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Malone on Ergen-omics

Liberty Media CEO John Malone is rather amused by EchoStar's Charlie Ergen's crumbling deal to take over DirecTV. "I think Charlie knew from the start he couldn't get it approved," says Malone, who was backing News Corp.'s rival bid for DirecTV. "While DirecTV is trying to sell, Charlie's gaining market share." Malone said. He expects Ergen to strive for a long divorce proceeding to delay any consolation deal with Rupert Murdoch.—J.M.H.

ET branches out

In addition to expanding to MTV and VH1 (see page 12), Entertainment Tonight
producers also are developing a prime time special in the vein of the Laverne & Shirley
salute that ran last spring on ABC.—P.A.

Hall of Famer Passes on Hallmark

Viacom President Mel Karmazin said last week that Viacom won't be buying The Hallmark Channel, the cable network being shopped by parent Crown Media. "I like niche networks with lots of cash flow," Karmazin told BROADCASTING & CABLE during the magazine's 2002 Hall of Fame ceremonies in New York (Karmazin is a past inductee).

Bravo was a different matter, Karmazin said, acknowledging that he had maneuvered to buy Bravo but couldn't structure an offer that matched NBC's $1.25 billion bid for parent Cablevision. The odd structure of that deal, he said, gives Cablevision tax benefits he estimates at another $400 million. "If we could have won with a $1.25 billion cash bid, we would have."

Given Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone's recent investor conference declaration that "I'm optimistic that Mel will stay. He shares my passion for Viacom," some were concluding Karmazin wants to keep his corner office a while. But, when B&C offered that Redstone's comment suggested the two had worked out their differences, Karmazin responded, "What makes you say that? Contrary to certain statements in the press, I haven't made any decision. I've committed to stay through May 2003."—J.M.H.

No HDTV for White House

The government is trying to encourage the switch to digital/HDTV, but the White House has yet to make the move itself—the Bartlet White House, that is.

The West Wing, like NBC's ER, is shot in HDTV. Unlike ER, however, its widescreen version is only for export. Why? Warner Bros. wants NBC to pay extra for the U.S. HDTV rights as part of an ongoing renegotiation for the show. So far, NBC isn't biting.—P.A.

MIT rolls in DTV dough

MIT will receive $30 million from Dolby Laboratories over the next 10 years for the school's role in the 1993 incorporation of Dolby's audio technology into the U.S. digital TV standard.

MIT developed a competing standard and agreed to share royalties with Dolby if either was selected by the Grand Alliance. Dolby later refused to pay, citing ambiguity in the contract. The university sued in 1997, and settled in April after a trial. Terms of the confidential deal were uncovered by MIT's student newspaper. MIT's agreement with Dolby, unknown to other members of the Grand Alliance until the trial, is seen by some as a conflict of interest, especially because MIT professor Jae Lim, inventor of the school's entry into the competition, cast one of four votes on the Grand Alliance selection committee. In line with school policy, Lim will receive roughly $8 million as his share.—B.M.

8 Mile: Going Too far?

Eminem is a bona fide box-office hit, but his semiautobiographical flick 8 Mile could be a tough sell on basic cable. Universal Studios is glowing over the opening, which grossed $54 million the first weekend. But, when Universal looks to sell 8 Mile to basic cable, much less broadcast, the movie's endless string of profanities and graphic sex and violence could be problematic. Not a problem on pay cable, of course. HBO does as much in its own originals.

Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer says it can be done—with some editing help. "No question, they are going to have to figure out how to make it work. But it's been done before," he said. "The language is the hardest part." Still, it takes 31 months for new releases to migrate to cable, and 8 Mile may not have enough staying power, says one cable network executive: "Actors have long life spans, music stars don't."—A.R.