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MTV Networks Closing in on VH1 Top Pick

What's behind the delay in announcing the elevation of Christina Norman to head MTV and MTV2? The search for her replacement as president of VH1—a quest that may be coming to an end.

B&C reported last month Norman's impending promotion, but it won't be finalized until she hands over the reins at VH1. One prominent candidate for the job has emerged, and it's a bit of a surprise: Tom Ascheim, executive vice president and general manager, Nickelodeon Digital TV.

Ascheim won respect within Viacom for the job he did helping start Nick spinoffs Noggin and The N. But he's not an obvious choice: MTV Networks is well-known for promoting from within, but not from one silo—Nick—to the other. Ascheim is in heavy rotation, though, talking to MTVN brass about the top spot at VH1.

MTV Group President Van Toffler is on vacation, so nothing's likely to happen this week. If he doesn't wrap this up soon, it could be awkward at MTVN's giant upfront presentation to advertisers on May 3 if Norman's on stage pitching VH1 when everyone knows she's heading for MTV.

CBS Smiles On Pope Project

It looks like the production we're calling Pope John Paul II: The Miniseries will find a home on CBS. Last week, word surfaced that a consortium of high-profile European producers involved in the CBS miniseries Jesus five years ago had put out feelers to the network regarding a pope project (The Robins Report, April 18). Now we hear from inside the European camp that the project has been well-received at CBS and is a likely go. Insiders caution that nothing has been signed yet, but there's already talk about casting. For Jesus, the producers went with the non-household name Jeremy Sisto; this time they're thinking A-list actors. The European producers have already reached out to Liam Neeson and Paul Newman. But nobody has been signed yet to play the pontiff. Personally, we'd go with the guy who's already on the side of the angels with his popcorn-for-charity empire.

Indie TV Faces Union Ire

What do you do if you're a staunch supporter of social and economic justice, and you've got a big conference scheduled at a hotel involved in a labor dispute? Easy, move the event to a site where you and your progressive friends won't have to cross picket lines, right? Not so fast. The Independent Television Service (ITVS) is mired in a liberal's nightmare: The group is hosting the INPUT convention of indie TV producers from around the world in San Francisco during the first week of May at the Hilton hotel—which is one of several hotels in the city being boycotted by Local 2 in a bitter union fight. ITVS would bolt to another location, but stands to forfeit more than $600,000 it can ill afford to lose. As its Web site glumly notes of the dilemma, “Now we find ourselves in a position where we support employee health benefits; and yet, we must host this important conference.” Given that San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Sierra Club refuse to cross the picket lines and that Local 2 is livid about ITVS' plans to go ahead, it could be a lonely May Day at the Hilton as the conference gets under way. (Rory O'Connor, CEO of the indie media company Globalvision and a B&C contributor, is tracking the stand-off at and

Town Meeting At NAB: Filthy!

The National Association of Broadcasters held an industry “town meeting” at its Las Vegas convention last week in an effort to drum up voluntary measures that broadcasters could take to keep the FCC's smut-detectors at bay. The meeting itself was a demonstration of just how tricky this whole indecency business can be. Session moderator and CNN political analyst Jeff Greenfield observed that the session's title—“Come Together, Right Now!”—was just the sort of thing that invites Washington's wrath. Greenfield said, “I'm sure the people at NAB who named the session were young and had no idea this also is a Beatles song about simultaneous orgasm.” Memo to the NAB, re: next year's convention: If you're trying to come up with a title for a conference about improving traffic reporting, please, in the name of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, don't call it “Why Don't We Do It in the Road?”