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TV Notes: 1/28/03

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Spotlight on our weather

Pittsburgh's cold snap will get a national platform when Weather Channel meteorologist Mike Seidel reports from the 'Burgh tonight and tomorrow.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

Time's up for Hewitt at CBS's '60 Minutes'

Don Hewitt, who invented "60 Minutes" and has been its executive producer since the stopwatch began ticking in 1968, announced yesterday he is stepping down next year.

Hewitt, 80, will be succeeded by Jeff Fager, executive producer of "60 Minutes II."

"60 Minutes" remains a Sunday night fixture on CBS, the longest-running prime-time show ever and still the most popular newsmagazine. Hewitt is credited with inventing the modern-day format of a television newsmagazine.

As its behind-the-scenes leader, Hewitt decides which stories reported by correspondents Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley, Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl will go on the air.

His potential retirement has been a sticky subject at CBS, where executives wanted to set a succession plan in place. Hewitt has said, "I want to die at my desk."

On stepping down from "60 Minutes," he will become executive producer at CBS News, in charge of developing new projects and offering advice to his successor. Terms of CBS's new multi-year agreement with Hewitt were not revealed.

"There is no way to overstate what Don Hewitt has meant to CBS," network president Leslie Moonves said, "and there aren't too many people who have literally created standards by which an entire industry has operated."

Fager, 48, was widely considered Hewitt's heir apparent. He worked as a producer under Hewitt for five years, was executive producer of the "CBS Evening News" and helped establish "60 Minutes II" as a successful franchise of its own. His replacement at that newsmagazine was not yet named.

Hewitt began working at CBS News in 1948 and produced the first televised presidential debate in 1960, between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. He is widely credited with coining the TV term "anchor" to describe Walter Cronkite's role at the 1956 political conventions.

He was head of the CBS News documentary unit when he developed the idea for "60 Minutes." The first episode aired Sept. 24, 1968.

Hewitt will keep his present job through the end of this television season and the next, turning over the reins to Fager in June 2004.

(David Bauder, Associated Press)

Brown joins CNBC

Former magazine editor Tina Brown is taking a small step into the television talk-show world, agreeing to be host of a series of prime-time specials on CNBC starting in March.

Brown will do four hourlong specials a year for the cable business channel, to feature "opinionated guests discussing and debating provocative topics in the arenas of business, politics and culture," the network said.

The first edition of "Topic A with Tina Brown," on March 20 to coincide with the Oscars three days later, will be about Hollywood, hype and the wars between art and commerce.

Brown, the former editor in chief of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and her own defunct magazine, Talk, has been writing for The Times of London and Salon.com since her magazine went under.

While still popular with business leaders, CNBC's ratings have dropped dramatically with the stock market in recent years.

(Associated Press)

Letterman loses regulars

And the No. 1 reason Mujibur and Sirajul will disappear from David Letterman's "Late Show" ... their boss is closing his Broadway souvenir store.

K&L's Rock America, the cramped shop up the street from Letterman's theater where smiling salesmen Mujibur Rahman and Sirajul Islam work, is going out of business. The store is a victim of spiraling midtown Manhattan rents, with its landlord hoping to bring in a tenant with deeper pockets.

"You always did a great job for us, and we're going to miss you guys," Letterman told the pair last week before presenting each with some lovely parting gifts: a dozen roses and a new vacuum cleaner.

They debuted on Letterman's show Sept. 13, 1993, shortly after the CBS show premiered at the Ed Sullivan Theater.

They became the talk show host's quirky roving ambassadors, mounting a coast-to-coast tour in 1994. That same year, Sirajul pitched in a minor league baseball game in Sioux City, Iowa.

Mujibur, 47, and Sirajul, 43, natives of Bangladesh and residents of Queens, said they may go into business together. But Mujibur was skeptical about whether that would be show business.

"I like working in what I do," he said. "That's fine for me."

(Associated Press)

Fox gets early start

Bucking decades of television tradition, Fox Broadcasting Co. plans to launch some of its new shows in the summer instead of the fall.

The move is the most aggressive yet as networks struggle to hold on to viewers who are increasingly switching to cable and satellite -- especially during the summer months when networks air mostly repeats.

"One of the lessons that reality television has taught us is that summer is a really good time to launch big franchises," said Fox Television Entertainment Chairman Sandy Grushow. "It's a better time than all six networks launching within the same week or two in late September."

Fox has struggled with its fall lineup, with ratings down by more than 5 percent this season. Compared with two years ago, Fox's fall ratings have tumbled by nearly 30 percent among its core audience of 18-to-34-year-olds, according to advertising buying firm Magna Global USA.

To gain a better foothold, the News Corp.-owned network is drawing on its success last summer with "American Idol."

The network plans not only to air reality-based shows this summer, but also to debut new comedies and dramas.

(Associated Press)

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