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Fast Track

Reality Scribes Sue Nets, Studios

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) escalated its fight over reality TV, backing a suit by a dozen writers who accused eight networks and production companies of violating California labor laws.

The suit, filed Thursday in California state court, alleges that the producers broke laws governing wages, overtime and meal breaks.

The writers worked as “story editors” or producers on shows including The Bachelor, The Two Timer, The Will and The Real Gilligan’s Island. The suit charges that the writers were required to fudge time cards, cloaking the amount of overtime they put into the shows, and were only paid flat weekly rates.

Defendants are ABC, CBS, The WB and TBS, plus four production companies: Next Entertainment, Telepictures Productions, Syndicated Productions and Dawn Syndicated Productions.

The writers ask the court to certify the suit as a class action that would cover a number of story editors and producers for the affected shows.

The suit is part of the WGA’s campaign to organize reality-show writers, who the union claims are little different from writers on sitcoms and dramas already covered by a bargaining agreement with Hollywood studios.

The WB, for one, didn’t need a script writer for its comment on the suit: “We do not comment on pending litigation,” said a network spokesman. CBS similarly had no comment.—J.M.H.

'Dancing,’ 'Geek’ Finish Strong

ABC is crowing about the finale of Dancing With the Stars, and The WB is trumpeting its final installment of Beauty and the Geek.

Dancing, airing at 9-10 p.m. Wednesday, garnered 22.4 million viewers (versus 19.3 million combined on the other five networks) and a 6.7 rating/19 share in adults 18-49.

The WB’s Beauty finale finished first in its 8-9 p.m. Wednesday time period among adults 18-34 (2.1/8) and persons 12-34 (2.0/8) for the fifth straight week and led among women 12-34 (2.5/9), men 18-34 (1.9/8), men 12-34 (1.5/7) and men 18-49 (1.7/6).

ABC says Dancing achieved the highest viewer and 18-49 totals of any summer series since Fox’s American Idol attracted 22.8 million viewers and a 10.7/30 in 18-49 on Sept. 4, 2002.—J.E.

'ER’ Slated for WB Afternoon Slot

The ER will get a lot busier in January.

The WB has announced that the 12-year-old medical drama hit will make its debut as a Monday-Friday broadcast strip. It will be paired with 8 Simple Rules in the first nine-month installment of The WB’s new afternoon programming block.

In addition to appearing five times a week at 3 p.m. from January to September 2006 on The WB, ER will continue to air twice a day at 10 and 11 a.m. on TNT, the network’s corporate cable sibling; in weekend broadcast syndication; and, of course, at 10 p.m. Thursdays on NBC.

If no one blinks, that would mean 17 runs of ER per week for nine months. A rep for The WB says there are currently no plans to renew ER, from Warner Bros. Television Domestic Distribution, beyond September 2006.

With only the 3-4 p.m. hour in September 2006 left to fill, The WB spokesman emphasizes, the network will see how the market shakes out before making a decision. There “are some real interesting titles out there,” he says.

Warner’s Everwood on The WB and Sony’s The Shield on FX will be available in fall 2006, with NBC Universal’s Vegas entering the off-net fray the following year.

In the 4-5 p.m. period, The WB will double-run Rules, which ABC cancelled in May after three seasons. The sitcom was never able to fully recover from the death of series star John Ritter.

Rules would be either renewed with The WB or taken into syndication, according to Buena Vista Television Distribution President Janice Marinelli.

L&O’s Thompson Will Shepherd Supreme Nominee

Former Senator and current TV star Fred Thompson told CNN Wednesday that he might have to “adjust” his TV schedule if his informal administration posting “pours over into the new season.”

Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee and co-star of NBC’s franchise drama, Law & Order, has been tapped by the Bush administration to shepherd its eventual nominee for the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor through the process.

Thompson points out that he has most of the summer off, but he might well need to make those “adjustments.” Production on new episodes is scheduled to begin July 29. A source says NBC does not expect any problem with the production schedule. But the source didn’t know whether the network was banking on Thompson’s returning by then or whether the show could be shot to give him some extra time without affecting the schedule.—J.E.

Katz To Head Yahoo! TV

Yahoo! Wednesday named David Katz to oversee the entertainment and sports divisions of its media group, reporting to group head Lloyd Braun. In the role, Katz will oversee Yahoo!’s sports, entertainment, movie and TV divisions.

Katz joins Yahoo! from CBS, where he served as senior VP of strategic planning and interactive ventures, managing and CBS program sites, as well as overseeing online streaming, including development of online companion shows to Big Brother
and Survivor.—B.G.

Grammy Vet Gets Emmy Gig

After last season’s Emmy telecast on ABC produced the event’s lowest television ratings in 14 years, CBS and the National Television Academy are looking to a Grammy veteran to reinvigorate the show. Named producer of the 2005 Emmy Awards last week was Ken Ehrlich, who has produced 25 Grammy Award telecasts. This year’s annual show is set for Sunday, Sept. 18 at 8 p.m.—B.G.

ABC, PBS Top News Emmy Nods

PBS and ABC tied for most news and documentary Emmy nods last week with 27, and the History Channel beat out CBS, as the National Television Academy announced its nominations.

NBC was next after PBS and ABC with 21, followed by History with 14 and CBS with 10. MSNBC rounded out the top five with 7.

The awards will be given out Sept. 19 in New York.—J.E.

Hammersley Joins Reed TV Group

Christine Hammersley has joined the Reed TV Group as regional sales manager for B&C and Multichannel News in its Los Angeles office. She spent the past five years at MTV Networks working with clients as a sales planner.

Previously, she worked for the HRP television rep firm and, on the production side, at The Fred Silverman Co., Rebel Heart Co. and David Bell Associates.

She received a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from Arizona State University.

Hammersley can be reached at (323) 965-2484.

Tribune Backs Burns Ratings Bill

Tribune Broadcasting, a vocal critic of Nielsen Media Research’s new local-people-meter (LPM) ratings system, is applauding a Senate bill introduced by Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) last week that would require Media Ratings Council (MRC) approval for a new ratings service from Nielsen or any other ratings company.

“This bill appropriately restores the authority that the Congress clearly intended the industry to have to ensure minimum standards for ratings accuracy,” Tribune said in a statement.

Tribune Broadcasting President Pat Mullen recently sent a letter to Nielsen Chief Executive Susan Whiting asking the ratings giant to wait for approval by MRC, an independent auditor, before rolling out in new markets.

Nielsen went ahead and launched LPMs in Washington and Philadelphia June 30, even though the MRC will not review audits for several months.

Last week, in a letter to clients, Nielsen said it would pay for an independent audit of future markets and submit them to the MRC before rollout of LPMs, but it did not promise to delay rollouts until MRC approved them. Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta are slated to move to LPMs next year. Nielsen is opposed to any legislation and says it wants to work voluntarily with its clients.—A.R.