Fast Track

Hill To Judge 'Next Producer' Fox Sports exec signs on with TV Guide reality show

Hill will be one of three judges on the 10-episode competition show that gives a group of aspiring TV producers the chance to compete for a first-look deal with TV Guide Network, $100,000 in cash and a Hollywood production office. The series debuts July 18 at 8 p.m.

Applications were solicited via open calls in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, an online contest through Yahoo!-owned Jumpcut, and word of mouth in Hollywood. Ten chosen contestants, all with varying levels of TV-production experience, will share living space while they compete by pitching series ideas and facing weekly filming challenges. Each episode, judges will choose which would-be producer is evicted from the competition.

Hill brings both a bombastic demeanor and an extensive television pedigree to the role. He recently returned to News Corp. as chairman/CEO of Fox Sports, the company division he launched in 1994. Previously, he headed up entertainment for DirecTV before News Corp. swapped it to John Malone's Liberty Media. Hill also ran Fox Television Network in the late 1990s.

TV Guide Network President Ryan O'Hara is excited about securing Hill, citing his commitment to the medium and his unique style.

During O'Hara's current tenure running TV Guide and in his previous job heading up the TVG horseracing network—both of which fall under the News Corp. rubric—O'Hara would bring in fellow executives to speak instructively with groups of producers. Hill was always a popular, inspired choice in the exercises.

“They always say he is the most impactful speaker,” O'Hara says. “He bleeds television.”

But with Hill as judge on this competition show, O'Hara is not demanding the Australian executive try to channel the acerbic British wit of American Idol star critic Simon Cowell.

“We will let him be himself,” O'Hara says. “We are not guiding him or directing him.”

While Hill has made his mark as a producer and an executive in the U.S., he has an on-air pedigree as well. Years ago in Australia, he was both a reporter and news anchor and even hosted a morning program called Today in the mid 1970s.

Hill's hiring is not the only case of corporate synergy for the show. Matt Roush, TV Guide's well-respected senior critic, will serve as the other regular judge. Roush has long been a regular industry analyst on both broadcast and cable television reports. In addition, America's Next Producer will bring in a different celebrity third judge each week.

The network has also signed former syndicated–talk-show host Ananda Lewis to host the new series. Lewis' other on-air work includes stints at MTV, BET and syndicated newsmagazine The Insider.

The show will be executive produced by Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, co-founders of Magical Elves, producer of the hit cable reality series Project Runway and Top Chef for Bravo. Richard Bye is an executive producer and Casey Kriley a co-executive producer.

The show is a major evolution for the TV Guide Network—which recently changed its name from TV Guide Channel—as it continues to expand its brand beyond a program-listing service.

The network recently had a major acquisition in the re-air rights to the entire Surreal TV library from Debmar/Mercury (B&C, 4/16). But O'Hara calls America's Next Producer its biggest original production to date.

With that in mind, during the show, the network will bench its program listings that usually scroll through a portion of the screen. It is the first time outside of the network's trademark award-show red-carpet coverage that a program will earn all that real estate.

Ion Goes Private

The board of Ion Media Networks agreed to become a privately held company after accepting a takeover bid from NBC Universal and Citadel Investment Group. Under terms of the deal, NBCU would transfer its stake in Ion to Citadel, which will invest $100 million in Ion. NBCU is prohibited from exercising control over Ion because of ownership regulations, but it will retain a minority interest in the broadcaster. The deal is subject to regulatory approval.

Ion, formerly Paxson, owns 60 TV stations and reaches approximately 83% of U.S. TV households via its stations and cable and satellite agreements. It broadcasts family-friendly fare, such as vintage programs like The Wonder Years. Ion unveiled its programming slate during an upfront presentation in New York late last week, including several original shows.

Citadel is a billion-dollar private-equity group headquartered in Chicago. Ken Griffin founded the firm in 1990. —Mike Malone

Comcast Apologizes For Porn Problem

Walt Disney Co. has asked for assurances that there will be no repeat of the incident in which a sex scene from an adult film inadvertently aired during Disney Channel kids show Handy Manny on a Comcast system in New Jersey May 1.

Comcast has taken responsibility for the incident. According to spokesman Fred DeAndrea, the issue was signal bleed from adult content the system operator carries. It happened about 9:30 in the morning. He would not say how many subscribers were affected or how long the adult material aired, but he did say the company apologizes to its customers.

“We have thoroughly investigated the incident, uncovered the cause [which he did not elaborate] and have already put in additional procedures to prevent such an incident from occurring again,” he said.—John Eggerton

News Corp. License Renewals Attacked

Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and the United Church of Christ (UCC) have filed petitions to deny News Corp. station-license renewals in New York. The licenses expire in June.

UCC, which has also filed petitions to deny Tribune-owned TV station license renewals over the issue of owning newspapers and TV stations in the same market, cited dual ownership and media concentration in general in filing the petitions against News Corp.

“Fox's common ownership of the New York Post, WNYW(TV) and WWOR(TV) harms me by sharply reducing the number of independent voices available to me,” wrote the Rev. Sherry M. Taylor, of UCC's Central Atlantic Conference in New Jersey, in the petition. “Unless the licenses are denied, my right to access diverse programming will continue to be harmed.”

News Corp. has a waiver of the broadcast/newspaper-crossownership rule to own both the stations and the Post. UCC and Rainbow are asking the FCC to rescind the waiver, which would make the stations in violation of the ban.

“We received a copy of the petition and are reviewing it,” said a Fox Television spokeswoman.—John Eggerton

Obama Seeks Copyright Waiver On Debates

Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama has asked Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean to make video of the Democratic presidential debates publicly available free and unrestricted, according to a copy of the letter supplied by

Obama wants the copyright holder—whether the DNC or a media outlet—to waive copyright. “There is no reason that this particular class of content needs the protection,” he says.

For its part, according to a copy of the usage rules for its May 3 Republican-debate coverage, MSNBC, which provided the video of last week's Democratic debate as well, said that it and co-sponsor were maintaining control over the footage. They are requiring on-screen credits and limiting aired or streamed excerpts to no more than a combined two minutes in the hours just after the debate and no more than 10 minutes subsequently. No excerpts are to be archived or streamed after June 2 without express permission from MSNBC.

While pointing out that the network is not waiving its rights to the footage, MSNBC VP of Communications Jeremy Gaines says it will be available throughout the election season for Web surfers to stream or link to their own sites. They are the standard rules, he says, adding that “this is our production and our footage.”

Obama joins a call by MoveOn, NOW and others to allow Republican and Democrat debate footage to be posted on Websites, including social-networking sites. —John Eggerton


ABC uses servers in a time-delay application to play back both programming and commercials for its West Coast HD feed, but its East Coast HD feed, including both long-form programming and commercials, is originated solely off tape. “CBS Builds New High-Def Hub” (4/16) incorrectly described the time-delay mechanism.

IFC Expands Originals Slate

Plans call for month of Web-only shows

IFC is expanding its original-series slate both on TV and online, developing a half-hour comedy with Chris Kattan and programming a month of Web-only shows.

The channel, one of Cablevision's Rainbow Entertainment networks, is at work on Bollywood Hero, an eight-episode comedy starring the former Saturday Night Live star as an actor who tries to make it in Indian film when he can't get gigs as a leading man in Hollywood.

IFC plans to premiere the show, from Snackaholic (Bravo's Welcome to the Parker), in the summer of 2008. It joins a previously announced slate of shows in development for next summer, including scripted dramas Pornopolis and Bad Habits and scripted comedies Z02 and Elevated, the latter from The Daily Show's Jason Reich.

The independent film channel is increasing its scripted originals after having had success with last summer's The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman and The Business. They both return in August.

Bollywood fits the network's mandate to program “independently spirited shows,” says Debbie DeMontreux, who is being promoted from VP to senior VP of original programming for IFC.

The network also prides itself on boundary-pushing fare, says General Manager Evan Shapiro: “Cable does what broadcast can't. IFC does what cable can't.”

The cable channel, which is not yet rated by Nielsen, is also beefing up its programming online. During May, it will premiere its first Web-only series, Getting Away With Murder, as part of “Dot Com Month,” a month of new Internet programming.