Cable rereg aftermath hits D.C.

Hollywood lobbyist Jack Valenti remained silent yesterday in the aftermath of Congress’ override of President Bush’s cable veto, while broadcasters were gloating over the victory and bureaucrats were wondering how they’ll administer the sweeping legislation.

Valenti again offered a “no comment” when asked about passage of the bill. He did, however, dismiss a report suggesting that Hollywood attempted to influence the cable bill vote by offering roles to lawmakers in upcoming films being shot in D.C.

The report, which appeared in Congress Daily, a newsletter that tracks pending legislation on Capitol Hill, claimed that Hollywood “appeared to be lobbying” on the cable bill by enticing senators and members of Congress to appear as extras in a new Clint Eastwood pic being shot in Washington.

Sources said that House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.), Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Dennis Eckart (D-Ohio) were asked if they’d like to appear in the Eastwood film.

Valenti confirmed that the Motion Picture Assn. of America has arranged “crowd scenes” for films shot in D.C. over the years, and that occasionally a director will ask for a “recognizable name” from D.C. — be it politician or journalist — to appear in the film. Valenti flatly denied that MPAA would ever ask a politician to appear in a cameo “for political reasons.”

Another Hollywood source dismissed the Congress Daily report as “totally ridiculous.”

A Dingell spokesman said the fact that the request for pols to appear in a cameo role just as the cable bill override vote was occurring was “probably just an innocent mistake on their part.”

MPAA’s opposition to the cable bill stemmed from the retransmission consent provision that allows broadcasters to charge cablers for carriage of local signals. Hollywood argued that programmers should have been allowed to share in the retrans coin.

MPAA’s opposition placed Valenti, who has close ties to Democratic politicians throughout D.C., in an awkward position of supporting President Bush’s veto. Valenti also was aligned with the cable industry, traditionally an ardent foe of the film studios.

MPAA membership was believed to have been united in opposition to the bill. However, D.C. sources said yesterday that Fox Inc. — which has both film and broadcast interests–broke ranks with its Hollywood brethren and was quietly lobbying for the bill. Molly Pauker, VP of corporate and legal affairs at Fox, declined comment.

Meanwhile, broadcasters could barely contain their glee over passage of the bill. “When you consider that we took on Hollywood, the cable industry and the White House, and still won, it’s amazing,” said one broadcast source.

Tim Boggs, a D.C. lobbyist for Time-Warner, attributed cable’s loss to three factors: “Election-year politics, the declining popularity of a president, and a simplistically popular piece of legislation.”

Boggs offered a sterling defense of National Cable Television Assn. president James Mooney, whose job may be in jeopardy as a result of the bill’s passage.

“He’ll be fine,” said Boggs. “We have lots of challenges ahead. Now is not the time to change leaders.”

However, another cable industry source privately predicted Mooney “won’t be around much longer.”

In another development, Federal Communications Commission chairman Al Sikes said the FCC will “do the best it can” to implement the new law. However, Sikes noted that the Congressional Budget Office has projected it will cost the FCC $ 20 million for six years to carry out the act, which is “one-sixth of the FCC’s budget.”

Sikes asked Congress for a “supplemental appropriation” for the FCC to administer the new law.

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