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Conflicting reports over the weekend give a muddied picture on the status of talks between GE and Disney over NBC. The L.A. TIMES reports that talks had ended while the N.Y. TIMES reports only that talks "have cooled." The stumbling block in either case seems to be Disney's desire to buy all of NBC -- the network, seven O&O's and cable interests, including CNBC. GE has apparently decided "that it would prefer to continue owning a majority of NBC," making only 49% available. Geraldine Fabrikant speculates that after weeks of negotiations, the parties may be taking "tough stances and then letting the news media know simply as a bargaining tactic" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26). But in Burbank, Richard Turner writes Disney was "institutionally and strategically unwilling to accept a minority partnership" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/26). Among other NBC suitors, the N.Y. TIMES reports that ITT has "lost its ardor" for the network. And at Time Warner, several execs close to the company indicate that the NBC deal "does not appeal to all of the company's top management" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26). But the WALL STREET JOUNRAL notes that talks between Time Warner and GE are proceeding (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/26). OTHER PLAYERS: On Friday, TCI Chair John Malone was in New York to meet with GE's Jack Welch. One source believes Malone could have been trying to broker a deal that would bring Turner into the fold (N.Y. TIMES, 9/26). Others that could get into the network game include Sony Corp. and Matsushita Electric Industrial (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/26). REVIEWING THE SALES: On "Wall Street Week," Smith Barney media analyst John Reidy discussed the renewed interest in the networks. With regard to the rumored negotiations to sell CBS, Reidy reiterated that CBS President Lawrence Tisch says that "he isn't interested" in selling CBS, although "there are some signs that he might be willing to take some partners." Reidy concluded that CBS "may well remain independent for some time" and suggested [Barry] Diller could return to CBS" (PBS, 9/25). CBS BIDS FOR WOMEN ON SUNDAYS: Starting yesterday, CBS began filling Sunday afternoons with adaptions of one of the most "durable forms of female-oriented entertainment, Harlequin romance novels." For the duration of the football season, CBS will show four romance movies, five movies produced "under the auspices of Hallmark Cards Inc.," and then round out the season with figure skating. CBS execs acknowledge the direct appeal for female viewers (Bill Carter, N.Y. TIMES, 9/26).
After beating Lennox Lewis for the WBC Heavyweight championship, Oliver McCall told HBO's Larry Merchant and HBO viewers they will be able to see him fight again on Showtime. "Naturally, promoter Don King, who does all of his fights with Showtime, was grinning broadly at McCall's side" (Prentis Rogers, ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 9/26). Promoter Ernie Terrell said it was unlikely that Chicago-native McCall would fight his next title defense in Chicago. The reason: fight promoters do not like to black out the Chicago area because of its TV market size (Terry Armour, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 9/26).....In Baltimore, Milton Kent writes that ESPN's presence at the O.J. Simpson trial "distorts and trivializes the criminal justice system" (Baltimore SUN, 9/26)....CNN is launching a CD-ROM package on the O.J. Simpson hearings at a cost of about $19. It is designed to "live through the ages; it's a quickie project intended to capitalize on a breaking news story that doesn't justify" the $40-50 for most CD- ROMs (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 9/26).