NEWS BRIEFING FOR ST PATRICK’S DAY, MARCH 17, 2008

Bear Stearns crowds out Spitzer. Who’d have thunk it? Happy St Patrick’s Day.

Guess all those reports about HBO being in a post-The Sopranos programming funk were correct. HBO Entertainment President Carolyn Strauss, a 22-year-veteran exec with ties to many successful series and departed HBO chief Chris Albrecht, is stepping down. Strauss, who nearly always appears dressed in black, will remain with HBO in some capacity, The Hollywood Reporter says. [THR]

They’re beaming at Starz today. The  premium network’s February rating was 0.7 in total day, besting all premium nets for the first time ever, including HBO, which registered a 0.6. It’s the first time in memory where HBO was the not top-rated premium. For all nets, in prime, USA was tops at 2.3, followed by Disney (1.9), TNT (1.8) and Fox News Channel (1.5). 

Telemundo finally has secured an agreement for its programming to be carried in Mexico, The NY Times reports, noting an announcement is expected today. Global expansion is among parent NBC Uni’s priorities. [NYT]

Brian Roberts gets it on both sides. If he looks to acquire new businesses he’s indiscriminate; if he doesn’t go after other companies aggressively and prefers to generate cash and dividends, he’s gun shy, BusinessWeek argues. [BW]

NBC U acquired a 35% stake in driverTV, LLC, which produces and distributes car-related video for consumers.  NBCU and driver will partner on video and have agreements with MySpace and obviously NBC.com at launch.

One of cable’s stand-up guys, TV One EVP Brad Samuels, is leaving TV One to become EVP of the new Content Distribution department at Fuse. He’ll report to Eric Sherman, the Fuse president. Also joining the new unit are Guy Cacciarelli as VP, Content Distribution Western Region and Peter Tulloch as VP, Content Distribution Eastern Region. The team will be charged with growing global distribution and sub counts for platforms including HD, VOD and broadband, Fuse said.

HBO Family’s Emmy winning Classical Baby is growing up and expanding out. Its newest release, Classical Baby (I’m Grown Up Now):  The Poetry Show (Apr 12, 6pm), attempts to introduce poetry to the entire family, from Shakespeare to Langston Hughes. The diaper-clad baby emcee of previous Classical Baby specials is a young boy now, but his audience of animals returns. Among the voices reading poetry will be Andy Garcia, John Lithgow, Elizabeth Mitchell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Susan Sarandon and Jeffrey Wright. The special will be available on DVD three days later.

It’s been quite a journey for 66-year-old mogul Barry Diller, who began working in the mailroom of The William Morris Agency in the early 1960s. A lengthy piece in The NY Times examines Diller’s IAC holding company, which contains strong and weaker assets,  and why Dr John Malone doesn’t want it broken apart. [NYT]     

Briefly Noted
Skyy vodka signed to be official spirits sponsor of the Sex & The City movie, due out May 30, and will be seen in the film and heard in its dialogue. [NYT]

ESPNews HD will debut March 30, which not coincidentally is the 5th anniversary of ESPN HD. ESPNews also will unveil a new set, color palatte and studio that day, along with an enhanced information crawl that will wrap around the top, left and bottom of the screen.

NCTA chief Kyle McSlarrow meets the media on Thursday to discuss broadband network management.

Mid-priced brand Hilton Garden Inn launches its first national cable ad campaign today.  

The site Footnoted.org finds that Playboy spends about $400K yearly to feed, house and otherwise maintain Hef’s girlfriends and stars of The Girls Next Door. [FNO]

Were you impressed with Paul Allen’s 417-foot yacht, Octopus, at the National Show a few years ago? Well, it’s “relatively miniscule,” The NY Times says. [NYT] Got a tip? Contact sarenstein@accessintel.com and sgoldstein@accessintel.com

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