Riffed from the Headlines


Item: Ergenomics.
Charlie Ergen, chairman of EchoStar Communications Corp., has been giving cable operators the business for years, but he's much beloved by the satellite retailers of the world. He was practically a cult figure at the old Satellite Broadcasting & Communications Association trade conventions, pressing the flesh and speaking his mind.

He's also great copy, as we say in the journalism biz. He not only injected himself into the News Corp.-General Motors Corp. talks at the last minute in 2001, he actually was able to bump News out of the deal altogether.

Conventional wisdom ultimately prevailed, as Ergen failed to persuade the government that EchoStar's purchase of DirecTV Inc. would be good for multichannel video competition. But the C.W. also held that Ergen benefited from just holding off Rupert Murdoch for a year or so, so Ergen won anyway.

Now, reports The Wall Street Journal, Ergen is back in talks with Murdoch and Liberty Media Corp.'s John Malone — as a potential seller! Despite his prickly history with Murdoch, highlighted by Ergen's extracting $1 billion in News stock after Murdoch backed out of an earlier agreement to merge some of his satellite assets with Ergen's.

You have to love it, just for the chance to retell the history.

Naturally, few people actually expect Ergen to sell out to Murdoch and Malone. DirecTV's a bigger fish, and Murdoch should be able to get it at a nice discount from his previous offer. And Ergen would miss his fans.

Item: Karmachameleon.
Just a passing thought, but one has to think the populace of AOL Time Warner Inc. felt they dodged a bullet when low-key, good-humored CEO Dick Parsons got the chairman job. Just consider: Some people were touting Viacom's demanding COO Mel Karmazin for one of those top slots.

AOL Time Warner's swift move made for a better story than Viacom's dragged-out contract talks with Karmazin.

Item: Globalism.
Those wacky foreign press types! Tony Shalhoub's Monk, kind of Columbo-as-super neat freak, wins the Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy series. I guess the joke is on us. But it's great to see quality in cable programming — most notably the rack-'em-up Michael Chiklis and The Shield
— honored, encouraging more good originals.

Seems like every network that's putting money into good new shows and in getting the word out about them is setting a ratings record. Comedy Central said its well-promoted Chappelle's Show
numbers last week were the biggest ever among 18-to-49s for a Comedy series premiere. TNT's Monte Walsh
was the most-watched program in basic-cable history for a Friday, proving even the records are getting more and more fractured. On with the shows!

Item: Supplementals.
Management is pleased to plug two off-balance-sheet publications bundled in with this one. Our annual Wonder Women
report is a chance to meet some of the industry's best female executive talent in an informal setting. Multichannel News On Demand, the first of a series of new monthly sections within the magazine, updates you on the latest and greatest in VOD.

In particular, check out the marketing advice provided, from a slight distance, by Ed Bleier and Ajit Dalvi.

VOD: it's not just for techies anymore.