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NBC: Nothing But Canines

NBC is going to the dogs—literally—on Thanksgiving Day. Look for word from the network this week that it has made a long term commitment to televise the Purina-sponsored National Dog Show in the time slot right after its coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

NBC carried the competition in a one-year deal last year and the ratings were boffo, with some 19 million viewers tuning in, more than double the time period average and by far TV's highest rated dog show competition ever.

John O'Hurley of UPN's The Mullets will host the show. TV packager Carson International put the deal together.

Still to come: When NBC gets ownership of USA Network, it will also get its paws on the Westminster Dog Show, one of cable's top specials every year.—S.M

Morbid Curiosity as a Sales Tool

Here's the regrettably indelicate question of the week: What's the impact of John Ritter's death on ABC's upfront sales packages?

For now, buyers and the network say, probably none. Sources say no buyers have asked to be let out of his show 8 Simple Rules. (Technically, once buyers commit for the fourth quarter there's no backing out, like there is for a percentage of the commitments in the previous quarters.)

ABC said last week the show will go on without him—with the three episodes of the new season he taped before his death followed by a storyline that will play out how his fictional family copes with the tragedy.

Observers expect a ratings surge: "The first three episodes will have astronomical ratings just given the sadness and curiosity factors," says one buyer. ABC sales chief Mike Shaw says simply, "Advertisers have always been supportive of 8 Simple Rules, and we fully expect they will continue to sponsor the show."—S.M.

Vegas Nitty Gritty

Program distributor CableReady is teaming with KLAS-TV chief investigative reporter George Knapp on a new series, George Knapp's Las Vegas Files, which it will pitch to cable networks. The 13 half-hour episodes, which look at the "underworld and otherworld" of the city, will include the profile of a father-and-son hit man team and a serial rapist and murderer dubbed the country's most dangerous inmate. In addition to heading up the station's I-Team since 1995, Knapp is a columnist for the Las Vegas Mercury. Shows distributed by CableReady include Court TV's Forensic Files
and Bravo's Inside the Actor's Studio.—J.E

The Flying Weathermen

By now most folks with a working television have seen the footage of wind-battered MSNBC reporter Brian Williams and Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Seidel being literally swept off their feet by Hurricane Isabel last Thursday.

"You're out of control, like a torpedo," Seidel said, reliving the scene for BROADCASTING CABLE a couple hours later from his electricity-free, leaky hotel room in Virginia Beach, Va. After tumbling several feet, "I knelt down in the road and one of the guys stopped me from flying into the hotel. I don't think I have ever been picked up by the wind before."

Both Williams and Seidel, who seemed awestruck but good-natured about the ordeal, escaped with no injuries; Williams predicted he'd find a place in history on news gag highlight reels.—P.L.A.

Forget That Big House DTV Bill

The FCC at its Oct. 16 meeting plans to approve use of the "broadcast flag" to restrict illegal transmission of TV shows over the Internet. With that task out of the way and the commission already having approved standards for cable-ready DTV sets and working fast to settle broadcasters' digital cable carriage rights, there's little pressure on House Commerce Committee leaders to revive their (formerly) much-anticipated DTV bill.

Introduction had been delayed in part because of the departure of committee chairman Billy Tauzin's top telecom aide. Now, the only major issue left to tackle is whether the 85% DTV penetration trigger for reclaiming analog spectrum should be replaced with a "hard" deadline. That controversial idea helped doom plans to launch a DTV bill last year and lawmakers still don't agree on the change.—B.M.