Through the Wire


Contributors: Linda Moss, R. Thomas Umstead.

Party Time With Al Gore? Mos Def.

The National Show came to Al Gore’s current home base — San Francisco — and the almost-president went all out with the charm offensive on behalf of Current, his youth-oriented revamp of Newsworld International.

Gore and company did the press conference thing April 4 at their King Street headquarters — then threw an evening cocktail party and outdoor concert at said digs. Guests included Comcast Corp.’s Brian and Ralph Roberts, new Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, Mayor Gavin Newsom, Time Warner Inc.’s Jeff Bewkes and Don Logan, Charter Communications Inc.’s Marc Nathanson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Penn, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and director Spike Jonze. Mos Def performed.

Gore told The Wire he’d given his good friend Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) a headquarters tour the day before. But Gore, approaching cable quietly, again declined to address talk of cable-indecency regulation. [Stevens is in that vanguard.]

“These are issues that are in the Congress’s bailiwick,” Gore said. “I’m a recovering politician and I’m going to let them thrash that out.”

Gore is burdened with a rep as a past cable foe, but said that’s shortsighted. “When I was in the House of Representatives, I was the lead sponsor of the legislation which broke the ice to get cable the right to get their lines on telephone poles. At various times throughout my political career, I took stands on all kinds of issues. Some [cable] liked and some they didn’t like.

“But I’m not in politics now and I’m learning a lot in the business world, and I’m enjoying it immensely. I think this programming will speak for itself and we’ll do the best we can to make the case that it should be carried.”

Skepticism about the indie net’s odds for success ran high at the National Show, though. Yahoo! Inc. alliances aside, Current’s focus on viewer-created content, or VC squared, is hard to wrap the mind around.

BET’s Bob Johnson Sings Nostalgic Tune

For many in the industry, the National Show was an opportunity to network and to figure out what other people think is hot in cable.

For Black Entertainment Television chairman Bob Johnson — who’s leaving the Viacom Inc.-owned channel at the end of the year — there was added significance. It’s probably his last show as a major cable-network executive.

He mused about industry changes since he started BET in 1980. At the National Show, for example, “it was all table-top booths,” he said. “Everybody knew each other and had a good time — we didn’t worry about fighting over customers.”

Johnson — who has the startup Charlotte Bobcats pro basketball team to run and the RLJ Urban Lodging Fund L.P. investment company to oversee — said he’ll miss “the camaraderie, the friends and the catching up on what people are doing in business and in their family lives.”

He said he feels good about leaving BET in chief operating officer Debra Lee’s capable hands and sees the network as a “vital component” to MTV Networks parent Viacom. “BET is an extremely successful financial model and will have even more financial backing from MTV to go after deals, so I’m very excited that the next 25 years for BET, from a programming standpoint, will be just as great as the past 25.”

Next year’s National Show will be in New Orleans. Johnson said he hopes he’ll be at a Bobcats playoff game around that time.

“Overall I think for me there’s going to be a second act in business and I’m now laying the groundwork for that — some of that will be entertainment-media related and some will be financial-services related,” he said.

It Wouldn’t Be Your Grandparents’ Duck

Beware of moderators bearing wits. Sadly, we offer that advice too late for the cable programmers who agreed to appear at the annual “state of cable” luncheon in Los Angeles, held by the Hollywood Radio and Television Society the day after the National Show wrapped.

Their tired, post-show brains were put to the test by moderator Dennis Miller, and in at least one instance came up short.

Miller made note of a salacious sex scene in an early episode of Nip/Tuck and asked FX entertainment president John Landgraf if he’d taken much heat for it. Following Landgraf’s defense, Miller swiveled to Rich Ross, president of Disney Channel Worldwide, and asked the logical followup: “So, are we going to see boinking on the Disney Channel anytime soon?”

Seeing Ross momentarily flummoxed, Miller offered up his own answer: A Nip/Tuck version featuring Donald Duck! The series title? Nip/Duck.

Note to Fox accountants: Miller wants a consulting fee if it goes to pilot.