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In the Loop

War Lords

It's not always good to be the king. Just ask NAB President Eddie Fritts. His future triggered open warfare among board members at two glitzy NAB events In between martinis and making nice to regulators, they launched a catfight.

Fritts's hardcore supporters in the radio industry sparred with the heads of at least four TV-station groups. During NAB's opening-night Leadership Dinner, radio execs were buzzing that Citadel Communications CEO Phil Lombardo, chairman of NAB's joint TV/radio board, wanted to push Fritts from his $905,000-a-year post when his term expires next March.

Not content with back-room bravado, says an eyewitness, Lombardo confronted Fritts before members of Congress and FCC commissioners. His message: Step down—"right now!" Act two came at the BMI-sponsored black-tie dinner two days later. Lombardo tried to hold an impromptu board meeting to decide Fritts's fate.

No way, counters Lombardo, who rejects the radio execs' charges as "totally false." He and Fritts talked privately, but "never had a confrontation on any subject." Nor, he claims, has he suggested that Fritts depart.

Who is responsible for the dustup? Lombardo says radio members. He claims they're still fuming over legal bills racked up in TV affiliates' fight to cap networks' station ownership. Plus, his decision to move NAB's winter meeting from sunny climes to chilly Washington didn't win any friends, either.

Bickering over Fritts's future is likely to heat up until June, when his contract is up for renewal. The battle lines are drawn: Lombardo's allies include Post-Newsweek's Alan Frank, Cox Television's Andrew Fisher, and Hearst-Argyle's David Barrett. All want NAB to fight the networks' buying frenzy and work harder against anti-indecency regs targeting TV.

Fritts's supporters promise to challenge Lombardo's NAB future. "The issue won't be whether Eddie survives," says a Fritts stalwart, "but whether Lombardo survives." Let the games begin.

To Tell the Truth, Not

When ABC parent The Walt Disney Co. axed entertainment chief Susan Lyne last week (see page 4), The New York Times
reported that her boss, Disney President Bob Iger, had been lavish in his praise. At a Bear Sterns investor conference a month ago, he said that "our job is to support her" and that Lyne had "the goods" to turn the network around.

Clearly, Iger knew Lyne was gone when he uttered those words. Then again, that's his MO. Five years ago, he was ready to show Jamie Tarses, then ABC Entertainment president, the door. An intrepid Newsweek
reporter heard that Tarses was out and posted it on the magazine's Web site on a Monday. Iger called the report untrue. The following Wednesday, Tarses was headed for the unemployment line. Moral of story: Keep your friends close and your résumé closer.

Taking Aim

Broadcasters' joint ad campaign for the upfront marks a new low in cable-bashing. In a print effort by the Televsion Bureau of Advertising (right), the major broadcast networks OK'd work dissing cable spots for grabbing only a fraction of broadcast's audience.

We just wonder: Don't all the folks paying for the ads—CBS, ABC, The WB, etc.—own cable networks? Can't wait for USA Network's first meeting when a client whips out the ad created by the in-house promo unit of soon-to-be parent NBC.

"We like to consider this a pro-broadcast ad, not anti-cable," explains an NBC exec. The ads break this week.

Nyet in this Life

Reality TV can be rough in the U.S., but it's brutal in Russia. On the Russian version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, the audience lies to contestants about the right answers when polled.

"People over there can't stand to see anyone win," says Michael Davies, who brought Millionaire
to the U.S. from the U.K.

Not only do the audiences lie, but even the contestants' self-selected Phone-A-Friends give the wrong answers. Anything to foil their friends' and relatives' one shot at fame and fortune. And you thought Survivor's Richard Hatch had a Machiavellian streak.