Bankrupt Adelphia Communications announced today (Thursday) that it had reached a definitive agreement with Time Warner and Comcast to acquire Adelphia's cable systems, serving 5.2 million subscribers, for $12.7 billion in cash and a 16-percent stake in Time Warner Cable. The announcement was made following an approval of the deal by a federal bankruptcy judge Wednesday night. Upon completion of the merger, Comcast will remain the country's leading cable provider with 23.3 million subscribers. Time Warner will be No. 2 with 14 million.
IDOL STILL CAN'T HELP STICK
Fox's American Idol once again remained the Wednesday-night ratings champ, but its coattails proved slippery for Life on a Stick, the sitcom that follows it. After Idol's 13.4 rating and 21 share, Stick splintered to a 5.1/8. Meanwhile, NBC's Revelations, which posted strong numbers against Idol last week, dipped to a 7.6/12, which nevertheless remained good enough for second place. Earlier in the evening, a repeat of ABC's Lost won the 8:00 p.m. hour with a 6.6/11, while at 10:00 p.m., an episode of NBC's Law & Order, featuring the debut of Michael Imperioli of The Sopranos, scored a 10.1/17. NBC won the night in overall numbers, while Fox took the title for adults 18-49.
BROADCASTERS MAY CHALLENGE INDECENCY LAWS IN COURT
Outgoing NAB President Eddie Fritts said Wednesday that if Congress passes tougher indecency legislation, it will immediately be challenged in the courts. Meeting with reporters at the NAB convention in Las Vegas, Fritts said that he "would not be surprised" if the FCC's current rules on broadcast indecency are also tested in court. "There's a whole rash of rules that broadcasters live with every day that haven't been challenged, and the question is whether broadcasters feel more comfortable living with those rules or with challenging them in the courts," he said. On Tuesday, the NAB said that it planned to adopt a voluntary code to ward off indecency complaints.
FOX TO TEST MULTI-PURPOSE COMMERCIALS
The Fox TV network is planning to use digital technology developed by New York-based Visible World Inc. to alter commercials so that they may contain elements targeted at different demographic groups, the Wall Street Journal reported today (Thursday), citing no sources. The spots could also contain timely elements. For example, the Journal indicated, a beer commercial could refer to the teams playing during a specific sports telecast.
NBC NEWS EXECS LOOKING FOR "THE NEXT BREAKTHROUGH" IN MORNING TV
NBC News President Neal Shapiro indicated on Wednesday that he decided to fire Tom Touchet, the executive producer of Today, because Touchet had shown an inclination to rest on the show's laurels. While expressing respect for Touchet's hard work, Shapiro told the Los Angeles Times, "At the end of the day, the show should be stronger and better. ... It needed to innovate more; it needed to be more dynamic." He said that he and NBC Universal TV Group President Jeff Zucker asked, "Where's the next breakthrough?" Shapiro told the newspaper that he expected to see significant alterations to Today's look and content under former NBC Sports producer Jim Bell, who was named to succeed Touchet. Bell told the Times: ""My assessment now is that the Today show remains, as ever, the best show on morning TV. ... I know how important it is to keep the tradition of it, but also to be the trend setter, the one that comes up with new ideas. That's the mission."
60 MINUTES CREATOR HEWITT MAY HEAD FOR PBS
Don Hewitt, the creator of CBS's 60 Minutes, may produce a similar magazine show for PBS, the New York Observer reported Wednesday. In an interview with the weekly, Hewitt said, "With general reality being shoved aside by NBC, ABC and CBS for contrived reality TV, public television is in a position to bring back CBS-style news. ... In that regard, I think an hour of television a week, devoted to two, three or four well-crafted, judiciously edited documentaries on a variety of subjects would be a winner." Hewitt remains under contract to CBS until June. He told the Observer that under the terms of his contract, he was obligated to give network execs the first crack at his project and showed them a pilot. They passed, he said.
EISNER AND IGER TO TOUR ASIA TOGETHER
Outgoing Disney CEO Michael Eisner and incoming Disney CEO Robert Iger will be traveling to Asia together in an effort to expand cable and satellite carriage of the company's kids channels, Toon Disney and Disney Channel. Published reports in New Delhi said that the two would meet with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and information and broadcasting minister Jaipal Reddy next week. Their visit comes only weeks after a similar one by News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch, who is also seeking to expand his cable operations in Asia.
IRAN SHUTS DOWN AL-JAZEERA
Al-Jazeera has appealed to authorities in Iran to reconsider the shutdown of the Arab news network's studios in Tehran. The Iranian government had complained that al Jazeera's reports concerning a crackdown on ethnic unrest in Khuzestan, near the Iraq border, had inflamed passions in the area. Appearing on state television, Iranian official Mohammad Hossein Khoshvaght seemed to hold out little hope that the restrictions on al-Jazeera would be lifted. "We expect the network to respect Iran's national integrity and security," he said. "If it is proved that Al-Jazeera committed a crime, it will be prosecuted."
VIACOM SPLIT MAY COME NEXT MONTH
Viacom is expected to split into two companies, one including its movie and cable units, the other, its CBS and UPN TV networks and Infinity radio networks, by next month, Reuters reported Wednesday. Viacom Co-CEO Tom Freston told the wire service, "At the May 3 board meeting we will present the case [for a split] very thoroughly. ... There is a very good probability that the board will approve it in May, either at that board meeting or at another scheduled for later in the month." Currently Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone controls 71 percent of Viacom's shares. Presumably the board will be informed at the May 3 meeting how those shares will be treated.
HYBRID HIGH-DEFINITION DVD SYSTEM IN WORKS
After spending three years trying to gain support from the major studios for their rival high-definition DVD systems, Sony and Toshiba are close to agreeing on a universal standard, published reports said today (Thursday). Sony has developed the so-called Blu-ray system; Toshiba, the HD DVD system. The Japanese business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun and the Kyodo News Service reported that the two rivals are expected to announce as early next week that the incompatibility of their two systems would pose a problem for the industry and that they therefore have decided to jointly develop a hybrid next-generation DVD system. Analysts had seen the possibility of rival high-definition DVD systems hitting the market as a reprise of the Beta vs. VHS rivalry that vexed consumers in the early days of videocassette recorders.
MICHAEL MOORE FUNDS "FREE SPEECH" SCHOLARSHIPS
Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael Moore, who was prevented from speaking on the campus of California State University San Marcos last year by the university's administration, announced Wednesday that he had created a freedom of speech scholarship for students who stand up for their rights. "I hope this scholarship will encourage students to show courage and stand up for what they believe in," Moore said in a statement. "The university should not be a place for fear, but a place for bravery, free thought, and a little bit of rebellion." Last October the university barred a speech by Moore on the grounds that it could not arrange a speaker representing a counterpoint opinion. Students thereupon staged an off-campus rally for Moore that attracted a crowd of 10,000.
FILMMAKERS LUCAS AND SPIELBERG TO BE SUBJECT OF TV DRAMA
The A&E Channel is expected to announce today (Thursday) that it will produce a two-hour drama about the relationship between filmmakers George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. According to Daily Variety, the biopic, tentatively titled Celluloid Titans, is being exec produced by Granada America's Jody Brockway (Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story). A&E programming chief Bob DeBitetto compared the project with TNT's Pirates of Silicon Valley, which portrayed the rivalry between Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates. "In this case, these two really did have a friendship. They compared notes. When Spielberg was having travails about Jaws, Lucas was talking about Star Wars," he said. The two also collaborated on the Indiana Jones movies.
BREAKFAST NOT READY TO BE SERVED AT CANNES, SAY REPORTS
Neil Jordan's Breakfast at Pluto, starring Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy and Stephen Rea, which had been expected to be a top contender at Cannes this year, did not make the final cut because it could not be completed in time, according to published reports. Jordan, whose 1992 film The Crying Game was nominated for six Academy Awards and became one of the most talked-about films of the decade, has reportedly mounted an equally controversial film in Pluto. British and Irish films were conspicuously absent from the list of 20 films that will be competing for this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes. The British film The Constant Gardener from Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles and starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, had also been expected to make the Cannes competition but was also reportedly not completed in time.