July 24, 2001
FAMILY' CHANNEL WILL RECYCLE NETWORK FARE
The promise of a 500-channel television universe sounded like couch-potato heaven. But now it looks like that vast menu may include a lot of leftovers.
That was confirmed by Walt Disney Co.'s announcement Monday that it has agreed to acquire children's programmer Fox Family Worldwide Inc. from its co-owners, News Corp. and Saban Entertainment Inc., for $3 billion, plus the assumption of $2.3 billion in debt. Disney plans to transform the company's flagship Fox Family Channel in the U.S. into "ABC Family," a place where Disney will mix original programming with reruns of recent shows that originated on its ABC Network or were first shown by other Disney properties.
For example, an ABC program like the Damon Wayans sitcom "My Wife and Kids," which airs on Wednesday nights on ABC, might in addition quickly move to an 8 p.m. Friday time slot on the new ABC Family cable network. "Nightline," "Good Morning America" and "ABC World News Tonight" might all find a home away from home on ABC Family as well, and within hours of their original network airings. Disney has already been using the concept, by repeating its daytime soap operas on its SoapNet cable network, and by rerunning the drama "Once and Again" on Lifetime, jointly owned by Disney and Hearst Corp., a few days after it airs on ABC.
"This deal is going to transform the way people think about cable and broadcasting," says Disney's chairman and chief executive, Michael Eisner. In addition to the U.S. Fox Family Channel, Disney gets Fox's children's channels in 73 countries and a 6,500-episode library.
The buzzword for all this is "repurposing," although some say a more accurate word is recycling or regurgitating. Faced with ever-rising programming costs, and lower ratings than network shows enjoyed a decade or two ago, the networks are aggressively looking to spread those costs out through several outlets in an effort to generate additional revenue streams.
Mr. Eisner says that, under present circumstances, the ability of entertainment companies to continue creating network quality programming is "in jeopardy." Disney's plan to squeeze more of its entertainment creations by quickly recycling network shows on cable, he adds, is an "insurance policy for the consumer" that companies like Disney can continue to produce such programming.
Blame cable. With its dual revenue stream of advertising and subscriber fees, cable networks can prosper on tiny ratings. And premium cable channels that don't have commercials -- AOL Time Warner Inc.'s HBO, for one -- command such high subscriber fees that they, too, have an advantage.
The networks, meanwhile, have watched their audiences shrink, in large part because of competition from cable. "Everyone has always complained about how expensive programming is," Mr. Eisner adds. But in the 1970s and 1980s, the vast distribution reach of network television ensured that hit programs would more than pay for themselves.
That's different today, with dozens of cable channels competing for viewers' attention. Disney President Robert Iger says today's network viewers on average see only seven episodes per year of programs they like. "People just don't get a chance to watch that many shows," Mr. Iger says.
As such, Disney is promoting its efforts as a boon for consumer choice that gives viewers another way to find their favorites. It also gives ABC another opportunity to get TV watchers to sample their new shows, something that has become very difficult with the proliferation of cable channels.
Disney's ABC isn't the only one making big bets on recycling to help defray rising programming costs. This fall, the Fox network plans to repeat episodes of its new CIA drama "24" on its sister cable channel FX.
Even news programming is finding a second life. General Electric Co.'s NBC often uses celebrity interviews from its "Today" show as a source for lighter fare on its MSNBC news channel. Mr. Eisner says he is reaching out to ABC News talent like Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer because he thinks their past interviews with luminaries can find new uses on ABC Family.
It isn't just the broadcast networks that are interested in repurposing. As part of its deal to produce the series "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Barry Diller's Studios USA Inc. got NBC to agree that the studio could rerun the show on its own cable network USA. And within the cable universe, HBO repeats big hits like "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos" just days after their Sunday-night debuts.
The repeats of network shows on cable seem to boost the latter without hurting the former. For example, USA's second run of "Special Victims Unit," which airs on Sundays at 11 p.m., has been performing better than the cable network's average in that time slot during the rest of the week. On top of that, NBC's ratings for the show also improved last season. "It has been a positive for us and it hasn't been hurting NBC," says Ray Giacopelli, senior vice president of research at USA Cable.
Not everyone in the industry is thrilled, however. The affiliates of the big networks fear that giving shows a second run on cable will only serve to drive viewers away from their stations. "In a perfect ideal world everything would be played once," says Alan Bell, president of Freedom Communications Inc.'s broadcasting unit, which owns several ABC affiliates. Mr. Bell says that in battle rising entertainment costs, the industry must make sure "we don't injure the main medium."
Some studios are wary of the networks' desire to run shows across several platforms, especially if such heavy exposure could ultimately hurt the long-term value of the content. Already, there is thought that if the networks want to run shows on numerous channels than they should be willing to pay for the privilege.
"Are you going to pay me for the additional opportunity to repurpose?" asks Len Grossi, president of Sony Corp.'s Columbia TriStar Television. While networks such as ABC, Fox and CBS will have little problem securing extra runs from their own vast production entities, cutting deals with outside suppliers such as Columbia could prove costly. Mr. Grossi says it is too soon to tell if multiple runs of shows across several channels will hurt the library value, but he is concerned and wants to control the number of additional telecasts.
Disney's agreement to acquire Fox Family Worldwide was hatched at the recent media conference hosted by investment banker Herbert Allen in Sun Valley, Idaho, where Mr. Eisner and his Disney team met with News Corp.'s Rupert Murdoch and Haim Saban, who controls Saban Entertainment. The deal won praise on Wall Street for its strategic fit with Disney's fleet of other top cable networks. But there was some grousing from analysts about the purchase price, which represents about 35 times last year's $150 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and ammortization at Fox Family.
But Disney Chief Financial Officer Thomas O. Staggs thinks the company can double cash flow to $300 million by 2003. Disney also projects at least $50 million in annual cost savings as it combines Fox Family's business units with its own.
July 24, 2001
BUYS FOX FAMILY FOR $3B
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Despite a $5.3 billion deal that adds new cable channels and more than 100 million new viewers to the Disney empire, chief executive Michael Eisner says his company's focus remains on content, not distribution.
"Although our strategy has some similarity to some of our competitors, we are content obsessive,'' Eisner said Monday at a press conference announcing that The Walt Disney Co. would acquire Fox Family Worldwide Inc. for $3 billion in cash and the assumption of $2.3 billion in debt.
The deal adds the Fox Family Channel cable network to Disney's portfolio, which already includes ESPN, the Disney Channel and stakes in A&E and Lifetime. Fox Family, which Disney plans to rename ABC Family, reaches about 81 million cable subscribers in the United States.
The deal expands Disney's programming reach worldwide with a 76 percent ownership in Fox Kids Europe, a children's programming channel that reaches 24 million homes, and a 10-million subscriber channel in Latin America called Fox Kids.
Disney said it will use ABC Family to rebroadcast programs first aired on its ABC Television Network. For instance, ABC's ``World News Tonight'' and the late-night program ``Nightline'' may have a second airing the same day on ABC Family.
A group of sitcoms that formed a Friday night block called ``TGIF'' will also likely find a new home on ABC Family, officials said. The channel will also air sports programs from ESPN and original shows.
So while the deal looks like it's about giving Disney more distribution channels, it's really about making it economically feasible to continue producing content.
"This acquisition, giving us several venues to distribute that content, means we can still make expensive Hollywood filmed entertainment, which is getting more and more difficult to make economically when you only have one source of distribution,'' Eisner said. "So this is kind of a safety net. All the other reasons are strategic, all the other reasons are real. But if you believe in content, as we do, this is a solidifying moment for us.''
A twist in the deal is that ABC Family will continue to show the 700 Club and other shows made by Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, which originally started the channel. "The obligation that was made to Pat Robertson and his organization passes on to us as the new owners of the service,'' Iger said Monday. <snip>
July 21, 2001
SEEN BUYING FOX FAMILY WORLDWIDE
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Walt Disney Co. is close to a deal to buy Fox Family Worldwide Inc., a set of children's cable channels, for $3.3 billion from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. Ltd. and Saban Entertainment, sources familiar with the matter said on Saturday.
The deal, in which Disney will also assume $2 billion in debt, would generate much-needed cash for Murdoch as he pursues talks to buy General Motors Corp.'s DirecTV satellite television service. It would also dispose of an asset whose low ratings and poor financial performance has caused a headache for News Corp.
"Disney is expected to make an announcement early next week,'' one source told Reuters.
News Corp. and Saban, which each own 49.5 percent of Fox Family Worldwide Inc., were originally believed to be asking as much as $6 billion for the unit, although many observers believed that price was too high.
In addition to the Fox Family channel, which has 81 million subscribers, the unit also includes a library of assets such as ''The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers.''
In December, Haim Saban, chairman and chief executive of Fox Family, exercised an option to sell his stake to News Corp. Under the agreement, News Corp. had three choices: to buy Saban's stake in cash; bring in a partner to buy Saban's stake; or sell the entire operation.
Buying the stake outright was News Corp.'s least desirable option because it risked jeopardizing the company's credit rating, which is currently the lowest investment grade without crossing into junk-bond status.
Murdoch, for his part, made no secret about his disappointment with the unit's performance. He had said in November it expected profits to be higher for a stable of assets that included a fully distributed cable network.
April 3, 2001
FINDS CHICAGO IS HIS KIND OF TOWN FOR ROLES
It looks as if nothing has changed for Kyle Chandler, formerly of CBS' "Early Edition"-- except so much has.
He's sitting on a couch on a soundstage at Chicago Studio City on the city's West Side, his home away from home for more than five years. He's waiting between scenes looking very much in character as "Early" hero Gary Hobson: a turtleneck and jeans, with a few days' worth of stubble on his face.
He's even reading a certain tabloid Chicago newspaper.
The thing is, Chandler isn't waiting to film a scene of his series about Hobson, a man who gets the next day's issue of that same tabloid a day in advance, allowing him to alter the future. He's waiting to tape a scene for the new ABC situation comedy "What About Joan," starring Chicago's Joan Cusack.
In fact, the series is shot one soundstage away from where Chandler made "Edition." Many who worked on his show are performing the same tasks on Cusack's series, too.
Chandler has, in effect, become a working actor in Chicago, but one with the good fortune of going from one network series to another while barely missing a beat.
"It's very much like I had a hiatus and that was it," Chandler says. "Except that this is a completely different format."
Chandler was born in Buffalo, but grew up in north suburban Lake Forest, moving with his family to Georgia when he was 11 years old.
"The longer I'm in Chicago, the longer I have a job," says Chandler, who lives on Chicago's North Side with his wife and daughter.
It looks as if Chandler may have a job here for a little while longer.
"What About Joan" (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m., WLS-Ch. 7) had a promising debut last week, averaging almost 15 million viewers and beating NBC's "Three Sisters."
In addition to being ABC's most-watched mid-season premiere in three years, the comedy had more people tuning in than its lead-in, "Dharma & Greg."
Chandler, 35, is no doubt enjoying the initial success of the romantic comedy, where he plays the banker boyfriend of Cusack's high school teacher.
"You've got [executive producer] Jim Brooks and everyone he surrounds himself with," Chandler notes, "and you're working with Joan as well. She's one of the greats, as far as I'm concerned."
"Early Edition" completed its fourth season on CBS last year, and Chandler was only off for a few months before he got the call for "Joan." As far as he is concerned, working on "Early Edition" was a good learning experience, but it was enough.
"Now that it's done, it was a lot of work, it was a lot of work," says Chandler, who spent the last season as a producer and also directed an episode.
"Four years is a long time doing that," he explains. "A regular day, you can get up at 6 [a.m.] to be at work around 8 [a.m.] and you start working. You wouldn't go home until dark. And then Friday nights, you shoot, so you got a day and a half on weekends. It was really hard work. It was also a lot of fun. It was great training."
Chandler is now getting some new training on "Joan," his first sitcom after years of movies such as "Homecoming" and "Tour of Duty" and TV movies including "Home Fires Burning" and "Unconquered."
"This is a completely different monster. It's fun, though. I've liked every process and everything I've done in this industry so far, and this is no difference.
"When you're doing the drama, you work on the material and everything, and you get out there and you do it, and you do it over and over and over, on film. Here, everything's very fast. It's like `Flight of the Bumblebee's' always playing in your head."
Chandler feels as though he's in the theater because of the live studio audience, which he calls "the calvary" because they serve as the barometer for what jokes work.
But Chandler admits he has a lot to learn:
"The first day we were shooting, I have a scene where I was standing offstage before I walked onto the set," he says. "And I said to the director, `Where do I stand, the audience is going to see me here?' And he's like, `What?' I was almost talking to him like he was an idiot. . . .
"He's like, `Kyle, it's a TV show, we're shooting it.' I'm like, oh, yeah!'"
Good show: In all, it has been a decent mid-season for ABC. In addition to the performance of "What About Joan," the new Damon Wayans comedy "My Wife and Kids" premiered as the No. 1 show in its Wednesday 7 p.m. time slot last week, with an average of 13.7 million viewers.
As a result, the network, as it did last week, is showing two episodes back-to-back Wednesday, starting at 7 p.m. on Ch. 7.
Meanwhile, the third new ABC comedy, "The Job" starring Denis Leary, lost only 1 percent of its audience from the week before last Wednesday, attracting 9.7 million viewers. However, it's going to have to do as least as good as "Joan" and "Kids" if it expects to have a chance of returning next season on comedy-starved ABC.
March 18, 2001
Edition's" handsome hero Kyle Chandler found another
series or movie? I was sorry to see that CBS series
A heartthrob on that drama and one before, "Homefront", Chandler has discovered he's funny. He now has a regular role as Joan Cusack's boyfriend in her new ABC sitcom, "What About Joan", premiering March 27. Chandler, 35, married and the father of one girl, won't be watching the show -- which, like "Early Edition", is made in Chicago, Cusack's home. He impulsively threw away his TV and now reads papers and "more books than I ever thought I'd read." He goes to movies, too, and tells us he loves seedy characters, like those in the "great little puzzles" made by Madonna's husband, Guy Ritchie.
March 18, 2001
Birth date: Sept. 17, 1965.
Current home: I'm going between places.
Marital status: Married for six years to Kathryn Chandler.
Car: A 1975 bronze Buick Centurion convertible.
Working on: I play Jake, Joan Cusack's boyfriend, on her new show starting March 27 on ABC-TV.
Chicago connection: The show is being filmed in Chicago and my previous TV show, "Early Edition," which was on for four years, was also filmed here. I like Chicago because there's always someplace to explore and new things to find.
The books I've been reading: "Gates of Eden" by Ethan Coen and "Communion" by Whitley Streiber.
The last good movie I saw: "Ivan the Terrible: Part I." It's a Russian movie from the '40s.
Favorite meal: A couple of bottles of a heavy cabernet sauvignon, sticky cheese and apples.
Favorite performers: Evangelists and politicians.
Personal heroes: The people I hear about on the news who risk their lives for others or donate their time or money. There's a hero in everybody.
I'd give anything to meet: God Almighty. I'd like to share my favorite meal with him, and I'd let him do all the talking.
I'm better than anyone else when it comes to: Screwing up.
The one thing I can't stand: Intolerance.
If I could change one thing about myself: I'd have new body parts every 10 years.
My fantasy is: I get to do over all the things in my life that I regret.
My most humbling experience: My father's death.
The three words that best describe me: I asked my wife to help me with this, and she said she can't come up with anything you can print.
February 11, 2001
MOVING LOOK AT RACE, HISTORY AND ART:
Thomas Gibbons' "bee-luther-hatchee" weaves its spell slowly, although it is obvious from the play's evocative first line that a fine, thoughtful writer is at work.
That line is the refrain of a black woman who we will come to know as Libby Price.
"I have been a drifter all my life," she tells us.
Just who this woman is, how her life has been recorded, who has captured it on paper, and who has the "right" to evoke it, is at the heart of Gibbons' bristlingly intelligent and very moving play, now in an expertly cast and acted production at Northlight Theatre.
The play is not without flaws. Its first act is essentially an extended setup piece, but the second act more than justifies the groundwork. And you leave the theater feeling that you have gotten to know some complex characters, and that you have become part of a passionate, uncensored debate about racism, history and the nature of art.
At the center of the play is Shelita Burns (Shane Williams), a young African-American editor whochampions previously unheard African-American voices. A memoir she published, by Libby Price, has become a best seller. After the book receives an award, Libby's anonymity--a condition of publication--is threatened.
If you respect plot secrets, you may want to stop reading. But the revelation of the authorship of Libby's memoir is only the play's starting point.
There was a Libby (played by Penelope Walker), but the author of her purported memoir is Sean Leonard (Lawrence MacGowan), a white man and a Southerner. This revelation provides the springboard for a fiercely argued examination that neatly eschews political correctness as it asks whether the writing of history should be limited by race, whether there is such a thing as the "colonizing" of memory, and whether the sole responsibility of a writer is to be true to his or her vision.
Like "Hambone" (now at Victory Gardens Theatre), "bee-luther-hatchee" deals with hidden aspects of ancestry, recalling that the prohibition of union between blacks and whites did not preclude its existence.
Gibbons, who is white, sees to it that neither of the principal characters has a monopoly on purity. They are human, vulnerable.
Director Debra Wicks has elicited excellent performances, and her work is complemented by Richard & Jacqueline Penrod's set of script-covered plexiglass panels that are beautifully lit by Joel Moritz, Judith Lundberg's character-defining costumes and Lindsay Jones' music and sound.
Williams, sleekly attractive and tightly wired, taps into Shelita's defensiveness and outrage. MacGowan compellingly suggests the contradictions that make for great art. Williams quite miraculously suggests a ghostly, elusive presence that is palpably real. And there is vivid work by James Leaming (as Leonard's father), and Karin Anglin (as Shelita's ambitious, Gen-X friend).
You can feel the fire here; and there is some beautiful smoke, too.
February 7, 2001
THE NAME GAME
"I just got tired of people saying 'Sha-neeshia,' 'Shauna-seea,' 'Shane-za' ...it's a soft sneeze: Shanesia,"' says Shane Williams, formerly of CBS' Chicago-based drama "Early Edition."
"And it sounds so beautiful when it's pronounced correctly, but I just got so frustrated. So, Shane [pronounced Sha-nay] was what I was called when I was growing up. It's shorter, so now people will just call me 'Shane.'"
Williams currently is starring in "Bee-luther-hatchee" at Northlight Theatre in Skokie. Williams likes her character, Princeton grad and editor Shelita Burns, because, "She does make sacrifices along the way, as a young Black woman. She makes a decision at a very young age that she will turn off her emotions to plunge forward in a professional life that will surpass the life she had when she was a child..."
"When ["Early Edition"] ended, I wanted to do more theater, to get back on the stage to see if I still had it. Having honed my craft in the theater, it's my first love...so you always go back to that."
February 2, 2001
FACT OR FICTION: Thomas Gibbons' curiously titled play bee-luther-hatchee is the next work to be staged at Northlight Theatre. Shane Williams, who co-starred on the CBS drama "Early Edition," stars as Shelita Burns, an editor compiling a series of works by neglected African-American authors. While editing her first nonfiction work, she forges a bond with its author, the deaf, 72-year-old Libby Pierce, whom she has neither met nor spoken to. But when the book wins an award, questions of fact, fiction and artistic license are raised. Also starring Karin Anglin, James Leaming, Lawrence McGowan and Penelope Walker. Debra Wicks directs. Opens Wednesday and continues through March 11 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. Tickets: (847) 673-6300 or (312) 902-1500.
January 6, 2001
NOTE FROM SUGAR MOON RE: PRODUCTION ON 'SHADE OF GRAY'
For those who are not new to our site, you know how long we have been at this...
It has been more than three years (or is it now four!) that Sugar Moon Productions has been developing the project "A Shade of Gray." It is still a difficult and frustrating task. However, with the new year and the "real" new millennium, we are taking a different tact toward securing production funds. Sometime in early spring, 2001, we will begin production of a 30 minute trailer to be used to solicit finishing funds for the project. There are those who say this is not the best way to secure funding/ distribution, but we believe that by showing first hand the remarkable level of performance promised by our cast and by demonstrating the exquisite production value we can create within our budget, then securing production funds and distribution will become a reality.
We receive email almost every day from the world wide base of Kyle Chandler fans and from folks who know Hayley from her many film and TV appearances. Every email expresses excitement and enthusiasm for the project, but each ends with the same nagging question... "When will we see the film?" We can only say that our efforts have not diminished and that within the next year we hope to have the film in the can and going to distribution.
Thanks to all for your show of support for this worthwhile project. We promise not to disappoint you.
[earlydues note: Chandler had been noted as playing supporting character Penn Stewart but has since been moved to the lead position with the character of Johnny Armstrong. As of February 2002, Chandler no longer appears to be on the cast list for this production.]
January 5, 2001
PLAY'S THE THING
One thing is certain in Chicago theater: No one thinks small. Whether it's the Goodman or Steppenwolf theaters or the many storefront establishments, each continues to offer myriad ambitious projects. And this year, things will continue to get even better.
With the Cadillac Palace and Oriental theaters dark for a good part of 2000, the "Broadway in Chicago" series, a partnership between the two venues and the Shubert Theatre, is a welcome addition to Chicago's developing North Loop theater district.
And the growing theater district will soon add another member. The Noble Fool Theater will bring cutting-edge comedy to its new theater complex... Here's a road map of what to expect in the coming months. <snip non-related theatre info>
NORTHLIGHT THEATRE. Actress Shane Williams (formerly Shanesia Davis), who co-starred in the CBS series "Early Edition," will star in Thomas Gibbons' contemporary drama 'bee-luther-hatchee' (Jan. 31-March 11). Michael Halberstam directs a French period comedy about love and gambling, 'The Gamester' (March 21-April 29), and the season ends with the world premiere of Jason Robert Brown's new musical 'The Last Five Years' (May 16-June 24). Tickets: (847) 673-6300.
To browse the news from 2000, click here.
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Last updated: February 25, 2002
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