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Tribune says ‘Rivers’ to keep rolling along

In what has become an annual summer ritual, rumors are resurfacing that Tribune Entertainment’s 4-year-old “Joan Rivers Show” will not return for a new season. And, as usual, Tribune has issued its standard denial.

Company VP Jim Corboy insists the punching bag of talkshows will be back for a fifth season on Sept. 13.

With more than 20 syndicated and network talkshows vying for slots, many in the industry are amazed the low-rated “Rivers” show keeps returning.

The majority of stations air “Rivers” in daytime, where the program averaged a 1.9 household rating during the May sweeps.

Even competitors are quick to praise Tribune for its ability to get the show renewed. But the syndicator could have its work cut out for next season.

According to the widely used Nielsen SNAP report, “Rivers” clearance level slipped 14% during the past year — from 115 stations covering 77% of the country in May ’92 to 81 markets representing slightly more than 66% of the U.S. this past May.

Jack Fentress, VP-director of programming for Petry National Television, said at least a half-dozen of his client stations have replaced “Rivers” recently.

There are questions whether the syndicator will be able to make up for the large number of station defections, even with the addition of a 10 a.m. weekday clearance on WCBS-TV in New York this fall (“Rivers” came along with “Geraldo,” which the O&O needed for its 4-5 p.m. slot).

The clearance level is vital to a show like “Rivers,” which station reps say needs at least 70% coverage to be profitable.

But Corboy asserts that “Rivers” is a moneymaker for Tribune and maintains that it provides stations with premium rates from advertisers.

There is speculation that a revenue-enhancing home shopping element will be added to the show next season — borrowing a page from Rivers’ USA Network program (which, according to one non-confirmed published report, will not return for another year).

The Trib spokesman never mentioned a home shopping format change, but he noted that there are a number of creative marketing techniques available to bolster the revenue of stations.

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