Johnnie L.

Stories by Johnnie L. Roberts

  • Kill Fee

    The O.J. Simpson book debacle seemed like an unmitigated disaster for media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his maverick publisher Judith Regan. In fact, Murdoch’s empire had reaped a financial windfall before the embarrassed mogul cancelled pub­lication of the “If I Did It.” Newsweek has learned that ABC’s Barbara Walters had explored so seriously the idea of doing a Simpson interview to promote the book that when she balked at proceeding, ABC’s Entertainment division had to pay Mur­doch’s publishing arm a “kill fee” of as much as $1 million.Kill fees are common in the publishing industry and in Hollywood. Typically, such a fee is paid after a prospective buyer has made a good-faith commitment to a project (although not necessarily signed a contract) before ultimately rejecting the content.None of the people familiar with the ABC/News Corp. dealings would discuss the matter on the record for fear of anger­ing their employers. Both News Corp. and ABC are bound by non-disclosure agreements...
  • NBC Universal: Naming The Heir Apparent

    Industry followers have long been watching GE's NBC Universal, speculating about when CEO Bob Wright would be out. Last week two veteran execs left NBC for CEO jobs at AOL and at the parent of Discovery Channel. The departures only increased the murmurs about Wright's future. Would he be out by the end of the year? And who would succeed him? Most of the betting was on NBC's high-profile chief, Jeff Zucker.We have one of those answers already: according to an NBC spokesperson, Wright will be in place until 2008. And his successor? A high-level insider, requesting anonymity on the subject of personnel, says NBC Universal plans to announce anew executive lineup that will make the succession clear as early as the first quarter of 2007 and definitely by July. The heir apparent will be named to a newly created position of NBC Universal president or chief operating officer, one rung below Wright on the corporate ladder, allowing for a transition of 12 to 18 months.But who will it be?...
  • How to Count Eyeballs

    For 55 years the couch potato has belonged to Nielsen Media Research, the company that meticulously catalogs TV viewing habits for the benefit of advertisers that want to sell suds to the spuds. But now couch potatoes are waddling to their computers to consume entertainment online--and in Cyberland, Nielsen doesn't dominate the business of counting eyeballs. "There's close to 100 companies" battling it out to become the Nielsen of the Web, says Josh James, CEO of Omniture, one of the top Internet-measurement firms. "We see competitors all over the place.""Begun the Web Ratings War has," as the potato-shaped Yoda might say. In the TV Ratings War, in which networks battle for the most viewers, Nielsen holds a monopoly as the official scorekeeper. But on the Web, Nielsen is right there in the trenches, fighting foes with names like comScore and Hitwise, which measure the number of "unique visitors," or "UVs," to a given Web site. Nielsen, of course, has no intention of surrendering to...
  • Hello, You've Got Game Show!

    This week on "Gold Rush": who will walk away with $1 million in genuine gold bars? Will it be Michael Kearney of Memphis, who holds a world record for graduating college at 10? Will it be David Delaserda, the unemployed single dad of two from Freemont, Ohio? Or maybe it will be one of the 16 others who've survived a barrage of pop-trivia quizzes, rounds of charades and frantic treasure hunts in their coast-to-coast battle for the gold. Tune in this Thursday and unlock the secret combination to "Gold Rush."What? You can't find "Gold Rush" on your 500 cable channels? That's because it isn't there. It's on the Internet. And nearly 11 million users have tuned in. Chalk up another home run for reality-TV king Mark Burnett, the man who changed the rules--and economics--of television with "Survivor" and "The Apprentice." Now he's applying his lucrative formula to a Web confection that's helping long-suffering AOL in its quest to reclaim the gold itself."Gold Rush" is a hybrid online...
  • Why Prime Time's Now Your Time

    The job commute may be a daily headache for most, but it's the favorite part of the day for Verizon Wireless. Why? Evening rush hour--4 to 7 p.m.--is prime time on its V Cast Internet service, when captive audiences in cars, buses and trains dial up a flood of streaming videos to while away the miles. Three to 5 p.m. is the peak of prime time for video at AOL. Time Warner Cable's video-on-demand channels peak on weekends from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. "It's a terrific alternative to lackluster network-TV offerings," says Bob Benya, the company's chief of video on demand.Broadcast television's prime time as we know it is fading. Since the industry's formative years in the 1950s, the powerful medium has revolved around initially four but now three nocturnal hours, from 8 to 11 o'clock. Mass audiences would settle in for appointment entertainment. Prime time dominated broadcast economics, produced memorable pop-culture moments (Who shot J.R.?) and, as the broadest forum for advertising,...
  • The Gospel Music Man

    This doesn't begin as a family-values story. Max Siegel's father, Bill, a music salesman, was Jewish. His mother, Delores, a beautiful nightclub singer, was African-American. The marriage ended badly; Bill kidnapped 5-year-old Max and his baby sister, told them Delores was dead, then married a drug addict. When Max was 12, Bill died, Delores reappeared, as if from the grave, and the chaos continued. "It was straight ghetto," he recalls.He couldn't have known, but this turbulent childhood, with its racial complexities and musical influences, gave Siegel, 42, everything to be what he is today--arguably the most important exec in gospel music. In a shrinking music industry overall, Christian music is a rare bright spot: sales have soared to $700 million last year from $381 million in 1995, and gospel is the biggest slice. As president of Verity Records, Siegel has helped guide the genre through a dramatic transition from a traditional, church-based sound to spiritual messages with...
  • Meat Loaf It's All Gravy

    It's been one helluva stretch for Meat Loaf. In April, the singer, whose two "Bat Out of Hell" rock operas make for one of music's most successful franchises, moved out of his L.A. home. For reasons he's unclear about, police arrested the moving van's driver and then impounded the packed-up vehicle. Of course, it was full of copies of every recording he'd made--and, of course, they were all stolen from the impounded van. Then he asked Scarlett Johansson to do a duet with him on the third and final opera installment, "Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose," which will be released on Halloween. She said no, he reportedly begged, then finally settled on Marion Raven ... you know, formerly of girl group M2M? Despite the indignities, he tells NEWSWEEK, "I'm grateful for what I have ."What he has now is some closure. In the music industry's dismal history of internecine battles, few rival the 30-year "Bat Out of Hell" saga for sheer longevity, misery and mounting legal bills. The...
  • You've Got ... a Company to Fix!

    Jeff Bewkes wasn't very good at keeping his comments to himself. In 2000, when Bewkes was the CEO of HBO, he was critical of America Online's plan to purchase his network's parent company, Time Warner, for $182 billion in stock. The Internet bubble began bursting and deflated the worth of the new-media/old-media marriage before the deal was even official. (It ultimately shed more than $200 billion in shareholder value.) "You had to wonder if it were a good idea" to proceed, Bewkes tells NEWSWEEK. In 2001, while still at HBO, he piped up again when AOL started losing subscribers who wanted high-speed service. Bewkes pushed AOL to embrace broadband, but corporate bosses didn't heed his advice.So who better than Bewkes, who rose through Time Warner's ranks to become its COO last year, to oversee the plan to salvage AOL? Last week he and AOL CEO Jon Miller announced that the company would give its services away to anyone with a broadband connection. They also told 5,000 employees--a...
  • Disney's Star Machine

    Situated about an hour's drive north of Birmingham along I-65, Hartselle, Ala., is a postcard of small-town America. With a population just under 13,000, the community of mostly young families dotes on kids, outlaws liquor sales and honors its railroad roots with the Depot Days Festival on the last Saturday of each September. And when the town, which would make a perfect set for a Disney production, wanted to balance sports with a taste of theater, it turned to the Disney Channel movie "High School Musical." "It was the perfect vehicle for us to draw our athletically centered community into the arts," says Amy Golden, mother of Madeline, 14, and Olivia, 12, and codirector of the newly minted Camp Hartselle. During the four-day summer camp, held last month, 76 Hartselle kids rehearsed songs from the show and developed original skits inspired by the tale of the jock guy and the smart girl who defy stereotypes to audition for lead roles in the annual musical. A standing-room-only...
  • Watching the Watchers

    A guy--let's call him Brad--longed for the company of his wife, so he took his iPod to bed. Confiding in an NBC researcher, Brad tells how he inserted his earplugs, nestled down beside his bride and got lost in an episode of "The Office" or another of his favorite TV shows downloaded from the iTunes store. His wife, meanwhile, was riveted by her favorite show playing on the bedroom TV. Yet another intimacy-challenged couple dialed up the heat on their relationship during the college basketball playoffs, say researchers for Verizon, the cellular-service giant. No fan of hoops, the wife snuggled up to her basketball-craving husband on the living-room couch, unfolded her cell phone and watched video clips streaming from Verizon's VCast service while he tuned in the game on CBS. "She thought it would be a good way to spend time together," says Ryan Hughes, Verizon's chief media programmer.Exactly who we are and how and why we download and stream video are perhaps the most urgent...
  • Hollywood: Hello to 'Hairspray'

    Zac Efron is going from basic cable to the big screen. Efron, who plays basketball-star-cum-crooner Troy Bolton in the Disney Channel megahit "High School Musical," tells NEWSWEEK he's landed the role of Link Larkin, the lead character in New Line Cinema's new version of the Broadway musical "Hairspray" (originally a John Waters film). Tween America's reigning heartthrob beat out as many as 200 other contenders to costar with John Travolta (doing his first musical since "Saturday Night Fever") and Queen Latifah, among others. "I'm pretty stoked," says Efron, 18.At first, director Adam Shankman worried that Efron's clean-cut, teen-idol look was "very Disney, very Mouseketeery." But in the auditions, Efron showed he could muster the "little bit more edge" required for the role of Link. "He's a really special kid and is arguably the biggest teen star in America right now," says Shankman."Hairspray" will stretch the actor musically, too, say Efron and Shankman. It will feature him--and...
  • Business: Hot Tip? Get Shorty.

    In their bid to turn cell phones into portable cinemas, mobile-phone giants Sprint, Verizon and others are summoning their inner Miramax and discovering the film-festival circuit. This week, for example, Cingular and its wireless-content partner HBO are scoping out the Urbanworld VIBE Film Festival in New York, in part to hunt for short films suitable for the size-challenged cell-phone screen. "I've already set aside six shorts that I thought would be perfect for the [mobile multimedia service]," says Stacy Spikes, who founded Urbanworld 10 years ago. If Spikes's taste doesn't match theirs, Cingular and HBO will get to reach out directly to filmmakers by participating in a panel, "Content on the Go: Opportunities in the Mobile Arena."Meanwhile, Nokia is setting up a tent this week at the Los Angeles Film Festival to show off its mobile-video phones and technology. Sprint is calling on one of the most famous festivals of all--Sundance. In addition to cosponsoring the event this year,...
  • Edgar and The Indies

    The name--Arctic Monkeys--is a dead giveaway. Yes, it's an "indie" band--none of that image-molding, superstar-making machinery of a major music corporation for these four chaps. The U.K. alternative-rock act first got a buzz going through Internet downloads and chat rooms. Hometown gigs in and around Sheffield brought more notice. As its grass-roots credibility grew, so did its indie attitude. Arc-tic Monkeys all but banned record-label scouts from its shows. Last year, when the group finally warmed to the idea of a label, it signed with tiny Domino Records, which was based in a London apartment. The debut album, "Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not," surged to No. 1 on the British charts. But could Arctic Monkeys and Domino cross the Atlantic and establish their indie cred in the United States? There was one sure way. Domino signed on with Alternative Distribution Alliance (ADA), the darling of U.S. indie labels, to get Arctic Monkeys' CD into stores. Since February the...
  • A Starbucks Jolt to the Big Screen

    "Akeelah and the Bee," opening on 2,800 screens this Friday, is an inspiring little film. It's about a precocious 11-year-old girl, Akeelah, who copes with her father's murder by becoming a spelling whiz. Played by relative newcomer Lauren Keyana Palmer, Akeelah ends up the co-winner of the National Spelling Bee on her first try, a triumph over myriad hardships.For the record, Akeelah's winning word wasn't "Frappuccino"-- a tempting candidate given that it's hard to spell, but also that Starbucks is a driving force behind the movie. It's a new direction for the coffee chain, but entirely in keeping with its success in becoming a major player in the struggling music business by hawking CDs in its 8,300 North American stores. "Film is the next logical step for us," said Kenneth Lombard, present of Starbucks Entertainment."Akeelah" is Starbucks' first outing. In a partnership with the film's distributor, Lions Gate, Starbucks is promoting "Akeelah" to its millions of java junkies. ...
  • A Mogul in Full

    At 82, Sumner Redstone, a billionaire eight or nine times over, controls not one, but two giant media companies after splitting apart his Viacom empire in January. One is CBS Inc. (CBS network, Showtime and CBS Radio, the former home of Howard Stern). The other is the new Viacom (MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures, among other operations). Redstone retains overwhelming shareholder control and remains chairman of both companies, which paid him a combined $24.4 million in salary, bonuses and other compensation for 2005. Yet in a few small ways, Redstone is just a regular guy. Consider, for instance, that he and wife No. 2, Paula Fortunato, a 42-year-old former teacher ("My most successful merger," Redstone says) like to occasionally strollover to the fence surrounding their Beverly Hills mansion to sneak food to the neighbor's dogs. It's just for fun. (Redstone, by the way, doesn't think his neighbor, Sylvester Stallone, neglects his pets.)It's a welcome diversion from all that...
  • The Future of Evening News

    There's an ironic twist to the story of recent Oscar contender "Good Night, and Good Luck." Based on real events, this Hollywood take on CBS News and its iconic journalists during the era of Joseph McCarthy was far more effective at drawing an audience and making money than the real CBS evening newscasts of today. The film, made for $7 million, has garnered more than $30million in U.S. ticket sales so far. AtAmazon.com, it ranks among the top 10 most popular DVDs. Meanwhile, even as the "CBS Evening News" managed to attract more viewers last year, it remains mired in last place behind NBC and ABC. But the evening-news business has been steadily losing overall viewership. Still Leslie Moonves, CBS's CEO, is a happy-news kind of guy. "I'm not writing off the time period," he told NEWSWEEK. That's for sure. What he's writing are big checks, like the one last week for $75 million over five years for Katie Couric, the latest Great Anchor Hope in the television industry's eternal bid to...
  • Murdoch's New Groove

    Keith Rupert Murdoch may be 74 years old, but the way he sees it, he's got a young man's fingertips for what's cool. Last year the News Corp. chairman acquired MySpace.com, the wildly popular social-networking site, for $580 million. He then spent almost $1 billion to snap up two more Internet businesses for college sports and videogaming. Those sites, plus others in his media empire, now give him bragging rights as the Internet's fourth biggest purveyor of online media and networking sites in terms of page views, and sixth in unique users. And by the end of the month, he tells NEWSWEEK, he'll announce a $1 billion plan for adding broadband to DirecTV, the satellite-TV service he controls. All this, he says, will add up to "a conservative $1 billion" in his Internet revenues by 2010, not counting any more acquisitions.For months, Murdoch has been barnstorming the United States and other countries, proselytizing about Net opportunities. He slowed down enough to share his thoughts...
  • Zucker's Busy New Office

    NBC typically doesn't rely on an idiot boss to dig itself out of a hole. But as chairman Bob Wright recently noted, these are "desperate" times. So for help NBC turned to "The Office," a ratings-challenged sitcom from a season ago featuring an earnest but impolitic boss (Steve Carell of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"). Last month NBC released reruns on iTunes, then recently added the series to a revamped lineup on Thursdays. "The Office" was an instant podcast hit, and its weekly TV audience grew by millions. Could it be that video iPods are helping decide prime-time winners? "You can never prove anything for sure, but it hasn't hurt and probably helped quite a bit," Jeff Zucker, newly anointed CEO of NBC Universal Television, said last Friday, after another encouraging showing for the network the night before.You'd be hard pressed trying to find a more vivid example than NBC of the abrupt upending of the media world. For most of the past two decades, it dominated prime time with an urban...
  • Fast Chat: Reginald Hudlin

    Reginald Hudlin, who's directed "The Bernie Mac Show" and "Everybody Hates Chris," was named president of Viacom's Black Entertainment Television this year. Johnnie L. Roberts quizzed him about his role as a network suit.I was brought here expressly to create original programming--news, sports, comedy, dramas, reality and animation. I'm building feature-film and home-video divisions--a very ambitious set of plans that will take years to implement.I really thought it would be about me twisting arms to get people to bring projects to the network. It hasn't been that way at all.Competition is always good. Competition makes champions. BET is so far and away the dominant player, it's absurd. We have 100 percent awareness of our brand. Our reach is greater. We have so much growth potential.Warrington has already brought me lots of fresh and strong ideas. I will not hold the fact against him that he's my brother.
  • Sinking Flagships?

    In selecting its co-anchors to succeed Peter Jennings at "World News Tonight," ABC has boldly acknowledged the harsh new realities of television news. The freshest news now comes from the Internet--not the evening broadcast. And, for the bottom line, those morning shows are unequivocally more important financially than the half--hour evening network reports.That, at least, was the message underlying the Disney--owned ABC's announcement--almost 17 weeks to the day after Jennings's death--that Elizabeth Vargas, 42, and Bob Woodruff, 43, will take his place. The move will hardly stun viewers who caught the two members of ABC News' next generation of on-air talent do solo stints as Jennings's substitute in recent months. In a first for broadcast news, the two will also anchor two additional live newscasts for the West Coast, ABC also announced.But while the news personalities grabbed top-billing in the network's formal announcement on Monday morning, it was the profound force of the...
  • News as a Contact Sport

    CORRECTION APPENDEDAs usual, top producers of CBS News gathered in New York to plan the evening newscast last Thursday. Harriet Miers had ditched her Supreme Court nomination. Word, too, was circulating about the looming indictment of I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby. The lead stories were blatantly obvious--until a slightly built man chimed in. Sean McManus, longtime president of CBS Sports, had been awestruck by the Chicago White Sox's first win of the World Series in 88 years. "Without question," he deadpanned, "you should lead with the Chicago White Sox story." There was stunned silence. "For three or four seconds, they actually thought I was serious," McManus said in an interview last Friday, recounting his first meeting as president of CBS News.For the past year, Leslie Moonves, CEO of CBS, has been pledging to retool the game of evening news. After all, the once vaunted CBS News--home to news legends like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite--sank to an embarrassing low with the...
  • Small TV, Big War

    The other networks' reaction to the ABC-iPod deal suggests that television is entering a frenetic period in which the industry's economics are apt to be upended. Disney's rivals are being coy about when, or if, they'll also offer shows on the iTunes store. Deborah Reif, president of NBC Universal Digital Media, says in a statement that the media giant is "having conversations with many top players." Ditto at CBS, where a spokesman says, "Obviously, we are talking to all the imaginable players about taking our content and putting it on emerging platforms."Those platforms could include not only Apple's online rivals like RealNetworks but, as one ABC rival speculates, Sony's PSP. There are also efforts to bring video to cell phones. Apple's $1.99-per-show fee isn't written in stone, and wireless providers may charge more. On the other hand, CBS premiered its sitcom "Everybody Hates Chris" for free on Google Video.Meanwhile some execs can't decide whether TV-to-go is healthy or harmful...
  • Selling Songs for a Song

    The music industry is filled with creative types, and many seem to be wearing suits these days. Consider the latest idea from the business suite at Warner Music Group, which is rummaging like the rest of the industry for new sources of revenue: when search engines like Google formally launch their new video-search sites, Warner Music wants a cut of the cash the sites would reap from selling ads next to search results. So if you type in "Madonna"--a Warner act--at the Google Video site (now in its test phase), and the results are accompanied by ads, Warner wants a share of those ad dollars as well as payment for any Madonna videos that are streamed or sold, according to a senior Warner insider who wasn't authorized to speak on the record, adding that the label has approached Google about the idea. Warner Music declined official comment. A Google spokesman wouldn't comment on any talks with record labels, but did say the company believes music companies should profit from their...
  • A Breakout Act

    It was a Saturday night in March 2004, and Martha Stewart's world was crumbling. A week earlier she had been convicted for lying to federal investigators, and her business empire, not to mention her reputation, was in tatters. But for now, while Stewart remained free, her worried friends were welcoming her to a dinner party to deal with the crisis. The guests included Jane Heller, a banker to the superwealthy who with her husband had initiated the gathering. The host, however, was Charles Koppelman, a casual acquaintance of Stewart's who was guiding Steve Madden's shoe company while the namesake founder was serving a 41-month prison sentence for securities fraud.It wasn't just the Stewart verdict that weighed on everyone. Martha was feeling betrayed, as directors and the CEO of the company she founded were cutting her out of the picture and downplaying her name. Koppelman, who once ran EMI Music, bristled at the notion--de-Martha-izing, he called it--and said at the dinner that the...
  • CRUNCH TIME

    Richard Parsons, Time Warner's CEO, exudes warmth. That quality helped stabilize the company after its ill-fated merger with AOL. But at the annual Sun Valley gathering held by investment banker Herbert Allen in July, Parsons got a cool reception from one of his biggest shareholders. The masters of the media universe passed the days golfing, hiking and fly-fishing, and mixed in sessions on the future of digital media. There were private meetings, too, including one between Parsons and fund manager Gordon Crawford of Capital Research Group, Time Warner's largest investor, according to a senior Time Warner executive. Crawford, by this account, had blistering comments about the stalled stock price, frozen in the midteens for roughly two years (Parsons arranged a briefing for him by Time Warner co-chairman Jeff Bewkes; Crawford wouldn't comment). Parsons also spent time under the Idaho sun with Aviv Nevo, a press-shy man who is also a big shareholder. Nevo has been visiting New York...
  • Murdoch Family Values

    WHY DID LACHLAN RESIGN? INSIDE THE TORTURED HISTORY OF A REAL-LIFE DYNASTY THAT MIXES FAMILY WITH BUSINESS.
  • Help Wanted

    With both entertainment and news programs in ratings and advertising slumps, NBC has made overtures to at least three top media players in recent weeks, according to executives close to the recruitment efforts. Among those contacted were Susan Lyne, CEO of Martha Stewart Omnimedia; Patricia Fili-Krushel, a top Time Warner executive, and Mark Shapiro, ESPN's wunderkind programmer. The outcome of the talks is unclear, and they may or may not be ongoing. Fili-Krushel, who is known to have discussed NBC's overture with Time Warner colleagues, declined to comment. Lyne, whose office said she is traveling through the weekend, did not return calls seeking comment. An ESPN spokesperson said Shapiro could not be reached for comment. NBC declined to comment.Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of NBC Universal, a unit of General Electric, has been personally involved in some of the recruitment efforts, the sources said. They described the overtures as directly linked to a yet-to-be-announced plan to...
  • KEEPIN' IT ON THE DOWNLOAD

    When--or if--the Discovery blasts off this week, cyberspace will have all the angles covered. AOL--fresh from its highly acclaimed continent-to-continent coverage of the Live 8 concert--will carry feeds from one camera beneath the engines, another attached to the external fuel tank, another with a long-range view of the launch and a fourth parked on a nearby beach. AOL's users can watch live from the lens of their choice. And if they miss the historic launch (NASA's return to space after the Columbia tragedy two years ago), no worries. They can access repeat streams of video almost instantly. For space-loving insomniacs, AOL will offer round-the-clock video streams of Discovery's crew weightlessly going about their daily routine. Not to be outdone, CBSNews.com, CBS's newly relaunched broadband site, will feature mission downloads, too--and it will link you to a "space consultant" for his expert perspective.That's "digitainment"! Just a half decade after the last digital...
  • FINDING A NEW GROOVE

    It was an unusual but fitting code name: "Project Tapas" was launched a year ago by Andy Lack, the new CEO of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, to end a raging war between music companies and peer-to-peer networks like Grokster that let Net surfers pirate music and movies. In secret meetings with a Madrid-based P2P service--whose location in Spain explains the code name--and later with U.S. operators, Sony officials tried to persuade them to "go legit." P2P software could be enhanced, they said, to thwart piracy and enable users to buy songs legally. But the networks, smug after earlier legal victories, balked. "The P2Ps turned their nose up to Andy's concept," says former Grokster president Wayne Russo, Lack's ally.But the two sides may end up sharing some tapas--or perhaps a more lavish meal. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has held P2Ps are financially liable for piracy by their users, the P2Ps and music companies have reason to work on a new business model. Two days after the court...
  • 'I Have a Vision'

    Steveland Morris was signed to Motown Records in 1961 and released his first hit record, "Fingertips," two years later at age 12. In 1965 came Little Stevie Wonder's worldwide hit "Uptight (Everythings Alright)," the first in a years-long string of top 40 smashes. When his contract ended in 1971, he balked at immediately resigning with Motown. Instead, he recorded two albums on his own, largely solitary efforts in which he played every instrument. Upon rejoining Motown, he delivered a series of mostly brilliant albums, culminating with "Conversation Peace" in 1995. Since then, Wonder's global fan base has anxiously awaited the next studio album as he recorded scores of songs and successive Motown CEOs staked their careers in part on delivering the record. NEWSWEEK'S Johnnie L. Roberts talked to Wonder recently about the travails of producing his first studio album in a decade:Stevie Wonder: The reason they haven't gotten it is, I'm not ready to give it to them. Certain [release]...