Fast Track

Powell Joins Equity Firm

Former FCC Chairman Michael Powell has joined venture capital firm Providence Equity Partners as a senior advisor on topics including “regulatory issues in the media,” something Powell is obviously well-versed in.

The company cited Powell's regulatory and technical expertise in the sectors where Providence invests.

The firm was part of a Sony-led consortium that bought studio MGM last year. It is also a major backer of cable operator Bresnan Communications.

Providence helped the New York Yankees launch the YES Network and gave money to Edgar Bronfman Jr. when he bought Warner Music from Time Warner Inc.

Powell left the commission in March after seven years as a commissioner and chairman, professing no immediate plans after some R&R. —John Eggerton

Eight More Hits For 'Sopranos'

HBO announced Aug. 11 it will produce eight additional episodes of The Sopranos that will air in January 2007.

The mob drama is currently shooting 12 episodes for its upcoming sixth season, which will debut in March 2006. The cast's contract negotiations for additional episodes could be an issue. In 2003, star James Gandolfini battled with the network over a deal for the fifth season. HBO does not publicly discuss specific contracts, but a spokesman says HBO is confident that the cast will be comfortable finishing the full 20 episodes.

In May, series creator David Chase hinted to a crowd at a Newhouse School of Public Communications event that more Sopranos might be in the works. He said he could extend the show without having to alter the sixth season, which had already been charted.

—Joel Meyer

Eye's Got a 'Secret'

After a one-year hiatus, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show returns to CBS this fall.

CBS aired the parade of scantily clad supermodels in 2002 and 2003; ABC aired the first one in 2001.

Last year, the retailer decided against producing a show, which reportedly costs about $10 million.

The show was also an annual target for activist groups due to its content and has come under FCC investigation on multiple occasions. While CBS is planning on airing the special in late November or early December, it has not been well-supported by viewers, with total audience dropping steadily, from 12.3 million in 2001 to 10.5 million in 2002 (against ABC's Bachelor finale) to 9.4 million in 2003.

—Ben Grossman.

Cohen Heads Sales At Buena Vista TV

Jed Cohen has been named executive VP/general sales manager for Disney's Buena Vista Television, reporting to BVT President Janice Marinelli.

A 15-year veteran of BVT, Cohen replaces John Bryan as the top sales exec. He oversees all sales and distribution of first-run, off-net and theatrical product for broadcast syndication and basic-cable platforms.

Senior VP/national sales manager since 2000, Cohen joined BVT in 1990 as a sales trainee for the western region. He served as VP of western region sales at BVT from 1995 to 2000.—Jim Benson

ABC, Fremantle Are Sued Over 'Million Dollar Idea'

Creators of syndicated TV series Million Dollar Idea, which began on KSTC Minneapolis, have filed suit against ABC, FremantleMedia and producer Simon Cowell (host of American Idol) over their planned network reality show, The Million Dollar Idea (a working title).

The ABC show was announced last month. Over the course of the series, it will search the country for the entrepreneur with the best business idea or new product, culminating with $1 million in business support, including cash, entrepreneurial counsel and physical resources to the winner.

The Minneapolis version also features a competition, with the winner getting marketing and other support.

The suit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles Aug. 10 by Jean Golden and Todd Walker, charges ABC and the others with ripping off the premise of the show. The suit was in response to ABC's announcement of a show “created” by Cowell and “packaged” by CAA.

The breach-of-contract allegation stems from Walker's claim to have pitched their Million Dollar Idea to ABC alternative programming executive Andrea Wong in 2004. ABC and Fremantle declined to comment.—J.E.

Telcos Get Statewide Franchise in Texas

Texas legislators have given telephone companies what they wanted, passing legislation, the first of its kind, allowing them to launch video services without securing town-by-town franchises.

The bill had been opposed by cable operators, which have long been forced to secure a franchise for each city or suburb in which they operate. The legislation paves the way for SBC and Verizon to apply for statewide franchises to deliver cable-like video services. It also allows power companies to offer broadband over power lines. —John M. Higgins/J.E.

AOL Chief Named Charter CEO

Charter Communications went outside the cable industry to find a new CEO, picking an AOL executive with a background in consumer-goods marketing. The fourth-largest cable operator tapped Neil Smit as president/CEO, effective Aug. 22.

Smit was most recently president of Time Warner's America Online Access business, putting him in charge of the Internet service provider's AOL, CompuServe and Netscape. He replaces Bob May, who has served as interim CEO since Carl Vogel was pushed out in January.—J.M.H.

'Contender' Contends Again

ESPN will air a second season of former NBC boxing reality series The Contender next year, as well as a one-night Contender boxing event this October, all part of a wide-ranging new partnership.

Executive Producer Mark Burnett told B&C the second season will be composed of 10-12 episodes that will begin in October 2006. ESPN will also air a night of Contender fights this October featuring contestants from the first season.

While Sylvester Stallone and Sugar Ray Leonard will be making appearances on the show next season, it is undecided whether they will again function as the main co-hosts and appear every week.

According to Burnett, ESPN also becomes a partner in the show. “The fact that they now have ownership in the backend of the business of boxing [means] we can make some great strides and really breathe life into televised boxing,” he says.

The deal encompasses pay-per-view (ESPN has recently made a foray into PPV boxing), as well as online through Yahoo! will not be returning as a partner.

The show itself averaged just 6.2 million viewers last season but did draw nearly 8 million for the final bout of the elimination series. “As a business, we peaked at 10 million on NBC, and if we do 3 million or 4 million on ESPN, that is worth a lot more on a transaction basis,” Burnett says. “ESPN viewers are used to transactions like buying tickets, merchandise and pay-per-views.”

The show will once again be executive-produced by Burnett, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Stallone and is part of ESPN's growing ESPN Original Entertainment division. ESPN has options to renew the series for two subsequent seasons. Mark Burnett Productions will handle international distribution as well as the sponsorships and product integration.—B.G.