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Senator Seeks Probe of Comcast for Naming NBC Managers

U.S. Senator Al Franken, a former NBC comedian, asked federal officials to investigate whether Comcast Corp. violated antitrust law by naming new managers at NBC Universal as regulators weigh the purchase.

“Comcast’s actions may constitute ‘gun-jumping’ in violation of the letter and spirit of federal antitrust law,” Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, said in a letter to Christine Varney, the assistant U.S. attorney general for antitrust. Franken’s office released the letter by e-mail today.

The Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission are reviewing the purchase announced last December. It would give Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, control of the NBC television network, broadcast stations, cable channels such as MSNBC and USA Network and a share of the online site Hulu LLC.

Franken, 59, rose to prominence on the NBC show “Saturday Night Live.” He has raised campaign money by promoting his criticism of Comcast’s planned takeover of the network.

Philadelphia-based Comcast last week announced a “comprehensive restructuring” at NBC Universal by naming 43 managers for the General Electric Co. unit, Franken wrote.

Comcast may be seeking to indirectly control NBC “well in advance of federal approval” and its action may trigger impermissible exchanges of sensitive information, he wrote. Comcast “does not have the right to effect that merger absent explicit federal approval,” Franken wrote.

Transition Planning Common

“Transition and integration planning is common, proper, and expected,” Sena Fitzmaurice, a Washington-based spokeswoman for Comcast, said in an e-mail. “Post-closing management teams are regularly announced prior to antitrust approval. NBC Universal has remained in total control of all decision making.”

Gina Talamona, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Jeffrey Zucker, chief executive officer of Universal City, California-based NBC Universal, said Nov. 18 he expects the takeover to be completed by year-end. Neither regulatory agency has announced a date for a decision.

Franken was an actor and writer for “Saturday Night Live” from 1975 to 1980 and from 1985 to 1995. Among his comedy characters was Stuart Smalley, the self-help guru who ended his messages with the affirmation, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people like me!”

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