BVTV lines up ‘Crusaders’

In the face of a glutted marketplace for once-a-week series, Buena Vista TV has pulled off a coup by signing 40 stations for its new hourlong investigative-magazine series “The Crusaders.”

The deal is unusual in that at least 21 of the stations–the ones owned by Group W, Lin TV and Providence Journal Broadcasting–will pony up an undisclosed amount of money to fund production for the first two years.

In exchange, these stations will pocket a piece of the revenue from Buena Vista’s sale of six national-barter minutes out of each hour when the show premieres this fall.

Although the principals wouldn’t talk about costs of “Crusaders,” which will include 35 original hours in the first year, one source says Buena Vista is working on a facilities/operations deal with a news production company that could rein in the costs.

Failing that, Buena Vista’s parent Walt Disney Co. may used facilities at KCAL in L.A. Disney-owned KCAL already produces more news shows than any other indie TV station in the country. “Crusaders” host Pat Harvey is also a KCAL anchorwoman.

Among the stations signing on to the show but not part of the equity-participation deal are KSTP, Minneapolis, KHOU, Houston, KMOV, St. Louis, and KNXV, Phoenix.

Bob Jacquemin, president of Buena Vista TV, says these stations are committing strong time periods to “Crusaders” because “the game plan is to make the weekly show a success so we can roll it out into a strip that could create a major franchise.”

The bulk of clearances, he said, will be at 7 p.m. or at 11:30 p.m. Saturdays , although “we’ll have more prime time clearances than ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’ ” which logs about half a dozen.

Buena Vista would appear to have delivered a preemptive strike into the heart of its main competitor in the weekly hourlong magazine sweepstakes, Multimedia’s “The I-File,” which has yet to sign its first station deal.

But Dick Coveny, executive VP of Multimedia Entertainment, said, “There’s room out there for a quality program. We’re putting on a full-court press at NATPE.”

The difference between the two shows is that “Crusaders” will try to make the news as well as report it, whereas “I-File,” with the former “60 Minutes” producer Harry Moses in charge, will focus on “60 Minutes”-type pieces using lots of freelance crews who’ve worked on network news mags.

“Crusaders” boasts that in its pilot it helped a young Montana girl find an organ donor. “I-File’s” main boast is that it will have two name anchors, Charlie Rose and Jane Wallace.

Jacquemin said “Crusaders” could evolve into a five-a-week half-hour series as early as its second year, although the third or fourth year is more likely because shows like this often take awhile to build a loyal following.

The stations in the “Crusaders” partnership include KYW, Philadelphia; KPIX, San Francisco; WBZ, Boston; KXAS, Dallas; KING, Seattle; KDKA, Pittsburgh; KGW, Portland; and WISH, Indianapolis.

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