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Fast Track

NBC All Shook Up

Reilly does extreme fall makeover

NBC last week blew up the fall schedule it announced May 15, with changes on every weeknight, including moving prize rookie Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip to Monday at 10 p.m. ET.

In all, the network rearranged eight of its 15 weeknight hours. NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly had said he might make tweaks, but few expected this many.

NBC usually announces its schedule first, but it got whacked in the 18-49 demo this season and was in a more reactive mode. “We went first, and we're in fourth,” Reilly says. “Unusual circumstances lead to these kinds of measures.”

When ABC shifted hit Grey's Anatomy to Thursdays against NBC's Studio 60, Reilly was forced to act. The new Monday slot “gives Studio 60 a better chance. Yet the schedule as a whole has less of an ideal audience flow,” says John Rash, senior VP for media-buying agency Campbell Mithun. “What they have become effectively is counter-programmers.”

The moves (see grid, p. 34) put emphasis on launching new shows and using Sunday Night Football to promote them. The changes also expose the Law & Order franchise, a point of irony because NBC in part purchased Universal Studios to get its hands on those durable titles that generated $1 billion in revenue last year.

But the mothership Law & Order and Criminal Intent had double-digit declines in ratings this past season. That motivated NBC to push L&O to the 10 p.m. Friday outpost. Also of note: The schedule remix puts CI against NBC Universal Studio's Fox hit, House, on Tuesdays.

NBC shoved Endemol USA's Deal or No Deal into the tough Thursday-night slot. But Endemol President David Goldberg sees no need to tweak the show: “I spoke to Kevin Reilly directly, and he didn't tell me, 'We need to go to $10 million prizes.' I'm not flipping out. If we get creamed on Thursday nights, I don't think it means the show isn't viable.”

—Additional reporting by Jim Benson

KCBS Late News Tops in L.A. Sweeps

For the first time in more than three decades, CBS-owned KCBS Los Angeles posted top May-sweeps numbers for its 11 p.m. newscast. It out-rated KNBC and KABC in total viewers and adults 25-54 on a Monday-to-Sunday basis. In the key news demo, adults 25-54, KCBS averaged a 2.6 rating/9 share. KABC recorded a 2.3/9 and KNBC a 2.1/8.—Allison Romano

FCC Probes Corporate VNRs

The FCC is reportedly investigating stations for airing corporate video news releases (VNRs) in newscasts without sourcing them and, in some cases, putting station logos on the canned items. The Center for Media & Democracy was taking some credit for the probe, pointing to its report on “fake TV news” last month.

Undisclosed corporate VNRs are not against FCC rules, unless they are on political or controversial topics. But the Center and Free Press, its partner in the study, want the FCC to require “continuous, frame-by-frame visual notifications and verbal announcements” of VNRs.—John Eggerton

MyNetworkTV Gets 'Desperate'

Fox's new MyNetworkTV (MNT) is buying Buena Vista's hit Desperate Housewives for weekend syndication on its 10 owned stations. The two-year deal begins in 2008.

MNT will launch with two hour strips of English-language telenovelas. If its strategy is successful, Desperate Housewives reruns would be an appropriate weekend addition because of its similar serial style. The deal is a straight barter arrangement to split advertising time. Lifetime has cable rights for the show, also beginning in 2008.—Allison Romano

Marenghi Heads CBS TV Group Sales

Julio Marenghi, president/general manager for CBS Corp.'s Boston duopoly, is returning to his former corporate post as sales president for the CBS Television Stations Group. He fills a position opened when Tom Kane took over as the group's president/CEO last fall. Ed Piette, president/general manager for CBS' strong O&O WCCO Minneapolis, takes his spot.—Allison Romano

CBS Paring Assets, Says Moonves

Speaking at Morgan Stanley's investor conference in Washington, CBS Corp. President/CEO Leslie Moonves said CBS plans to sell about three dozen of its 179 radio stations, all in small or midsize markets. Separately last week, it sold its theme parks for $1.2 billion.

Proceeds will be used primarily for a stock buyback to raise share price. “Content” takeovers, if any, won't be major. Specifically, Moonves says, CBS won't try to find some way to go after Univision: “Too complicated, too expensive. We're not interested.”

—John M. Higgins

Investors To Buy Nielsen Parent

A group largely made up of American private-equity firms funds is poised to take over Dutch publisher VNU, parent of Nielsen Media Research and several media trade magazines. The group—Valcon—says shareholders owning 78.7% of the company have tendered their stock. Among the firms in Valcon: Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Carlyle Group, Blackstone Group, Hellman & Friedman and Thomas H. Lee Partners. Valcon says it plans to keep the company “substantially together as an integrated company.”—John M. Higgins

Santos To Direct Behrendt Show

Veteran director Steve Santos, whose syndicated talker credits include The Rosie O'Donnell Show, will direct The Greg Behrendt Show. Sony's relationship/talker hour strip featuring the comic debuts this fall.—Jim Benson

Fox Win Even Sweeter This Time

Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori says winning the 18-49 ratings crown this season for a second consecutive year is “sweeter in part because it was even more unexpected.”

Fox's 2004-05 numbers were buoyed by the Super Bowl and baseball playoffs featuring the Boston Red Sox in a ratings-grabbing World Series run.

Liguori says, in the season just ended, when ABC had the Super Bowl and “a fair amount of heat around their shows,” his network pulled an upset: “I don't think any betting person would have picked us this year.”

With American Idol still TV's biggest juggernaut, Fox finished the 2005-06 season at an average 4.1 rating/11 share in the demo, edging out ABC's 4.0/11 and ahead of CBS' 3.8/10 and NBC's 3.3/9.

CBS had an easy win in households, averaging an 8.2/13, followed by ABC (6.9/11), NBC (6.4/10) and Fox (6.2/10).

The Fox 18-49 story was the same for the May sweeps that ended last week. Led by Idol, Fox won the period handily in the demo with a 4.8/13 average, followed by CBS' 3.7/10, ABC's 3.5/10 and NBC's 3.1/9.

Series like House, Prison Break and Bones gave Fox some depth in the fourth quarter. The network's ratings for entertainment programming were up on five nights out of seven over last season, and flat on Mondays and Fridays.

Liguori knows he can't depend on this momentum, and he's aware that prized possession Idol will reach season six next year. Although it shows no signs of tiring, he knows that, someday, the Idol bubble will burst: “We can't sit with crossed fingers and hope for Idol to stay where it is.”

To bolster the schedule, Liguori wants a mainstream comedy hit. For the fall, he picked three new comedies, all of which are shot in the traditional multicamera format at a time when single-camera sitcoms are becoming more prevalent.

“This network has always zigged when the others have zagged, and our multi-camera shows will be on against a lot of single-camera shows,” he says. “Having a more tried and true form might be more attractive to the audience right now.”—Ben Grossman