Faster than you can apply a figure-four leg lock, Viacom chief Mel Karmazin managed to quash any good feelings that UPN had about its recent ratings turnaround. In a powwow with investors, the company topper threatened to shut down Smackdown!‘s home if the five-year-old net didn’t start turning a profit soon. (Current losses? Reportedly near $800 million.) Analysts say this isn’t the first time that Karmazin’s made such threats. ”That’s typical Mel,” says media analyst Tom Wolzien. ”It’s good business management to run a tight ship, and that’s exactly what investors want to hear.” Still, it was a buzzkill for UPN suits, who were still high from this season’s win over The WB. Says a source close to UPN: ”In the last year they really changed the perception, made gains in ratings, and had a great up-front with advertisers. [The net raked in $40 million more than last year.] Now this happens.” The news wasn’t all bad: Karmazin also said he’d take a ”million-dollar bet” that UPN would blossom under Viacom’s merger with CBS. Sounds like a great premise for a UPN game show.
After the Fall
Don’t get us wrong — we’re optimistic about the upcoming season, but it’s never too soon to take a gander at some mid-season replacements: Jenny McCarthy will play the wild half of an odd-couple friendship on Fox, and Jamie Foxx will follow up a half season of his namesake comedy with an In Living Color-style variety show for The WB. Also on deck: a live-action version of The Tick starring Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld) for Fox, an NBC sitcom about high school pals from American Pie writer Adam Herz, and UPN’s All Souls, a drama about a haunted hospital. Speaking of mid-season, writer-producer Mike Scully claims he’s happy Fox bumped his sitcom starring comedian Robert Schimmel back to early 2001. Despite speculation that the comedy was in sore need of an overhaul, Scully says the delay was made so he could wrap production on The Simpsons‘ 12th season (he’s the show runner). ”We won’t change the Schimmel pilot, though we may give him a couple of superpowers,” says Scully. We’d just settle for some super jokes.
Nielsen: Next Generation
Here’s to moving into the 21st century: Nielsen Media Research, which tracks TV viewing patterns, is testing a new device that’s designed to find boob tube fans just about anywhere. Unlike the current people meters — which catch home viewing habits only — these new beeper-size portables can monitor TV viewing in bars, hotels, even the electronics department at Kmart. While it may be years before the portables are used nationwide (Nielsen’s starting them out in Philadelphia), net heads are already giving the technology a thumbs-up. ”It will provide the most accurate reflection of what viewers like,” says Alan Wurtzel, NBC’s head of research. ”Only bad shows will get canceled, not the good ones.” We can dream, can’t we?