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Fast Track

Unhappy Anniversary

Stations' plans for remembering Katrina

One year after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and battered local TV stations, affiliates will mark the Aug. 29 anniversary with special coverage on-air and online capable of reaching a national audience.

Katrina was an eye-opener for stations nationwide, demonstrating the power of online streaming. New Orleans stations simulcast coverage online to reach viewers who had evacuated to other markets. Later, when the storm forced affiliates to alternative locations, streaming continued and became a critical distribution pipeline. Belo-owned CBS affiliate WWL started streaming its news two days before the storm. It's still doing it.

On Aug. 29, WWL, the only station in the market to stay on the air continuously during the storm and its aftermath, will be live 5 a.m.-11 p.m., pausing only for the CBS Evening News. From a special set, the station will air memorial services, report on rebuilding and show archival footage culled from its 14 days of continuous coverage.

It's also in talks about sharing its feed with C-SPAN; several sister Belo stations, including KHOU Houston and WFAA Dallas-Ft. Worth will pick up coverage. CBS also will be monitoring WWL's air. “We want our coverage to be available to all the evacuees scattered across the country,” says WWL Special Projects Director Mark Swinney.

Hearst-Argyle-owned NBC affiliate WDSU also is getting national exposure. Its parent company plans to air two WDSU-backed specials in all its 25 markets. One program, Song for New Orleans, about the city's musical legacy, will air in New Orleans Aug. 28 and on African-American–themed cable channel TV One the next day. NBC Universal plans to distribute the documentary in syndication early next year. The station is selling DVDs of the shows, with proceeds going toward the rebuilding effort; it will also stream the shows.

Emmis-owned Fox affiliate WVUE will be live 6 a.m.-10 p.m. on Aug. 29, including a two-hour primetime special, Fox 8 Katrina: One Year Later.

Tribune-owned ABC affiliate WGNO reporter Michael Hill snagged an interview with President Bush on post-storm recovery. On Aug. 29, along with its regular schedule of news, WGNO will mark Katrina's anniversary with a 9 a.m. broadcast covering memorial services. The special “is a great opportunity for the community to reflect on a day that changed our lives forever,” says General Manager Larry Delia. “This is exactly what local news was meant to do.”

Syndicated Sitcom To Cable First

In a groundbreaking deal that industry sources value at upwards of $200 million between cash from cable and stations, as well as cumulative barter advertising sales, Debmar-Mercury has secured distribution deals to put the first-run syndicated sitcom Tyler Perry's House of Payne on TBS in June 2007. It will then go to stations in September 2008.

Debmar-Mercury, a subsidiary of independent entertainment company Lionsgate, is bypassing Hollywood's usual syndication route. “Until now, sitcoms have gone to a network—and then six years later there were 100 episodes to sell in syndication,” says Debmar-Mercury President Mort Marcus.

The deal is unusual in that cable, rather than broadcast stations, get the episodes first. TBS will have exclusive access to them for the first 15 months, airing them once or twice a week in primetime. TBS is understood to have anted up a large portion of the license fees.

Perry is expected to deliver nearly 75 episodes to TBS by fall 2007, with the remaining 25 due in time for the syndication launch, when they will air in a variety of early-fringe, access and late-fringe dayparts.

TBS will continue to air the episodes when the four-year broadcast deals commence. Stations signed up include Weigel's WCIU Chicago, Fox's WWOR New York, KTXH Houston, KDFI Dallas and WDCA Washington.

Jim Benson

CBS Vet Tony Malara Dead at 69

Tony Malara, 69, who headed CBS affiliate relations and was onetime president of the CBS network, died Aug. 24 at a Syracuse, N.Y., hospital.

Malara suffered a heart attack at his vacation home on Wellesley Island in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York. When he was hospitalized, it was also discovered he suffered from acute myeloid leukemia.

Malara, born in Watertown, N.Y., was also former president of the state broadcasters association. He had recently formed Malara Broadcasting, which owns TV stations in Duluth, Minn., and Fort Wayne, Ind.

He retired from CBS in 1995 as president of affiliate relations, telling B&C, “I just didn't want to wake up someday to find that it was too late to do something else.”

Malara moved to CBS in 1978 in affiliate relations after 21 years with WWNY(AM)/(TV) Syracuse. He headed the unit during the time the network decided not to renew its NFL contract in 1993 and had his hands full trying to mollify angered affiliates. Despite his efforts, many of them defected to Fox, which obtained the rights.

—John Eggerton/P.J. Bednarski

Nexstar's Home-Grown New Logo

Nexstar Broadcasting has a new logo courtesy of a 40-year veteran of its CBS-affiliated station, WCIA Champaign, Ill.

Rick Bednar, a commercial producer at WCIA, beat out 400 other Nexstar employees who responded to CEO Perry Sook's call for a new logo to mark the company's 10th anniversary. Both Bednar and WCIA were awarded $2,500.

“I wanted a new look to take us into the future,” says Sook. The new design—a golden cutout of a star flanking the Nexstar name—will replace the old, boxy black-and-white logo. Sook went to Champaign last week to personally present the award to a surprised Bednar.

Bednar has not decided how to spend his winnings, but WCIA General Manager Russ Hamilton is mulling how to spend to spend the prize money. Among the options: buying new equipment, sprucing up the station—or repaving the parking lot.

—Allison Romano

PBS To Sell Online Ads

PBS confirmed last week that it will start selling ads on its Websites this fall. NPB Interactive, the online-sales division for public broadcasting, will rep the six “neighborhoods” of branded content for sites covering 1,800 shows and Web-only content, including podcasts. The network says it will set stringent rules for Web ads.

Center For Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeff Chester, who is a public-broadcasting critic, calls it “a terrible decision” and says, to stay distinctive, PBS shouldn't accept advertising in any format.

John Eggerton

Corrections and Clarifications

  • The Aug. 14 Station to Station column (p. 10) should have credited research firm Broadband Directions for information about newspaper Websites.
  • The editorial in the Aug. 21 issue (p. 30) misspelled the surname of Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren. NYC TV General Manager Arick Wierson's surname was misspelled in The Schmooze (p. 10).

A Werner For Warner Bros.

Robertson moves to senior-advisor post

Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution ushers in a new era for the syndication business this week when Ken Werner becomes the unit's new president.

Werner replaces 17-year veteran Dick Robertson, who last week transitioned to a senior-advisor position for the Warner Bros. Television Group. With his departure from a direct hands-on role, Robertson leaves King World Chairman Roger King as the last larger-than-life figure running a major syndication operation.

Having headed network distribution at The WB for the past nine years and secured affiliates for The CW, Werner has a 19-year record of dealing with stations, networks and corporate matters.

His selection can be seen as a statement about the new kind of top executive needed in today's complex, fast-paced digital environment. Rather than having years of hands-on syndication sales experience, Werner brings a collaborative, business and creative skill set that could prove valuable to the studio.

He had earlier served in top strategic roles at CBS, Walt Disney Television, Columbia and Viacom. He played significant roles in the groundbreaking off-network sales deals for The Cosby Show and Home Improvement.

Robertson's one-time heir apparent, Jim Paratore, the No. 2 executive in distribution and longtime president of Warner Bros.-owned Telepictures Productions, has stepped down to form an independent production company at Warner Bros., called paraMedia.

Paratore will also take an executive-producing role on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, produced by Telepictures, and will work on new digital platforms, including the growth of Mel Gibson's favorite celebrity news and gossip site,, which Telepictures owns. Hilary Estey McLoughlin, executive VP/general manager of Telepictures, is considered a strong bet to replace him.