Tell-all tome has TV land in tizzy

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Nbc left ad buyers furious after it pushed through rate increases for its disastrous 2004-2005 slate. ABC passed on "American Idol." Sumner Redstone offered the top job at Viacom to Tom Freston, but Mr. Freston proposed sharing the job with Leslie Moonves to stop him from bolting.

Those are just some of the juicy tales told by New York Times TV reporter Bill Carter in a new book, "Desperate Networks," set for release May 2. It's sure to be a must-read in media land when it comes out, and the galleys are already whizzing around New York and Hollywood. The book's publicist fielded a request for 19 copies from NBC, which is said to be upset by its contents. NBC had no comment.


The tome relates how NBC Universal Chairman-CEO Bob Wright launched a probe to find out why NBC hadn't landed "Desperate Housewives." The network was offered Marc Cherry's show, but passed. Peter Tortorici, a program consultant for media-buying agency MindShare, had suggested financing the pilot of the show in a nontraditional way-through branded entertainment. MindShare passed.

NBC and MindShare shouldn't feel too bad about passing on a potential hit, however. Mr. Carter details how for years ABC passed on every hit around, from "Survivor" to "CSI" to "The Apprentice" and "American Idol," twice.

"The thing that really struck me is that the best-paid and the smartest people in the business generally don't know a hit when it strikes them over the head," Mr. Carter said.

Among the other revelations: that Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone wanted Co-Chief Operating Officer and Co-President Tom Freston to take over the running of Viacom, but in order to stop colleague Leslie Moonves from leaving, Mr. Freston offered to share the job. A CBS spokesman had no comment. Viacom did not respond to calls.

Then there's NBC's billion-dollar decline in ad revenue in 2005. One senior NBC ad exec told Mr. Carter that the result was two years of punishment, one for the failures of the 2004-2005 season and second for the lack of promise in the 2005-2006 season which is almost concluded.

The book characterizes NBC's ad-sales staff demand to be paid more for finishing first instead of fourth as brazen, and sums up advertisers' reaction: "When ... the NBC head of sales, went into the marketplace asking for a 2% increase for NBC's new schedule, he might as well have hung a 'Kick Me' sign around his neck."

In one chapter, "I Saw the News Today, Oh Boy," Mr. Carter chronicles how in one year, four network anchors vacated their chairs-NBC's Tom Brokaw, CBS's Dan Rather, ABC's Ted Koppel through retirement and Peter Jennings through his untimely death-and the struggle of the networks to update their newscasts, including CBS's pursuit of "The Today Show" mainstay Katie Couric.
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