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Startup Channel Finds That Reality Bites

A startup cable reality-TV network is getting a different kind of reality than it bargained for: the cold, cruel variety.

Reality 24/7, once known as Reality Central, is having trouble getting off the ground. The network got slammed when mighty News Corp. decided to launch a similar channel, Fox Reality Channel. That venture came armed not just with programming off Fox Broadcasting,
like Paris Hilton's The Simple Life, but also Fox Cable's distribution clout with cable operators.

Led by cable veterans Kay Koplovitz, former CEO of USANetwork, and Larry Namer, co-founder of what is now E!Entertainment Television, Reality 24/7 was initially scheduled to launch last March. The idea was to seize on the popularity of reality TV by mixing off-network shows, foreign reality shows and news and features about current and past reality “stars.”

Today, the buzz is bad. The network has backed off plans to license some programming, and shows that the network had tied up are now coming back to the market. “I've been chasing them,” says one supplier who cut a deal with Reality 24/7 but hasn't been fully paid.

Co-founder Blake Mycoskie—a former contestant on CBS' Amazing Race—has moved out of the network's offices. “He's not officially out, but he's moved on,” says Larry Namer, the cable network vet. (Mycoskie did not return calls seeking comment.)

Namer acknowledges that the channel “didn't execute some of the options” on programs he had planned to schedule.

“We're battling,” Namer says. “Fighting the giants ain't easy. They [Fox] have a lot of leverage—we don't.” He says that Reality 24/7 hasn't lost any of its distribution deals, including mid-sized cable operators Insight Communications and Mediacom, and adds that deals with two larger operators are imminent. “We're alive,” Namer remarks. “Kay and I are pushing.”

Cox Tries a Rabbit Punch

Bunnies were popping up at Cox cable systems in Texas last week, but it wasn't some sort of celebration for the Playboy Channel. The folks dressed up in rabbit suits were part of the operator's continuing fight over carriage of Nexstar Broadcasting's TV stations.

Nexstar is demanding that Cox and fellow cable operator Cable One start paying cash for the right to carry TV stations in five small southern markets, and has yanked the stations off until they do. So cable subscribers suddenly need a piece of equipment that most gave up years ago: rabbit ears, old-fashioned TV antennas.

So for three days last week Cox invited subscribers to an event to pick up rabbit ears, a stunt Cable One's systems staged several weeks ago. But Cox introduced a new twist. Employees were costumed in cute little bunny ears and t-shirts with the logo “Got Ears?.” One employee in each system donned a full, furry bunny outfit and greeted subscribers as they arrived to pick up their antennas.

It's proving quite a boon for antenna makers. Cox's Abilene, Texas, system handed out 800 antennas, while its San Angelo, Texas, system gave away 2,800.

Cox says it has lost 1,000 subscribers since the stations—all affiliates of major networks—went dark Dec. 31 on systems serving 105,000 subscribers.

It doesn't seem the fight will be settled soon. Cox and Nexstar have had only one face-to-face meeting and it was fairly tense.

Ousted at 'Apprentice', Hired at CNN

Kwame Jackson flunked out on NBC's The Apprentice, but he's making the grade at CNN. We reported in November that Jackson—a former stockbroker, first-season runner-up on The Apprentice and decidedly not a journalist—was auditioning for a business news show on CNN.

Well, CNN liked the pilot and Jackson's actually getting the deal. CNNers characterize the show as “Inside the Actors Studio for CEOs.” It will feature Jackson interviewing business leaders and pop-culture figures about the arc of their careers. CNN is finalizing a deal and plans to air the show on weekends and has so far committed to 13 weeks. Wow. Losing on The Apprentice might mean you're not good enough for Donald Trump, but you're good enough for CNN.