Fast Track

NBC Plans Daytime Talker

The NBC Universal Television Stations group is developing a daytime talk show for its stations that could be a candidate to follow the third hour of Today.

A group spokesperson confirms that the show is in development, saying, “It is a project we are excited about” but declining to discuss details.

Though in the early stages of development, the show is designed to take place live in front of a studio audience. No decisions have been made on talent, but a pilot shot last year at Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Fla., was hosted by Access Hollywood weekend co-anchor Tony Potts.

A source with knowledge of the project says the show may have a two-host format and could be ready around the end of this year or early next. It is expected to have a local component as well; the station group is said to have been considering taking one of its local programming formats national.

The group's strongest models are WCAU Philadelphia's 10! and WTVJ Miami-Ft. Lauderdale's South Florida Today, weekday talk shows with topics including recipes, fashion and homemaking tips.

The new show would also have an interactive component.

The 10 a.m. time slot could be a good target for the show. KNBC Los Angeles has Recipe TV and a second run of Access Hollywood, WCAU and WTVJ have local talk/entertainment shows, and several other major-market stations, including KNTV San Francisco and WRC Washington, air 10 a.m. newscasts. Current 10 a.m. obstacles include The Ellen DeGeneres Show on WNBC New York and Martha on WMAQ Chicago.

Localizing the show would seem to mirror the opinion outlined by the group's President Jay Ireland last week at a Kagan Research conference. Stations, he said, need to play up their localism and rely less on syndicators. “We need to focus on local-content creation,” he said. “Stations have at least 50% of their broadcast time where they schedule their own programming. We need to create, not buy, programming.”

Ireland said local programming is crucial to differentiate a station. “When you air a locally oriented program, you compete only with TV stations in your market. If you use syndicated programming which isn't local, you are no longer differentiated, and you are suddenly competing with the 100-plus channels your viewers receive through cable or satellite.”

Cablevision Plans New Headend DVR

In a move that could provoke a copyright dispute with programmers, Cablevision Systems plans to roll out a digital video recording (DVR) system that stores a TV show at its central headend rather than in a hard drive in subscribers' homes.

The cable operator plans a technical trial for the “network DVR” in 1,000 homes on New York's Long Island. After 60-90 days of tweaking, the company may roll the service to its 3 million subscribers in metro New York.

Cablevision has long seen the scheme as a more efficient and cheaper way of offering DVR service. The DVR set-tops that cable operators lease out are expensive, and their hard drives start failing after a few years. The new service would stash customers' requests on massive storage drives at the headend, requiring less capital investment over the long run.

Customers would notice no particular difference and could still schedule recordings and be able to pause and rewind through live TV. “It's a DVR; it does everything a DVR does,” says Cablevision President Tom Rutledge.

It's not clear whether programmers will object. They have generally treated DVR set-tops the same as VCRs, and they have not protested. But recording shows at the headend and redistributing them through the cable network will draw different copyright scrutiny.

Cablevision executives believe they can avoid problems by offering each DVR customer dedicated storage space, preventing users from sharing content.

Cablevision has been talking about the plan for more than a year but has only recently informed programmers it was going forward. Programming executives contacted say they don't know enough about the plan to comment.—John M. Higgins

Charter Chief Sees À La Carte Looming

Charter Communications President Neil Smit believes some form of à la carte service is coming, so he advises the industry, rather than Washington, to come up with a plan.

“Something will happen,” he told an audience of cable marketers at a Cable Television Public Affairs Association panel session in Washington last week. He doesn't know whether it will come from Washington or the industry but prefers the latter.

He said the industry is getting it from the right and left on the issue of unbundling its service and selling individual channels to consumers, with indecency driving calls from conservatives for more content control and from liberals for more value and choice.

Time Warner Cable COO Landel Hobbs says he hopes nothing happens on the à la carte front. The result, he says, would be less choice and higher prices.—John Eggerton

Lifetime Pitches Revamped Slate

At its upfront last Tuesday, Lifetime pitched itself as a revamped programmer for today's women, young and old.

Lifetime pitched its first full slate of programs developed under President/CEO Betty Cohen and Entertainment President Susanne Daniels, a WB veteran who joined the network in August. The network for women, once the top-rated cable entertainment channel, is trying to reclaim that status by targeting younger women while not alienating older viewers. Lifetime averaged 1.45 million total viewers during prime in February, down 10% from last year.

In addition to a lengthy development slate of reality and scripted series and original movies, the network is focusing on promoting two summer premieres: June's improv comedy Lovespring, produced by Will & Grace's Eric McCormack, and July's truth-versus-lies crime drama Angela's Eyes, from the producers of the Oscar-winning movie Crash. It also is debuting acquired NBC series Medium as a Sunday-night weekly series this week.—Anne Becker

My Network TV, The CW Add Affiliates

Fox's new broadcast network My Network TV nabbed 13 more affiliates last week, increasing its distribution to more than half the country. Meanwhile, rival The CW signed up six more stations.

My Network TV's biggest deal was securing carriage in Nielsen's No. 11 TV market, Detroit, where Granite Broadcasting's WB affiliate WDWB will become a My Network TV station. Granite lost out on The CW there when the affiliation went to CBS-owned WKBD.

The shutdown of The WB and UPN has hit Granite hard. The company had cut a deal to sell WDWB and its WB in San Francisco, KBWB, but the sales fell through after the announcement that The WB and UPN will merge into The CW. In San Francisco, Granite was shut out of affiliating with either network. When the services launch in September, CBS-owned KBHK will be the CW affiliate, and Young Broadcasting independent KRON is taking My Network TV.

Also included in the latest My Network TV deals: XUPN San Diego (owned by Bay City Television); WACY Green Bay-Appleton, Wis. (Journal Broadcasting); WGBT Rochester, N.Y. (WGBT LLC); KAME Reno, Nev. (Cox Television and Broadcast Development); KTOV Corpus Christi, Texas, (GH Broadcasting); WJKP Elmira, N.Y., (Vision Communications); KKRA Rapid City, S.D. (Rapid Broadcasting); and Belo Corp.-owned KTTU Tucson, Ariz. My Network TV also inked four deals for distribution on digital broadcast channels, including two Granite-owned stations (see story p. 11)

The CW's total distribution stands at almost 68% of the U.S. In Tucson, Ariz., Cascade Broadcasting WB affiliate KWBA becomes a CW outlet. Other new affiliates include two Roberts Broadcasting-owned stations, WZRB Columbia, S.C., and WRBJ Jackson, Miss., and three digital broadcast affiliates.—A.R.

Bye, Bye Tony

Tony Danza told viewers Friday that The Tony Danza Show likely will not see a third season.

The move comes as little surprise, since the show had lost valuable clearances for next year in major markets, including New York, where the ABC stations will make room for the new Rachael Ray show this fall.—B.G.

Sinclair Rocks With The Tube

As it looks to ramp up its digital broadcast offerings, Sinclair Broadcast Group is signing on to carry music-video service The Tube Network Television on its TV stations.

Sinclair is the third major station group to affiliate with The Tube. Earlier in March, Tribune Broadcasting committed its stations to launch the service this summer. Raycom Media has been broadcasting The Tube for nearly a year in many of its markets.

Sinclair owns or operates 58 stations in 36 markets, including top-50 markets Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Tampa, Fla., Las Vegas and Baltimore.

“Sinclair Broadcast Group's broad reach enables us to penetrate pivotal markets, lending significant depth to our audience,” The Tube CEO Les Garland said in a statement.

The Tube broadcasts videos by classic rock bands and contemporary artists. Viewers can purchase music they see on-air through the network's Web site or over the phone.

The Tube says it will provide stations with the opportunity to insert local advertising and locally produced programming, such as concerts.

Sinclair stations will begin rolling out the service this summer.—A.R.