STATESIDE

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The Independent Online
There is talk of big job cuts at Time Warner, the world's largest media company. The company's share price has been depressed and the attempt to acquire Ted Turner's TBS did little to lift shareholder spirits. Still, austerity has yet to hit chairman Gerald Levin or his family. Barbara Levin, his wife, just completed a company project and deliveries of fresh flowers arrived at her office each day along with bottles of champagne. Staff members passing her door would notice her bent over, as though she was trying to climb inside one of her desk drawers. It turns out that the desk was full of expensive Godiva chocolates to ease Mrs Levin's hunger pangs - which, judging by her behaviour, she feels about every five minutes.

Maybe it is just that her husband is so generous. After all, in February he hired HBO boss Michael Fuchs to run Warner Music and then sacked him two weeks ago. Fuchs's "farewell" package will exceed $70m.

America's chat shows, from Oprah Winfrey on down, are cleaning up the house. Vicious criticisms in the US Congress of their subject matter - "I want sex with my sister's mother" and similar - has commercial sponsors on the run. Companies such as Proctor & Gamble have threatened to pull commercials from any show which did not return to higher moral ground. New York produces more of these shows than any other city - Sally Jessy Raphael and Gordon Elliott, to name but two - and blood is already flowing. "I was brought in to clean up," a senior chat show producer says, after joining one programme and firing half the old staff. "We're taking talk upmarket." An example? "I want a show on couples where one is an 'A' type personality and the other is a 'B'. Topics that matter and make people think." Audiences may be unimpressed.

Henry Kissinger is recreated on Ted Turner's TNT Movie network this week in Kissinger and Nixon and the Nobel Prize winner is hopping mad. "The film brazenly reverses history," the former secretary of state writes in the 9 December edition of TV Guide, owned by Turner arch-rival Rupert Murdoch. Kissinger says the show portrays him as "reptilian". If this is true, it is shocking to everybody who knows the warmth of Mr Kissinger's bubbly personality. Kissinger also claims "every single American policy maker is depicted in various degrees of sleaze". No! Lionel Chetwynd, the film's producer, has been browbeaten by Kissinger in a letter documenting "factual errors" in the script. The original version will be aired in full. Struggling CBS at least has a sense of irony. The TV network now owned by an engineering company has hired comedian Bill Cosby to star in a sitcom based on One Foot in the Grave. A senior figure in the CBS newsroom begged a colleague to say this was a joke when he heard, but it is true. Cosby was a smash hit a decade ago when his Cosby Show ruled prime time and took NBC to number one. His two subsequent projects were failures. Media analysts are unimpressed. "This is not what CBS needs," says Dennis MacAlpline at stockbroker Josepthal, Lyon and Ross. "They have lost millions of younger viewers and Cosby won't help win those back."

Life may improve for CBS next year - it has the Olympics. David Poltrack, senior CBS executive, forecast last week that advertising revenue for all the TV networks will rise by almost 10 per cent next year, with the Olympics leading the way. That follows a 3 per cent decline in audience share for the networks this year. The four networks still have 60 per cent of the US audience but any further declines will hit revenues hard. CBS is most exposed to the strength of cable TV because it has no significant cable operations.

How we pine for cheaper newsprint. The surge in prices has hit hard and the future may not be any better. At the PaineWebber media conference in New York, two widely divergent views were on offer. Miles Grove, vice- president of the Newspaper Association of America, said: "Newsprint prices will not hold - we expect a marked softening in 1996." By contrast, Allen Dragone, an executive at newspaper group Champion International, said he expected a 7 per cent increase in newsprint prices next year. "If Dragone is right," says Grove, "the industry will need a 10 per cent reduction in head count." Roughly translated, that means lots of people without jobs and fewer newspapers throughout the world.

Watch out next time you are in a New York taxi. A new hazard has joined the list of rude drivers with little knowledge of English or New York. The HBO network has rigged a yellow cab with seven hidden cameras which cover every angle of the back seat. In the boot, sensitive video and audio equipment record every move. A second taxi, carrying producers and assistants, travels behind in radio contact with the driver of candid camera cab. If the driver thinks his passengers gave up good material, he reveals his true identity and asks them to sign a release so the material is broadcast. That no one has yet knocked him out proves two things: that New Yorkers have gone soft, and that some people truly will do anything to get on TV ... including one love-making couple whose passion has now been saved for posterity.

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