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Rivals open fire on WB over syndie newsmag

Syndicators have gone on the warpath against “Entertainment News Television,” Warner Bros.’ fall 1994 syndicated newsmagazine strip.

WB threw down the gauntlet this week in the high-stakes battle with a multipage trade ad attacking the existing syndie newsmags: Twentieth TV’s “A Current Affair,” King World’s “Inside Edition” and Paramount’s “Hard Copy.”

Competitors are seething over the ad, which plays on some stations’ fears about tabloid shows: WB is trying to pitch its program as “advertiser-friendly.”

Now the rivals have gone on the offensive, taking issue with WB Domestic TV Distribution prez Dick Robertson’s repeated assertions that all the deals for “Entertainment News Television” will require stations to air the series in valuable access slots for two years.

WB’s adversaries in the expensive newsmag game contend that at least two stations, CBS affiliate KPIX-TV in SanFran and NBC affil KPNX-TV in Phoenix, have entered into “multi-tier” pacts that will permit them to air the show in more than one daypart.

Prime deals

While acknowledging that “one or two” stations may carry “Entertainment News Television” in late-fringe slots, WB’s senior VP of sales Scott Carlin Tuesday continued to insist that “virtually all the deals” are for prime access.

He declined comment on specific stations, saying several broadcasters have asked WB to hold off announcing their call letters.

Those stations, according to Carlin, intend to use “Entertainment News Television” to replace existing access programs. Carlin contended they are trying to figure out how to break the news to other syndicators, while competitors complain that WB is simply reluctant to release a less-than-glowing station lineup.

Ken Solomon, exec VP and general sales manager for Twentieth TV’s syndie wing , which aside from “Affair” is also coming out with the fall ’94 newsmag-talkshow hybrid “Sparks,” said stations will be reluctant to abandon proven commodities so fast.

“Before an affiliate or independent gives up an existing franchise that they have had on the air for six to 10 years, they have to take a long, hard look at what it is that they are buying,” he said.

No pilot

Solomon and others, who have been closely tracking WB’s sales progress with “Entertainment News Television,” said a major fault is that the WB program, unlike the other fall ’94 entrants, lacks a pilot.

“Entertainment News Television,” which has been in the market for about two months since the NBC O&Os in N.Y. and L.A. unexpectedly grabbed it, has so far been licensed by 11 stations, covering 20% of the U.S.

Robertson’s earlier predictions had placed the show in 50% of the country by this point with firm two-year access deals. Robertson “overestimated what the market would accept,” Solomon said.

Although WB did not meet Robertson’s timetable for hitting the 50% mark, Carlin said the syndicator will have half the country wrapped up “pretty darn quick.”

Carlin indicated that WB is willing to deal with indie stations, which he said could air it after their 10 p.m. newscasts, but other syndicators said newsmags don’t work with indies.

Other buyers

Aside from KPIX and KPNX, other stations that have so far licensed “Entertainment News TV” reportedly include indie KUSI in San Diego, Fox affil KVVU in Las Vegas, CBS affil KSL in Salt Lake City and Viacom Broadcasting-owned WHEC in Rochester, N.Y.

WHEC’s inclusion is surprising since the sister Viacom Entertainment wing is battling “ENT” with its own newsmag aspirant, “Real Time.” With its existing lineup, and a reported combined cash license fee of $ 60,000-$ 70,000 per week in the top two markets of New York and L.A., syndie sources said WB will fall far short of recouping its first year costs for “Entertainment News TV.”

The syndicator will have to invest at least $ 40 million for the cash-plus-barter show, and that figure could rise by as much as 30% if it fails to catch on by the November sweeps. Syndicators are often forced to make expensive format and talent changes in such instances.

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