Archive for the ‘USA Network’ Category

Stabbings, Fires, Fellow Jersey Girls, Espionage In Montclair: Fun Times At USA Network’s Screening Of Its New Spy Show ‘Covert Affairs’

July 9, 2010

We live in Montclair, N.J., and it was more than a little unsettling to find out that Russian spies had taken up residence in our leafy suburb. It turns out that Cynthia and Richard Murphy of 31 Marquette Road are actually Lydia and Vladimir Guryev.

But it is actually great timing for the debut of USA Network’s new original drama, “Covert Affairs,” which premieres next Tuesday at 10 p.m. The show is about Annie Walker, a young CIA trainee played by Piper Perabo who goes on undercover assignments.

We went to a screening of the pilot episode Thursday night, and we loved it. But if you had told us the show’s concept a few months ago, we’d have said it was rather outlandish: A CIA spy dealing with Russian agents, for example. The Cold War is over, right?

Well, the Montclair Boris-and-Natasha round-up showed us how wrong we were.

NBCU cable honcho Bonnie Hammer, Jersey girl Piper Perabo and espionage junkie Doug Liman, co-executive producer of Covert Affairs Photo by Heidi Gutman/USA Network

At a reception following the screening we asked Bonnie Hammer, president of NBC Universal Cable Entertainment and Universal Cable Productons, if the headlines about the Russians spies would help “Covert Affairs.”

Hammer, looking as slim and perfect as ever, said, “It never hurts when something in the zeitgeist at large kind of happens at a time when you’re launching something.”

She went on, “The fact that the Russians and U.S. may be trading, I think it’s totally hysterical, because a lot of our stories deal with working with operatives that are… from other places. Let’s put it this way: There’s no downside.”

But we’ll digress here, because getting to the screening was a bit challenging. It was held at the hip Soho House hotel in Manhattan, and we dreaded making the trip in, since the Big Apple has been more like Phoenix this week, with 105 degree temperatures. But after being like a sauna Thursday morning, it actually cooled off a bit as we boarded our bus.

As we sat on the bus, our sister called to say there was a big fire on Houston Street, and we weren’t sure if it was near the screening location. As it turns out, it was not.

CIA agent Annie Walker tries to subdue a Russian spy in Covert Affairs' debut episode

But it a typical calm summer eve in Manhattan. The fire was actually in the East Village, and was big enough to warrant coverage in the New York Post and The New York Times.

And as we walked across Ninth Avenue to get to the screening at 14th Street at the Soho House, we saw NYPD cars and a crowd. Turns out about an hour before we got there, a “deranged man” had walked into a sunglass store at Ninth Avenue and 15th Street, just a few blocks away, and stabbed four people. The Post and Times wrote about that violent spree, as well.

Happy that we made it to the screening alive, without being burned or stabbed, we settled into a comfy seat the tiny theater inside the Soho House, with a cocktail in one hand and two chocolate bars (courtesy of USA) in the other.

The pilot episode was introduced by Doug Liman and David Bartis, the show’s executive producers. Bartis is a espionage junkie, and produced the Bourne movie trilogy, as well as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith.”

“This started two years ago with USA, and they warned us it was going to be a slow process,” Bartis said. “The upside was they would always tell us what they wanted, and if we were giving it to them. They were true to their word, and it was a fantastic process.”

Liman said he’s always “been pretty obsessed with spy stories.” He said he’s done a lot of research and spent a lot of time around the CIA and CIA officers (you’d think he’d want to avoid those types), and comes across so many stories that “there’s no way I could ever make enough movies to sort of have a home for these stories.” That home is now USA, he said.

We are not fans of the espionage genre, but we really enjoyed “Covert Affairs.” As a CIA agent who speaks six languages, Perabo gets to play different characters as she goes undercover, just like Jennifer Garner did in “Alias.” For example, in the first “Covert Affairs” Perabo pretends to be a prostitute in order to recover a device with important “intel” (what is this, “24”?on it.

“It’s so cool,” Perabo said after the screening. “She’s a hero. She’s smart. She’s great, and as an actor, you play all these different roles.”

Covert Affairs cast: (left to right) Anne Dudek as Danielle, Sendhil Ramamurthy as Jai Wilcox, Christopher Gorham as Auggie Anderson, Piper Perabo as Annie Walker, Peter Gallagher as Authur Campbell, Kari Matchett as Joan Campbel, Photo by Robert Ascroft/USA Network

We’ve liked Perabo since we saw her in “Coyote Ugly,” which has been on TV several times during the past few weeks. In that movie, she played a girl from New Jersey who tried to make it in New York City. In real life, Perabo is actually a Jersey girl. She told us she was from Toms River.

She looked gorgeous, slim as a reed and wearing a bright red dress that was slit almost to her navel.

We asked her about the timeliness of the suburban Russian spies and “Covert Affairs” debut.

“I was reading The Times this morning and they were talking about the trade, all the real aspects are very frightening… but it is sort of wonderful for us…It (spying) goes on in small towns, and neighbors do that, and it embraces that whole idea of the real life of a spy right into focus.”

In the show, Perabo’s character speaks half a dozen languages.

Like an idiot, we asked her, “Do you really speak six languages?” Duh. She’s an actress, like a real CIA agent.

Actor Christopher Gorham, who was Ugly Betty's boyfriend, plays a charming blind CIA agent on Covert Affairs

We then quickly rephrased the question, and asked how hard it was to ACT like you know six language, and speak them well.

Perabo said that she’s good at learning lines, so that helps, and that she has tutors for all the different languages she spaks on the show.

“Covert Affairs” has a great cast, including Peter Gallagher, Kari Matchett of “24” and “Invasion,” and Anne Dudek of “Mad Men.”

But the real surprise is Christopher Gorham, who played Ugly Betty’s goofy boyfriend, and on “Covert Affairs” plays a charming, cute blind military intelligence agent. We likey.

NBC Universal Chief Jeff Zucker, His PR Folks And His Talent Host Holiday Party For Media At 30 Rock

December 9, 2009

We just got back to Jersey after attending NBC Universal’s party for the press. The soiree Tuesday night, held on the 52nd floor of 30 Rock in Manhattan, was officially off-the-record. But we can certainly tell you who we saw there.

As we were checking our coat, Kathie Lee Gifford was putting on her’s and leaving. Her NBC morning-TV partner, Hoda Kotb, was still inside at the shindig.

The event, sponsored by NBCU chief Jeff Zucker and his communications team, came on the heels of news that the nation’s largest cable operator, Comcast, was buying the home of the Peacock Network along with its stable of cable channels, which includes USA Network, SyFy, Bravo, Oxygen, CNBC and MSNBC. The seller is General Electric.

A shirt-sleeved Zucker briefly addressed the gathered media, and made some funny jokes about the coming merger (we can’t say what, it was off the record, remember?)

There were both NBCU talent and suits at the holiday party. NBC News anchor Brian Williams, a Jersey guy, stopped by, as did Lester Holt, Ann Curry and Amy Robach from “The Today Show.” Jimmy Fallon popped by when the party was ending.

As for execs, in addition to Zucker there was NBC Cable Entertainment chief Bonnie Hammer, Bravo honcho Frances Berwick, NBCU’s women’s and lifestyle chieftain Lauren Zalaznick, CNBC president Mark Hoffman and “Saturday Night Live” creator and producer Lorne Michaels.

We have written about Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” for NewJerseyNewsroom.com, and NBC has big home shopping connections and affiliations.

First of all, GE/NBC currently owns about 32.5 percent of ShopNBC on a fully diluted basis of 37.6 million shares. NBC’s 6.4 million shares represent 16.8 percent ownership and GE’s 6 million common stock purchase warrants represent 15.7 percent.

Secondly, the stars of several of NBCU’s cable show have home shopping lines, including: Tori Spelling, who is in Oxygen’s “Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood,” on HSN; Rachel Zoe, from Bravo’s “The Rachel Zoe Report,” on QVC; Isaac Mizrahi, who hosts Bravo’s “The Fashion Show,” on QVC; Padma Lakshmi, from Bravo’s “Top Chef,” on HSN; and Ramona Singer from Bravo's "The Real Housewives of New York City." on HSN.

The party gift was a DVD of the third season of NBC’s “30 Rock,” appropriately.

Red, As In Ink, Was Liz Claiborne’s Color In Third Quarter, But It Expects QVC And Isaac Mizrahi To Come To The Rescue Next Year

November 4, 2009

It is not a pretty picture for Liz Claiborne, which reported dismal third-quarter earnings Wednesday. It was lots and lots of red ink, but CEO William McComb expects the company’s new deal with QVC to bring it to profitability next year.

To start off, Liz Claiborne’s net sales from continuing operations for the third quarter were $770 million, a decrease of $245 million, or 24.2 percent, from the comparable 2008 period.

There are a lot of fancy numbers here, an accountant’s wet dream, and we’ll give them to you at the end. But the bottom line is that Liz Claiborne has serious financial troubles, and has very high expections for its new pact with QVC and JCPenney.

Beginning this fall, the Liz Claiborne and Claiborne brands will be sold exclusively at JCPenney and the Liz Claiborne New York brand designed by Isaac Mizrahi will be available at QVC.

Mizrahi, who was such a success at Target, is doing a premium line of clothes and other goods for QVC. QVC expects the Mizrahi merchandise to become one its biggest lines, perhaps it’s biggest.

And it looks like Liz Claiborne is banking on QVC, and the success of the Mizrahi line, to bail out the company and turn its fortunes around.

“Fourth quarter to date, we are posting significantly improved comparable store sales results compared to the year to date trend as we have seen solid execution overall on the merchandising initiatives we outlined on our August call,” McComb said in a prepared statement. “Our recently announced licensing agreements with JC Penney and QVC will result in a dramatic shift in profitability for the Liz Claiborne brand wholesale business from a meaningful loss in 2009 to a profit in 2010.”

A quick FYI for cable-industry folk: USA Network founder Kay Koplovitz is chairman of Liz Claiborne.

Here are all the adjusted and non-adjusted numbers, and the entire press release here for real masochists. Translate the thing into English and here’s what it means: Liz Claiborne is bleeding lots of red ink, with lots of losses, adjusted numbers or non-adjusted numbers.

For the first nine months this year, the women’s clothier recorded an operating loss of $199 million compared to an operating loss of $18 million in 2008. Adjusted operating loss in the first nine months $121 million compared to adjusted operating income of $137 million last year.

The company recorded a loss from continuing operations in the first nine months of 2009 of $251 million, or $2.67 per share, compared to a loss from continuing operations in 2008 of $31 million, or 33 cents a share.

Adjusted loss per share from continuing operations in the first nine months was $1.28 compared to adjusted diluted EPS from continuing operations of 83 cents last year. Net sales from continuing operations for the first nine months were $2.233 billion, a decrease of $841 million, or 27.4 per cent, from the comparable 2008 period.

The adjusted results for the third quarter and first nine months of 2009 and 2008 exclude the impact of expenses incurred in connection with Liz Claiborne’s streamlining and brand-exiting activities and non-cash goodwill and trademark impairment charges.

“The Company believes that the adjusted results for the third quarter and first nine months of 2009 and 2008 represent a more meaningful presentation of its historical operations and financial performance since these results provide period to period comparisons that are consistent and more easily understood,” Liz Claiborne said in its press release.

And McComb had his own statement.

“Our financial results in the third quarter reflect some early signs of turning around underperforming businesses,” he said. “We reduced our adjusted operating loss by $12 million compared to the second quarter as comparable store sales in our key retail formats were better overall compared with the outlook we provided on our August call, resulting in decreases of 13 percent at Juicy Couture, 16 percent at Lucky Brand, 3 per cent at Kate Spade, 13 percent at Mexx and 13 per cent n the U.S. Liz Claiborne outlets.”

Net sales from continuing operations for the third quarter were $770 million, a decrease of $245 million, or 24.2 percent from the third quarter of 2008, primarily due to decreases in the International-Based Direct Brands and Partnered Brands segments. The impact of changes in foreign currency exchange rates in international businesses decreased net sales by $12 million, or 1.2 percent.

The third-quarter operating loss was $60 million compared to an operating income of $16 million in the third quarter of 2008, including $27 million of expenses associated with streamlining and brand-exiting activities in the third quarter, compared to $36 million in the third quarter last year.

Adjusted operating loss in the third quarter was $33 million compared to adjusted operating income of $62 million in 2008. The impact of changes in foreign currency exchange rates in our international businesses reduced operating loss by $2 million during the quarter.

Loss from continuing operations in the third quarter of 2009 was $88 million, compared to a loss from continuing operations in the third quarter last year of $9 million.

Net loss in the third quarter of $91 million, inclusive of losses related to discontinued operations of $3 million, compared to a net loss of $69 million, inclusive of losses related to discontinued operations of $59 million in the third quarter a year ago.

Wall Street Journal Chronicles The Challenges Of Liz Claiborne Honcho William McComb, Who Struck Deal For Isaac Mizrahi To Come To QVC

November 3, 2009

The Liz Claiborne executive who just did a major deal for QVC to partner with designer Isaac Mizrahi and also carry the Liz Claiborne New York line comes under scrutiny by The Wall Street Journal Tuesday. And it isn’t pretty.

The story headlined, “Claiborne CEO Hangs On,” talks about Liz Claiborne CEO William McComb, and how the company has suffered seven consecutive quarterly losses on his watch. Liz Claiborne reports its quarterly earnings Wednesday.

McComb was responsible for recruiting Mizrahi, fresh from his success at Target, to come to Liz Claiborne as creatice director. But the women’s clothing maker still was seeing ink.

In October, Liz Claiborne officially announced a major deal to make JCPenney its sole bricks-and-mortar retailer. As part of that announcement, Liz Claiborne also said that Mizrahi would be doing a line of premium apparel, accessories and home products for QVC, and that the home shopping network would also be selling the Liz Claiborne New York line.

McComb is on the hot seat to turn Liz Claiborne around.

As an aside, The Journal quotes Kay Koplovitz, Liz Claiborne’s chairman. We know Koplovitz, and interviewed her, from our cable-reporting tenure. She is a cable pioneer who founded USA Network, and later Sci Fi Channel (recently renamed the silly Syfy).

We didn’t realize that Koplovitz, who left USA Network in 1998, was at Liz Claiborne. In the cable world, she was known as a tough-as-nails executive.