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Through the Wire

2/10/2006 7:00 PM Eastern

Contributors: Mike Reynolds, Matt Stump, Ted Hearn.

Note to Johnny: Billy Ray’s a Fan

Country singer and actor Billy Ray Cyrus wants to meet an unusual inspiration: New York Yankees center fielder Johnny Damon.

In New York last week to help pitch upcoming Disney Channel series Hannah Montana, in which he co-stars with his daughter Miley, the Achy Breaky Heart crooner declared: “I always wanted to be Johnny Damon.” That drew laughs from those assembled at a Disney upfront presentation.

After all, the two do look a bit alike.

They also share a coiffed connection of sorts. Cyrus said that while filming the fourth season of Doc, the series on i: Independent Television (formerly Pax TV), in October 2004, the producers asked him to get a trim. Cyrus said he flipped on the American League Championship Series in which then long-haired Damon helped the BoSox overcome their nemesis, the Yankees, en route to ending an 86-year title drought.

“They wanted me to get a cut and then I saw Damon playing. He inspired me to write I Want My Mullet Back,” said Cyrus, a college catcher, of a tune that will appear on his new album “Lefthander,” coming out this summer.

“The Yankees got themselves a good one,” Cyrus said. “Damon plays the game hard, like Pete Rose.”

And because Damon will play mullet-free this year, with his straightlaced new team, he might be humming the same tune.

Seeing Movies Clearly Now Via Cable Center HD Gift

Cable’s showcase building might now showcase one of the industry’s most promotable products.

ESPN has donated a high-definition projection television screen to The Cable Center in Denver, where it will host a special Feb. 21 preview screening of original movie Through the Fire. The flick premieres on ESPN March 12 at 8 p.m. and follows Sebastian Telfair during his senior year in high school before jumping to the National Basketball Association’s Portland Trail Blazers (owned by Charter Communications Inc. chairman Paul Allen).

ESPN is donating the HD projector system and a theater screen to replace existing equipment in the center’s 300-person theater, said Steve Raymond, senior vice president of national accounts for Disney ESPN affiliate sales and marketing. The center’s “biggest need was to have an HD projector and we thought it makes the most sense coming from us,” Raymond said.

Stevens Picks Up Point On Downconversion

Two weeks ago, we documented a legal dispute between cable and broadcasters that has the potential to mushroom into a very expensive problem for cable. It’s the issue of whether cable operators offering local digital TV signals may also provide an analog version after Feb. 17, 2009, the date analog broadcasting is to cease under a law President Bush signed last Wednesday.

If cable can’t offer the analog-TV signals from the headend, millions of analog cable homes will need set-top boxes to prolong the useful life of their analog TVs.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association — which estimates there are 141 million analog TVs in cable homes today — has staked out the position that because the law is silent on downconversion, cable companies are free to do it.

The National Association of Broadcasters says that’s bunk. In an under-reported speech last week, Senate Commerce Committee chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) appeared to put the matter to rest. “Both the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable Television Association (sic) are here I understand. So, let me ask you the question: Should Congress allow cable companies the right to downconvert the broadcast signal they receive over the air as part of the digital transition?”

Then he voiced sympathy with cable’s cause. “If this is not permitted, cable will probably require billions of dollars in additional investment just for set-top boxes — not for any change, not for any innovation.”

Neither NAB nor NCTA would comment afterward.

Daytime Emmy Duel: Diva Vs. Food Stars

Scour the categories in the Daytime Emmy Awards and you’re bound to find some interesting races. This time, the races to watch, from a cable point of view, could be the ones for best service show and its host.

Those categories pit Rachael Ray, host of Food TV’s 30 Minute Meals, against network compadre Emeril Lagasse and his Essence of Emeril team. They hope to best outsiders Suze Orman, the financial guru of PBS’s Young, Fabulous and Broke, and domestic diva Martha Stewart and the staff of her eponymous talk show. Also competing in the service category is the PBS show This Old House, but its presenters didn’t nail a nomination.

If tonnage counts, Stewart’s the favorite. Her show lists no fewer than 31 executive, co-, segment and line producers, versus two to four production nominees for the other shows. Full employment behind the scenes: Apparently, that’s a good thing.

September