Rivers will talk shop with QVC

Barry Diller’s QVC Network, a home shopping TV powerhouse, is making its first foray into syndication with an hourlong talkshow strip hosted by Joan Rivers, “Can We Shop?”

The series, to be distributed by Tribune Entertainment, which syndicates the ongoing “Joan Rivers Show,” will mix casual talk with discreet sales pitches for products.

“If an author comes on to talk about his new book,” said Doug Briggs, executive VP of QVC, “we’ll give the viewer an opportunity to purchase the book via a toll-free number after the segment is over.”

Tribune’s plan is to make “Can We Shop?” available to stations in January for morning time periods. “We’re expecting some fallout from the new talkshows,” said Don Hacker, president and CEO of Tribune Entertainment, referring to King World’s “Les Brown Show,” Twentieth TV’s “Bertice Berry Show” and Columbia TV’s “Ricki.” They preem in syndication in September.

January is also the most lucrative month for retail sales, and the month when TV watching is at its peak, according to Hacker.

Tribune will try to make the deal station-friendly by offering the show free and giving eight of the 10 commercial minutes in each episode back to the stations for sale locally, Hacker said. In addition, he said, Tribune plans to cut TV stations in on the gross retail sales through a formula based on phone purchases within the station’s geographical area.

A tough sell

Even with these favorable terms, Tribune is facing long odds in trying to make it with a hybrid that mixes talk and home shopping.

Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for the rep firm Katz TV, said all previous syndicated attempts at this genre have failed. He cites two strips that fell by the wayside after one syndie season: the WB TV hour “Value Television,” hosted by Alex Trebek and Meredith MacRae, and a joint venture of MCA TV and the Home Shopping Network, “The Home Shopping Game.”

Undaunted, HSN joined with ITC Entertainment late in 1991 to announce a 60 -minute strip “Day-to-Day Live,” with actress Gloria Loring and HSN’s Bob Circosta as hosts. Stations weren’t interested, and ITC scrapped the project.

The ABC network also experimented in a revenue-sharing arrangement with some of its affiliated stations for “Nightcap,” a short-lived strip following Ted Koppel’s “Nightline.”

“It’s difficult enough to succeed with a Monday-through-Friday program of any kind,” Carroll said. “When you add home shopping to it, you make it even more difficult.”

But in the next breath, Carroll added: “If anybody can pull it off, it’s Joan Rivers. She has a unique sense of humor, and she’ll take a no-nonsense, direct approach to the sales aspects of the show.”

Briggs said Rivers is a natural to host the new show because the sales figures for the Rivers line of fashion jewelry on QVC “are now approaching the $ 50 million mark.”

And Hacker said previous failures at combining talk with home shopping are yesterday’s news. “The whole retail business has changed dramatically in the last couple of years,” he said. “And cable networks HSN and QVC keep moving up to new heights of awareness.”

Three partners will carve out equal stakes in “Can We Shop?”: QVC, Tribune and Regal Communications. Regal owns the jewelry collection that Rivers hawks on the air. The three will soon announce the identity of the executive producer, who will assemble the team to produce the show.

“We’ve got find a way to generate more revenue in syndication for a 2-rated talkshow,” said Hacker, “and retail sales is one way to do it.”

But, Carroll said: “Will the producers be able to find the proper balance between entertainment and home shopping? That’s the age-old question.”

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