Usually, a Democratic political appointee like Deborah Lathen, chief of the FCC's Cable Services Bureau, makes a mad dash for the exit after her party loses power. But new Republican FCC chairman Michael Powell has been exceedingly kind in allowing Lathen to remain on the government payroll indefinitely while she puts out job feelers. Things are so good for Lathen right now that she was even able to work an overseas junket into her post-election limbo period. Last Monday, Lathen was a keynote speaker at the 2nd Sino-International Cable TV Conference (attendance: about 200) held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Beijing, China.
Anybody heard of that one? Lathen spent the balance of the week touring Beijing and meeting with various Chinese government officials. She is expected back in her FCC office on March 27. Encore International, owned by Liberty Media Group (the programming giant closely regulated by Lathen and her staff) flipped for Lathen's airfare and hotel accommodations. "The approximate value of airfare and hotel is $5,700," said FCC spokeswoman Michelle Russo, who added that the Sino sojourn had official agency clearance. "This trip was reviewed and approved by the Office of General Counsel under the statutory guidelines for employee travel sponsored by outside entities," she said. Added Starz Encore Group spokesman Paul Jacobson: "No Chinese government money was used to help pay for her trip."
--- The interactive-television proceeding at the Federal Communications Commission opened a new rift between cable MSOs, at least two major broadcast networks and a slew of cable programmers. Viacom Inc. (CBS) and The Walt Disney Co. (ABC) opted to push the FCC in the direction of banning cable operators from signing exclusive deals with ITV providers or showing favoritism toward affiliated ITV providers. The question on a lot of minds last week was: Where were NBC and Fox? According to informed sources, the National Cable Television Association leaned on News Corp. (owner of Fox News Channel, Fox Family Channel, etc.) and NBC (parent of CNBC and MSNBC) to stay clear of the battle. "NCTA called but we had other reasons" for not filing comments, an NBC source said. "They did try, but that's not why we did it."
NBC is monitoring the action and might file reply comments due April 20. A News Corp. source said NCTA "asked us what we were going to do but they certainly didn't lean on us." The source added that by staying out of the ITV fray, the media giant was being consistent with its less-government philosophy. "We try very hard to not take regulatory positions on these issues. We're trying to be consistent in asking for deregulation, not more regulation," the News Corp. source said. NCTA spokesman David Beckwith said the trade group hasn't "made any secret of our view that this proceeding was premature at the very best."
--- The lady under the knife in the special on cataract surgery running recently on CN8: The Comcast Network should look familiar: She's Suzanne Roberts, wife of Comcast chairman Ralph Roberts and mother of Comcast president Brian Roberts. She's also host of Seeking Solutions with Suzanne,
an informational series targeted to seniors. It runs daily on Headline News on Comcast cable systems. But viewers-and most guests-usually don't know the full extent of her company connections.
"Those who know us personally know, but the guests don't know. They deal with a researcher," she said last week. Suzanne Roberts, a broadcast veteran and actress, spent eight months developing the series because of the dearth of programming for people 55 and older. She told her husband nothing "until it was in very professional shape, something I could sell to anyone." Then, "I sprung it on" Ralph, she said. He introduced her to the Comcast programming executives, then stepped away, she added. "And I think I've proved myself," noting her regional Emmy nomination for outstanding host and the fact her shows have been picked up by GoodLife TV Network. The show began just over a year ago and is scheduled three times a week. Now she's on every day and is looking forward to a series of segments on prostate cancer. The only complaint: "five minutes is too short" for all there is to say on senior issues. She should know, she says, because she fits the demographic. She volunteers that she'll turn 80 this year.
---It didn't take long for new management at AOL Time Warner Inc. and Black Entertainment Television to contradict statements company executives made in the last year. A reliable source told a Wire correspondent early last year that World Championship Wrestling parent Turner Broadcasting System Inc. was in talks to sell the struggling outfit, and was also studying how it could shut it down. But TBS general entertainment networks president BradSiegel said last April that Turnerhad no thoughts of selling or folding WCW. "I'm under pressure to turn it around. But everybody-[then-Time Warner vice chairman] Ted [Turner], [then-Time Warner CEO Jerry Levin], [then-TBS Inc. president] Steve Heyer and [then-TBS Inc. chairman] Terry McGuirk-has faith that we will do that. It's not going to happen overnight, and it is a big turnaround, but I believe it can be done," he told MCN. Word that Turner would cancel WCW after its deal to sell the promotion to Fusient Media Ventures fizzled came just two weeks after Jamie Kellner was named TBS CEO, replacing McGuirk. Heyer resigned to take a job at The Coca-Cola Co. Siegel will now be working closely with longtime Kellner pal Garth Ancier, who was named the head programmer for Turner networks last week. Also from the long-memory department:
In November, BET executives said there wouldn't be layoffs as a result of its merger with Viacom Inc. Last week, the company laid off employees in New York and Los Angeles. You know what they say: don't believe everything you read.