

TVB Broadcaster of Year To Be Named

The Television Bureau of Advertising is gathering its four “Broadcaster of the Year” honorees to weigh in on broadcast-industry trends at the TVB's annual marketing conference March 31 in New York. The TVB isn't quite ready to reveal the identity of its 2005 recipient yet, but the executive will join past winners David Barrett, president/CEO, Hearst-Argyle Television; Dennis FitzSimons, chairman, The Tribune Co.; and Dennis Swanson, EVP/COO, Viacom Television Stations Group, for a panel discussion at the Javits Convention Center. The winner will be announced shortly in B&C, which sponsors the event.


In 2001, PBS, in association with WETA Washington and NHK, broadcast the inauguration in HD. The Jan. 17 issue of B&C incorrectly reported that ABC's coverage this year was the first.