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Fast Track

NBC Takes On will launch next year

NBC is taking its assault on The Weather Channel to the Internet.

A year after launching digital broadcast service Weather Plus, NBC and its affiliated stations are preparing a companion Web site. is slated to launch in early 2006 and will compete head to head with the Weather Channel’s popular offshoot

Weather Plus’ Web site will feature national forecasts and detailed local information provided by hometown meteorologists and will be linked from all the stations’ Web sites. “Weather is one of the most demanded pieces of content on the Internet,” says Weather Plus General Manager Mike Steib, “and it is a top driver of consumption of local news on television.”

NBC launched Weather Plus, a joint venture of the network and its affiliates, in November 2004. Currently, 85 NBC stations—all 14 owned-and-operated stations and 71 affiliates—carry it as a digital broadcast channel or are close to launching it. Combined, they reach more than 75% of U.S. TV households.

But, without a related Web site, NBC stations have had to maintain their own weather sections. Some stream their Weather Plus broadcasts online. Steib says Weather Plus needed to wait until its distribution grew and its brand took hold to start up its own site. ranks as a top-10 Web site, according to Nielsen/Net ratings and is accessed by more than 25 million unique users per month. On TV, NBC hatched Weather Plus to take advantage of increased bandwidth created when stations upgrade to digital broadcasting. Each Weather Plus station carries a rotating wheel of national weather and local specifics that forecast down to individual towns. The design is uniform, with a video window in the top right corner surrounded by an L-shaped band of ever-changing graphics.

While NBC’s play is weather, other broadcasters are trying other formats. ABC, for example, created 24/7 digital and broadband news channel ABC News Now, which has been carried by its O&O stations. Broadcast group Raycom Media is using some of its stations’ digital space for a video music channel called The Tube.—A.R.

Thursday Night Gets New Laughs

One day after Fox announced it will keep ratings behemoth American Idol on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, NBC responded with a wide-ranging shakeup of its prime time schedule.

Beginning the week of Jan. 2, NBC will reintroduce a two-hour, Thursday comedy block highlighted by the move of rookie My Name Is Earl to Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET. Left without a place on the schedule is Joey, although NBC says it will return after the Olympics.

The timing was obvious, says NBC Universal Executive VP of Program Planning & Scheduling Mitch Metcalf. “To say we were ignoring Idol would just be a lie; it would be foolish. It is fair to say we waited for the most perfect information we could have.”

If Fox had moved Idol, he says, NBC’s schedule might look different. “We would have re-evaluated,” he explains. “We expected them to stay Tuesday-Wednesday. But you never know, so we just wanted to wait and see that our expectations were true.”

With Joey pulled from Thursdays, NBC will move Will & Grace to 8 p.m. and follow it with new sitcom Four Kings. Moving from Tuesdays along with Earl is its current companion, The Office, which will slot in at 9:30.

Tuesdays will begin with returning Fear Factor at 8, followed by back-to-back original episodes of Scrubs. Neither made the fall slate.—Ben Grossman

Trump To Fire On West Coast

NBC is picking up The Apprentice—and moving it to Southern California. The show has been picked up for a sixth cycle, which will be based outside of New York City for the first time.

Donald Trump will return to the boardroom and executive-produce along with Mark Burnett and Jay Bienstock. NBC has started casting for the new season. The current one will finish Dec. 15 with a live, two-hour finale from Lincoln Center. NBC has already announced that it will not bring back the Martha Stewart spinoff.—B.G.

Hartman Takes Over 'CBS Evening News’

New CBS News President Sean McManus is making another change in the top executive ranks at the news division, tapping veteran 60 Minutes producer Rome Hartman to replace Jim Murphy as executive producer of CBS Evening News.

Murphy, a highly regarded news veteran, led the newscast for six years, the longest tenure for an Evening News producer in the show’s 50-year run. Recently, he guided it through a difficult transition after former anchor Dan Rather resigned and veteran Bob Schieffer took over on an interim basis following an ill-fated 60 Minutes report on President George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard.

CBS says McManus and Murphy are discussing a future role at the network but did not offer specifics.

Earlier this month, Senior VP Marcy McGinnis left, making room for McManus to select his own top lieutenant.

Hartman, a 22-year CBS News veteran, will report to McManus and also serve as an advisor on other aspects, such as deployment of correspondents and talent recruiting. Most recently, he was Lesley Stahl’s producer on 60 Minutes, a position he had held since 1991. He also was a senior producer on now-cancelled 60 Minutes II. Previously, he was senior producer for the evening news in Washington and also has been White House producer.—A.R.

Affiliates Plan Local Olympics Show

NBC and many of its affiliates are teaming up to produce a 30-minute nightly local pre-show during the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, in February.

The show, titled Olympic Zone, will be co-produced by NBC and each local affiliate that chooses to carry it in a 7-8 p.m. local window. It will preview the night’s prime time Olympics show with a local slant.

“We just think the best Olympic lead-in is Olympic programming, especially with a local angle,” says NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel.

The show will be branded by each affiliate with local talent hosting in a local studio. The national content will be in the form of produced packages from Italy using network talent.

Zenkel says the show is cleared in nearly 70% of the country, and he expects that to climb. The arrangement calls for affiliates to keep 90% of the advertising time. “This extends the prime time Olympic window, deepens the relationships between the affiliates and the Olympics, and produces incremental Olympic revenue opportunities for the stations,” he says.

Although entire shows will not stream online, some content may be available via NBC’s Olympics Web site, as well as through affiliate sites. Zenkel says 210 affiliates have signed up to distribute a local Olympic Web site, roughly the same number that did so for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

The idea grew from a show done by KCRA Sacramento, Calif., in 2004, a 30-minute locally focused Olympic pre-show called “O-Zone.” It boosted ratings in its time period 107%, allowing the station to sell ad time at a 160% premium.

Olympic Zone will debut Feb. 8, the Wednesday before the Opening Ceremonies and will air every day except Sundays.—B.G.

'Journal Editorial Report’ Jumps to FNC

Public-affairs program The Journal Editorial Report is ending its controversial run on public television and moving to Fox News Channel in January.

Bill Shine, senior VP of Fox News, announced the show’s move last week. “We’re pleased to partner with The Wall Street Journal on this highly regarded program,” he said in a statement, “and we look forward to delivering our viewers another quality program on the number one cable news network.”

Produced by the Journal and hosted by Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot, the conservative-leaning show made its final appearance on the Public Broadcasting System Dec. 2.

The program was born on PBS in September 2004 under the guidance of Ken Tomlinson, then-chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He developed the program to combat a perceived liberal bias on public TV.

In November, CPB Inspector General Kenneth Konz issued a report stating that Tomlinson broke laws and violated ethics policies during his partisan-driven tenure, including dealing directly with programmers during negotiations to create The Journal Editorial Report.—Joel Meyer


Voom is a suite of high-definition channels offered by EchoStar’s DBS Dish network. The Nov. 28 Airtime column incorrectly described the service.