MCA TV and Viacom Entertainment are the latest to throw their hats into the firstrun syndicated newsmag ring.
The MCA syndie wing is reportedly close to announcing a major foray into firstrun syndication with a “60 Minutes”-style half-hour series aimed at the 20 -something crowd.
Viacom, meanwhile, confirmed on Monday that it will launch the long-rumored MTV-style pop culture newsmag “Real Time” for strip syndication in fall 1994.
MCA declined to comment, but sources said the program will start off as a weekly in September 1994 and go into strip syndication the following fall if it meets its first-year ratings goal — the same path taken by Buena Vista Television’s “The Crusaders,” which kicks off next month in the hopes of becoming a strip the following season.
The eight Chris-Craft/United stations, including major indies KCOP and WWOR-TV in New York and affiliates, reportedly have licensed the MCA program.
Sources indicated the MCA project is being done in association with the Universal City-based indie company ZM Prods., whose principal, George Zaloom, produced last year’s “Encino Man” and “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” the 1991 documentary on the filming of Francis Ford Copppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”
MCA, which has a spotty record in the firstrun strip business (its last entrant was the short-lived “Ron Reagan” latenight talker a few seasons back), and Viacom join four others with reality strip projects for the 1994-95 season: Warner Bros. (“Entertainment News Television”), BVTV, Twentieth TV (“Sparks”) and Columbia Pictures TV (an unannounced newsmag in conjunction with cable’s E! Entertainment TV).
Still others are racing to grab the valuable access slots. King World pairs “American Journal” next month with “Inside Edition,” and Paramount takes the road lessTurn to page 7
Viacom, MCA are making news
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traveled with a syndie revival of “The Price Is Right.”
Their sense of urgency stems from BVTV’s off-net sitcom “Home Improvement,” which is gobbling up the access landscape for a fall ’95 start.
So far, “ENT” has a jump on the five-day-a-week competitors for fall 1994. The first newsmag strip to roll out of the gate has, with few exceptions, received firm access clearances during its first full year in the 1994-95 season , according to WB Domestic TV Distribution prez Dick Robertson.
And if the program meets “very modest” ratings goals the first year, he said, it will return to access in its second year.
Still, Rick Jacobson, president of domestic markets for Viacom Entertainment, said there is a place for “Real Time.”
For that show and all the other newsmags to succeed, they will need a fair share of access slots. The programs are expensive to produce and can carry huge deficits during their first few years.
Magazine series can have start-up costs of more than $ 40 million and carry annual budgets in excess of $ 20 million. Jacobson said “Real Time,” a cash-plus-barter show in which the syndicator keeps a minute of national advertising time, will have a budget competitive with the other major newsmags.
He insisted that “Real Time” can play as easily on an independent as on a network affiliate, the traditional homebase of newsmags.
“A number of independents are programming different than ever before,” he said. “They have news on their stations, and let’s not forget that ‘A Current Affair’ was launched on an independent station group.”
Viacom’s sales force intends to make presentations this week to stations and groups in New York before heading to Los Angeles and Chicago. Jacobson is looking at both group and individual deals.
The show marks the first major strip project to fall under entertainment group president Neal Braun’s directive of drawing on the resources of the company’s cable networks in developing shows for broadcast television.
Although “Real Time” is exclusively for syndication, Viacom is still weighing whether there are any cross-promotion possibilities with the cable webs.
The company vowed the program will “cut through the hype” in its coverage of movies, TV and music. It will also center on lifestyle, fashion, sports and new technologies.
Among those contributing regular segs will be Kurt Loder, who anchors “MTV News,” and model Cindy Crawford, the host of MTV’s “House of Style.”
Viacom has plucked Linda Corradina, senior VP of news and specials for MTV, as the syndie show’s exec producer.
Jacobson said the new series will target, but not limit itself to, the 18-49 audience.
Because the program is produced by MTV Prods., Jacobson wants to avoid the appearance that it will appeal only to a younger audience.
“We didn’t want (the stations) to pigeonhole us before we went out there,” he said. “We’d want the broadcasters to decide for themselves.”