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Fast Track

Bush: Our News Packages Legal, Based on Fact

President George W. Bush said Wednesday that the administration will continue to use packaged video news releases (VNRs) and it is up to stations to inform their viewers where they came from if they choose to.

Bush cited a Justice Department opinion from last July, which held that such VNRs are not “covert propaganda.” That opinion conflicts with one from the Government Accountability Office that said they were, but Justice is the administration’s controlling legal authority.

The administration has been criticized for VNRs on health care and drug policy, among others, that feature actors posing as reporters and, without disclaimers, can be mistaken for news stories. Bush said it is up to local stations to make those disclosures.

“Justice says that these pieces are in the law if based on facts not advocacy,” said the president. “Stations, if there is a deep concern, ought to tell viewers what they are watching.”

In a letter sent to Health and Human Services last week, Rep. George Miller and others asked HHS for copies of its video news releases, contracts and the stations that aired the VNRs following the GAO advisory that they constitute “covert propaganda.”

An HHS spokesman said the department would get back to Congress “in due time,” but the answer will be the same as the president’s: that Justice, HHS’ controlling legal authority, has concluded that the VNRs aren’t covert propaganda.—J.E.

Burger King: OK, Have It Your Way

With increasing pressure on food marketers to emphasize healthy over hefty, fast-food giant Burger King Corp. has agreed to modify its kids’-meal TV ads to show “the range of food options available,” rather than a single, king-sized choice.

That decision was prompted by the children’s-advertising review unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which took issue with “Chomp Chomp Chomp and Away,” a commercial it said could confuse kids about entrées and side orders.

The ad showed a double cheeseburger in the shot of a kids’ meal, rather than the single cheeseburger, hamburger and chicken tenders. That apparently violates rule No. 6, which says that “what is included and excluded in the initial purchase should be clearly established.”

Burger King said that, in the future, kids’-meal TV ads will show the range of options—including the aforementioned foods, plus applesauce, milk and apple juice—and, “if applicable,” will specifically highlight lower-calorie foods. It also agreed to modify the kids’-meal section of its Web site.—J.E.

A&E’s Davatzes Out, Raven In

Nick Davatzes will retire as president and CEO of A&E Television Networks effective April 1. Abbe Raven, currently president of A&E Network, will succeed the 21-year A&E veteran.

Davatzes, whose announcement coincided with a birthday he celebrated last week, will transition to retirement and a new title as CEO emeritus, remaining an adviser from AETN’s Stamford, Conn., offices. Raven, president of A&E Network since September 2004, will become the company’s second president and CEO.

During Davatzes’ reign, AETN has grown from a single cable channel—flagship A&E Network—to an international, multi-faceted company with eight other businesses spanning TV programming, home video, CDs and Web sites.

Combined, AETN channels reach 230 million TV households in more than 130 countries.

This year, AETN reached Davatzes’ professed goal of becoming a “billion-dollar company.”

Raven, who celebrated her 23rd anniversary with the company last week, served at A&E Network since its launch in 1984, holding various executive responsibilities before taking over as president.

Under her watch, A&E has seen steady ratings growth with younger demos—up almost 90% in prime with 18- to 49-year-olds since she rejoined the network in 2002 from a stint as EVP/GM of sister network History Channel.—A.B.

Ross Out at 'Primetime Live’

Primetime Live executive producer Shelly Ross is stepping down, replaced by 20/20
EP David Sloan, for the time being. After just a year in the job, Ross got squeezed out at the fading newsmagazine but will stay with the network for now. She will develop and produce new shows for all divisions of ABC, according to the company, likely working off the balance of her multi-year contract.

Too much friction with Charles Gibson helped push Ross out of Good MorningAmerica
last spring, despite leading a revival of the morning show. At Primetime Live, she had the misfortune of facing off against CBS’ powerhouse Thursday-night lineup, and viewership plunged.

In its most recent outing, Primetime Live was a distant third in its time period at a 2.1 rating/6 share in the key 18-49 demo, but it was still the network’s top-rated timed period of the night.—J.M.H.

King Still Reigns at CNN

Larry King will continue his CNN gab-fest through 2009 under an extended contract worth $7 million per year, representatives from the network confirmed last week.

King, who marks his 20th year with CNN June 1, posts the network’s highest ratings with his nightly talk show, Larry King Live, which airs from 9 to 10 p.m. ET.

In March, the show has averaged 1.4 million total viewers a night and in February averaged 1.2 million.

Nancy Grace, who sometimes stands in for King and whose own eponymous program recently debuted on sister net Headline News, was rumored to be replacing King, although a network executive said that no plans were in place to groom a successor.—A.B.

Mixed Bag for Syndie Sweeps

The results of the February sweeps (Feb. 3-March 2) were a mixed bag, with most rookies demonstrating improvement.

The Insider was the newcomer champ going away, with a 2.9 national household rating, up 21% over its September debut. It was the third-highest-rated magazine show after Entertainment Tonight and Inside Edition.

The recently canceled Jane Pauley Show
was second in the freshman race with a 1.6 average, which remained unchanged from its premiere.

The Tony Danza Show, which like Insider has been renewed, averaged a 1.3, up 8%. Ambush Makeover at a 1.1, was up 22%. The Larry Elder Show, at a 1.0, was up 25%. Pat Croce: Moving In, with a 0.7, was up 17% and Life & Style with a 0.6, was up 20%.—J.E.

MTV Ups Scannell, Roedy

MTV Networks has promoted senior executives Herb Scannell and Bill Roedy. Scannell was named vice chairman, MTV Networks, and president, Nickelodeon Networks, while Roedy was named vice chairman, MTV Networks, and president, MTV Networks International.

Scannell, who currently manages Nickelodeon, Nick at Nite, TV Land, Noggin/The N and Spike TV, will now oversee development of new MTV Networks channels and multimedia ventures targeting niche audiences. He will also manage MTV Networks’ corporate functions.

Roedy, who currently oversees MTV Networks’ international operations and global public affairs, will now oversee the division’s multimedia investments.

Based in New York and London, respectively, Scannell and Roedy will continue to report to MTV Networks Chairman and CEO Judy McGrath. —A.B.

'Office’ Gets Web Space

NBC previewed its new series The Office on social-networking site on March 16, one week before the series’ television debut.

The show’s Webcast was NBC’s first online premiere of a complete episode of a show. A trimmed “webisode” version of the premiere was made available to MySpace’s 11 million users on March 17. The Office, a mockumentary of the modern workplace, is adapted from the British cult hit, which aired for two seasons on the BBC beginning September 2001. NBC will air the premiere episode, “Diversity Day,” in a broadcast-TV preview March 24 at 9:30 p.m. and repeat the episode in its normal time slot March 29 at 9:30.—A.B.

Wire Re-Upped

HBO renewed The Wire for a 12- episode fourth season to debut in 2006. The show resolved key plot issues in its third season last December, prompting months of speculation about whether it would return. Although non–ad-supported HBO does not measure its shows’ success through Nielsen numbers, the critically acclaimed drama struggled in the ratings last season, premiering to an average 1.8 million viewers and losing viewers in subsequent episodes.—A.B.

Groups Pay $229M For TV Ads

Corporations and advocacy groups spent $229 million on TV ads on national broadcast and TV networks, as well as on Washington, D.C., stations, in efforts to influence legislation during the last Congress, according to a new study released last week by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The figure for TV spending was up 459% from the 2001-02 Congress.

Including print ads, Annenberg found that total spending on issue advertising increased 285% to $404 million over the two congressional terms.

The Annenberg study tallied 67,653 ads sponsored by 914 companies, organizations and coalitions carried on the Washington metro area’s TV stations, national TV networks and in the Washington Post, Washington Times, the Washington edition of the New York Times and specialty publications targeting lawmakers and staff on Capitol Hill.

Business interests purchased an estimated $320 million worth of the ads, while consumer-advocacy groups purchased $58 million worth.

One troubling result of the study, says Annenberg researcher Gordon McDonald, was lopsided spending on a particular side of many issues. Of the 52 specific issues examined, half had all the spending advocating a single side of the debate. Only three issues—6%—had competitive spending.

The report also identified $18.5 million worth of issue ads sponsored by organizations with ambiguous or misleading names that made it difficult for the audience to know the sponsors’ interest in an issue.

For instance, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, a coalition of mining companies, coal transporters and suppliers of coal-produced electricity, spent $9.1 million on environmental policy ads. Voices for Choices, a coalition of telecom companies opposing local-telephone deregulation, spent $2.7 million.—B.M.

Ferree Named COO of CPB

Ken Ferree, who recently stepped down as Media BNureau chief of the Federal Communications Commission under departing Chairman Michael Powell, has landed at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as chief operating officer.

He succeeds Kathleen Cox, who became president and CEO in July 2004, replacing Robert Coonrod. Also joining CPB is a veteran public-affairs executive Nancy Risque Rohrbach as SVP, corporate and public affairs.

While at the FCC, Ferree backed a plan that would have allowed the government to reclaim analog spectrum earlier than the current DTV switch deadline.

Risque Rohrbach is a former Assistant Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush and assistant to the president and staff member of the Office of Legislative Affairs under President Ronald Reagan. Most recently, she has been the director of National Museum of Women in the Arts.—J.E.


ABC News Washington correspondent Jake Tapper and Good Morning America weekend anchor Bill Weir were misidentified in The Robins Report (3/14, page 3).

A report in Syndication (3/7, page 13) provided a one-day ratings snapshot on The Tony Danza Show. It should have included the show’s February sweeps performance in those markets. In last month’s sweeps, the show averaged a 1.3 national household rating, up 8% from its debut week last September.