Amid increasingly gloomy forecasts for ad-supported media, shares in the British ITV company Carlton Communications dropped to an eight-year low Thursday while shares in cable companies NTL and Telewest hit all-time lows. In an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper, NTL managing director Stephen Carter said that the company's revenue and customer base is virtually unchanged from last year. The only thing that has changed, he observed, is the share price. "There is excessive pessimism out there," he remarked. Meanwhile, the London Times reported that executives at Granada, another ITV company, are miffed that during the current period of retrenchment, company accountants no longer allow the free bowl of fruit that the execs once received in their offices each morning, but do permit the company to retain a corporate jet. One executive told the Times: "We can't have a free banana but we might still get free flights."
British cable company NTL has offered to buy the money-losing ITV Digital (formerly ONdigital) from Carlton and Granada, the London Sunday Telegraph reported. According to the newspaper, NTL is proposing a stock swap under which Carlton and Granada would each emerge with a 10 percent stake in the enlarged NTL. At the same time, the two commercial broadcasters would also agree to inject about $425 million into ITV Digital before it is sold to continue to fund the company's ongoing losses. However, a spokesman for Granada told Reuters late Sunday that no such negotiations with NTL were being held.
PASADENA, Calif., July 25, 2000 - Members of the Television Critics Association have now been holed up in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for two weeks eating catered food, drying hands on warm restroom towels, and never fearing to ask the tough questions. On Monday, it was The WB's turn to show off their new fall schedule additions, so the tough questions mostly dealt with the "Felicity" haircut controversy.
For the record, no one who appears on camera at the WB will ever cut his or her hair again.
The day started off fast when the entire cast of the new sketch comedy show "Hype" came out in character and ripped the place up. Cast member Frank Caliendo then returned later in the day to wake us up with what could have been 15 minutes worth of stand-up material, condensed into a blistering five-minute set. Co-producer and SNL veteran Terry Sweeny billed the show as "Laugh-in 2000." If the talent is any indication, "Hype" might just live up to its name.
"Drew Carey" producer Bruce Helford offers a welcome repackaging of Nikki Cox in "Nikki," a (somewhat) innovative comedy that features big dance numbers in each episode (it's funnier than it sounds). Helford later assured us that big song and dance routines will be back in vogue this fall.
Former "Beverly Hills 90210" producer Darren Starr is offering a clever comedy-within-a-drama in "Gross Pointe," a show about the actors of an Aaron Spelling-like night-time soap. Starr was grilled about the controversial decision to change a certain character that was similar to a certain person who may or may not have gotten a role because her father produced the show. Starr's best answer was his first, "who are you talking about?"
At the "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" Q-and-A with Melissa Joan Hart and her mother-producer Paula Hart, we learned in no uncertain terms that "Caroline Rhea (absent with a broken toe) is under contract and cannot be spared" if she were to be offered Kathie Lee Gifford's chair next to Regis in the morning. So, put that one to bed.
Of all the new WB shows, watch for "Gilmore Girls," a warm, earthy, dramatic comedy sure to win a strong following. It's interesting how the world is populated by lots of single mothers, yet they are still a rarity on TV. Gilmore Girls" might change that.
Finally, considering last year's after-party got out of hand (word was the WB's young stars got a little too rowdy), this year the network decided to rein things in and go a little classier at the Il Fornaio restaurant in Old Town Pasadena. All the stars politely mingled with the journalists (having learned these parties are just supposed to look like fun, not actually be fun) to lob out a few more crucial sound bites about Keri Russell's hair, then left early (perhaps to party somewhere else).