- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Still hot properties

“Hot Properties” stars Gail O’Grady and Sofia Vergara weren’t out of work for long after ABC pulled the plug on the fledgling sitcom.

Both actresses have landed lead roles in pilots, Reuters news agency reports.

Miss O’Grady will play the mom of a troubled teen in an untitled Kevin Williamson drama for the newly minted CW network. Her previous credits include “American Dreams,” which NBC canceled last year after a three-year run, and Lifetime’s made-for-cable film “Sex & the Single Mom.”

Miss Vergara, meanwhile, has been tapped for an untitled ABC comedy starring Donal Logue. The project centers on a group of blue-collar guys in New York who decide to rob a celebrity. She most recently appeared in the feature film “Four Brothers.”A la carte bargain

Cable TV subscribers traditionally bemoan the high cost, largely because many don’t watch most of the channels foisted upon them.

Now, a Federal Communications Commission study could give new ammunition to consumer groups fighting for the right to order cable channels a la carte — or just the ones they wish to see.

The study reveals that most subscribers would save money if allowed to pay for just the channels they requested, Associated Press reports. The findings reverse an earlier study indicating that that wasn’t the case.

Though consumers have long salivated over the idea of an a la carte setup, cable companies fear the plan would diminish their wide distribution.

The study also gives added help to lawmakers and regulators who see a la carte as a way to clean up raunchy television by giving parents more control over the channels their children watch.

“I am pleased that the commission has concluded that a la carte offerings could reduce consumers’ cable bills by as much as 13 percent,” says Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. The senator plans to introduce legislation this week to create and promote use of the la carte system.

The industry’s main trade group, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, was quick to point out the downside.

“Over the last 25 years, the American free enterprise system created the most diverse video programming on Earth with the best value for the customer,” says Kyle McSlarrow, the group’s president. “It is disappointing that the updated report relies on assumptions that are not in line with the reality of the marketplace.”

Many industry analysts also have been skeptical that an a la carte system would fly, citing, in part, concerns that if customers cherry-pick the channels they want, diversity could be lost if smaller niche networks catering to minorities are forced out of business.

Currently, Congress requires cable companies to offer a basic service package that includes local broadcast stations. The companies also offer expanded basic packages that typically include bundles of cable networks such as ESPN and CNN. For HBO, Showtime and other premium services, consumers pay an additional fee.

The latest report also says that in most cases, subscribers would save 3 percent to 13 percent on their bills under a la carte. It noted that earlier assumptions that a la carte would lead consumers to watch two hours less of TV and thus decrease revenue for cable TV companies and increase costs lacked factual support.

Consumer groups cheered the latest findings.

“We think this is really going to open up a whole new debate on the benefits of letting consumers pick their own channels on cable television,” said Gene Kimmelman, senior director for public policy and advocacy at Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports.

Goldblum sees ‘Red’

After a lengthy film career, mercurial actor Jeff Goldblum is setting his sights on TV.

The actor is in final negotiations to star in a crime-drama pilot for NBC called “Seeing Red,” Reuters news agency reports.

“Red” centers on an eccentric, brilliant cop (Mr. Goldblum) with the ability to talk to — and get crime-solving clues from — dead victims. It will be directed by Oscar-nominated Frank Darabont of “The Shawshank Redemption” fame from a script by Graham Yost, whose past credits include NBC’s “Boomtown.”

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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