Local Suddenlink customers could lose MTV, Nickelodeon, more channels tonight

Nickelodeon, home to 'Spongebob Squarepants,' could disappear from the Suddenlink lineup.
Nickelodeon, home to ‘Spongebob Squarepants,’ could disappear from the Suddenlink lineup.

Suddenlink Communications customers nationwide – including thousands in Leander, Pflugerville, Georgetown and elsewhere in Central Texas – could lose access to Nickelodeon, MTV and several other well-known cable networks tonight.

The impending blackout comes after months of failed contract negotiations between Suddenlink, the nation’s ninth largest cable provider, and Viacom, owner of the networks.

Other cable channels that could disappear are BET, CMT, Spike, TV Land, VH1 and Comedy Central.

Suddenlink claims Viacom is asking for an increase of monthly per-subscriber fees that amounts to about 50 percent, while also pointing out that Nielsen ratings for many of the Viacom networks are down by as much as 30 percent.

Those higher fees would result in higher cable bills, Suddenlink says.

Viacom officials didn’t respond to a message from the American-Statesman seeking comment.

About 60 other cable companies nationwide have already dumped the Viacom networks, citing the higher fees, according to Suddenlink.

If a deal isn’t reached before day’s end, the Viacom stations will immediately be replaced by several new channels not currently available to Suddenlink subscribers.

In the Central Texas area, networks joining the expanded basic tier will include the Hallmark Channel (Channels 41/782), FXX (Channels 58/742), Investigation Discovery (Channels 35/748), Oprah Winfrey’s OWN (Channels 31/784), Glenn Beck’s The Blaze (Channels 59/741), Pivot (Channels 64/746), Up! (Channels 34/747) and Sprout (Channels 56/744), which features children’s programming.

Customers with digital service will get even more new channels: Aspire (Channel 214), Baby First TV (Channel 211), Comedy.TV (Channel 212), Crime and Investigation (Channel 215), ESPN Goal Line/Buzzer Beater (Channels 145/685), Fusion (Channel 144), Game Show Network (Channels 210/688), the MGM Channel (Channel 325), Military History Channel (Channel 216), RFD TV (Channel 200), RLTV (Channe 217), Revolt (Channel 213) and TV One (Channel 187).

‘Shipping Wars’ producer sues, says she’s owed overtime pay

'Shipping Wars' (Courtesy A&E Networks)
‘Shipping Wars’ (Courtesy A&E Networks)

For the second time in less than a month, an Austin-based company that produces reality TV shows has been hit with a lawsuit alleging unpaid wages.

Megalomedia Inc. is accused of failing to pay overtime to a coordinating producer for the A&E network’s highly rated “Shipping Wars” program, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Austin.

Mansfield Films LLC is also named as a defendant in the suit.

A Megalomedia spokeswoman told the American-Statesman on Monday that the company hadn’t been served with the suit and declined comment.

According to court documents, Jocelyn Schutte, an Austin resident, was hired in spring 2013 to work on “Shipping Wars,” a show where truckers use uShip.com, an Austin-based website, to bid on hauling one-of-a-kind items across the country.

UShip is not named as a defendant in the suit. Neither is A&E.

Schutte said she was referred to as an independent contractor, “but treated like an employee.” According to the lawsuit, her job duties included booking travel arrangements, securing required permits and creating master itineraries and daily call sheets for all or part of the show’s third, fourth and fifth seasons. Schutte wasn’t retained after the show’s fifth season, according to the lawsuit.

Often, Schutte said, she worked more than 40 hours in a single week, and alleges that she didn’t receive overtime pay as required by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. She is seeking payment for overtime she worked, pre- and post-judgment interest, court costs and expert witness fees, among other things, according to court filings.

“Defendants exercised extensive control over Schutte’s hours,” the suit states. “In addition to establishing her job duties, which due to the nature of the filming schedule could require very long hours, defendants also required that Schutte work at their office during set weekday hours. Defendants further required that Schutte obtain permission in advance to take a day off, and at times required or sought to require that Schutte take days off.”

Schutte claims she was instructed how to fill out the invoices that she was required to submit in order to be paid, according to the suit.

“Defendants also exercised extensive control over the amount of time that Schutte was permitted to invoice for, although she was required to complete her job duties regardless of how much time she had to work in order to do so,” the suit states. “Defendants knew, or showed reckless disregard for whether, their failure to pay Schutte overtime for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week was in violation of FLSA.”

Earlier this month, four stars of the short-lived “Texas Car Wars” reality series sued Megalomedia, claiming they hadn’t been paid in full for work performed more than two years ago.

Megalomedia told the American-Statesman at the time that it denied the allegations and planned to “vigorously defend itself.”

Austin attorney R. Scott Cook filed both lawsuits. Neither case has been set for trial yet.

KVUE special looks at state of mental health care in Texas

KVUE's Andy Pierrotti
KVUE’s Andy Pierrotti

KVUE investigative reporter Andy Pierrotti takes an in-depth look at the state of mental health care in Texas during a 30-minute special this weekend.

“The Cost of Troubled Minds,” set to air at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, is the result of seven months of digging, according to Pierrotti, who joined the station about two years ago.

What he and a pair of KVUE photojournalists found is likely to surprise many viewers, Pierrotti believes.

“The issues impacting the mentally ill in Texas are mind-blowing,” he said, “and there’s certainly no easy fix.”

Pierrotti said that the poor are particularly at risk because state budget cuts in past years have severely impacted services that are available to them. While some funding has been restored, advocates say more money is needed.

“They may have helped a little, but there’s still a long way to go,” he said. “All the Legislature did essentially was add back about the same amount that was taken away 10 years ago.”

KVUE also found there’s a shortage of psychiatrists in many parts of the state that’s making the situation even worse.

One woman featured in the special has checked herself into emergency rooms hundreds of times because she had no other access to mental health services she required. Those frequent visits potentially cost taxpayers as much as $1 million, Pierrotti said.

“Austin is doing a little better than some other parts of the state because we’re a fairly progressive city, but this is still something we’re dealing with here, too,” he said. “With the population gains we’ve been seeing, it’s not going to go away any time soon, either.”

New news director set to join KEYE

Rob Cartwright
Rob Cartwright

A new boss will soon oversee the KEYE news team.

Rob Cartwright has been hired to serve as the CBS affiliate’s news director, the station announced today.

He takes the spot vacated this summer by Greg Turchetta, who headed back home to Florida to oversee communications for the Collier County School District.

Cartwright arrives in Austin after a three-year stint at WSYR, the ABC affiliate in Syracuse, N.Y.

Previous career stops have included Dallas, San Antonio and Washington, D.C. Combined, Cartwright has almost two decades in the TV news business, according to KEYE.

“I believe Rob’s proven track record and his ability to teach and lead will be a great advantage to KEYE’s news operation,” said Scott Livingston, vice president of news for Sinclair Broadcast Group, KEYE’s owner.

During his time in Syracuse, Cartwright is credited with helping WSYR become the city’s No. 1 news station.

“I am excited to be joining the talented team in Austin,” Cartwright said. “The area is growing quickly and KEYE is the place to turn for local news, weather and the in-depth reporting people in Central Texas need to know about.”

Cartwright is set to start Oct. 13, just two weeks before the all-important November ratings period.