NBC KICKS OFF UPFRONT PERIOD

The television networks begin their upfront presentation of next-season lineups in New York today (Monday), with NBC going first, more than two weeks ahead of its rivals. The network is calling its fall unveiling the "in-fronts," but it reportedly only plans to announce its pickups and a handful of new shows (including medical dramas Trauma and Mercy and family comedy Parenthood, based on the Ron Howard movie) today, saving the announcement for most of its new shows for later in the month. In an interview with Advertising Age, NBC Co-Chairman Ben Silverman said that the network plans to focus on scripted programs next season, airing them even on Friday nights, which it currently devotes primarily to its Dateline news magazine and reality shows. Given current economic conditions networks, including NBC, are unlikely to raise rates and will undoubtedly be happy just to hold on to the advertisers they signed up a year ago, trade reports observed. NBC sales chief Mike Pilot told Broadcasting & Cable magazine: "There's been real pressure on pricing. I think if you are a buyer in these kinds of market conditions, in any industry, you're not feeling great about paying increases right now and we're not immune to that." Analysts are predicting that the network's upfront sales will be down 3-5 percent, while the four major broadcast networks will average downturns of 10-15 percent. In the face of declining revenues, NBC Co-Chairman Marc Graboff told Daily Variety that the network has asked all producers to "deliver a show that's either flat budget-wise, or in some cases we're saying, we need you to find X dollars, X percent of your budget. And however you do it is up to you, whether that's asking your cast members not to take an increase or to have less cast members come back, or have a smaller writing staff or less outside [location shooting] days."

OBAMA BLACKBALLED ME, SAYS FOX REPORTER

Fox News White House correspondent Major Garrett has accused the White House of blackballing him during President Obama's press conference last week by not allowing him to pose a question. "That was retribution for the Fox network, broadcast network, running with its regularly scheduled programming instead of taking the White House press conference," he told the TVNewser website. (The Fox News cable network did carry it uninterrupted.) "I was warned that [the broadcast network's decision] might be considered as part of the overall consideration as to whether or not I'd be called on," Garrett added. He predicted that the other broadcast networks will eventually follow Fox's lead and stop interrupting their primetime programming once a month to televise presidential news conferences and ask themselves, "'Are we becoming a news organization or are we just becoming a megaphone for the White House?' ... I wouldn't be surprised if some of the other networks peel off following Fox's lead."

FREELANCE JOKE WRITERS RILE WGA

Although the practice apparently violates their contracts with the Writers Guild of America, producers of many late-night comedy shows frequently buy jokes that are submitted to them by email from an "underground network" of freelancers -- paying them only $50-100 per joke, the Los Angeles Times disclosed today (Monday). While the freelancers seldom if ever complain about the low pay, union leaders, who have reportedly looked the other way at the practice until now, are beginning to insist that it be ended. Informed by the Times that David Letterman's Late Show and Saturday Night Live buy hundreds of jokes from freelancers every season, Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGA, East, told the Times, "Wow, that's disturbing," and vowed to "follow up on the matter." Patric Verrone, president of the WGA, West, maintained that the union has tried to investigate the matter in the past. "The problem we run up against is that the show denies it happens, and the writer who did it won't come forward to provide us with concrete evidence."

COWBOYS ORDER MEDIA BLACKOUT OF ACCIDENT

In the wake of the collapse of a portion of the Dallas Cowboys' indoor practice facility in Irving, TX Sunday, the team has restricted access to Cowboys headquarters, and players were instructed not to discuss the weather-caused accident with members of the news media, the Associated Press reported today (Monday). The wire service said that it was told that the ban would continue at least to the end of the week. Among those seriously injured was Todd Archer of the Dallas Morning News. Eleven others were injured seriously enough to require hospitalization, including special teams coach Joe DeCamillis, who reportedly suffered a broken back, and Cowboys scouting assistant Rich Behm, who was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of his back injury.

Cinemark Movie Club