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America’s Talking, the NBC-owned cable network that will start operating this fall, plans to award the winner of a nationwide talent contest a one-year contract to host a regular talkshow.

“This is the first time in the history of television that a network will select a talkshow host from a talent search,” says Elizabeth Tilson, VP of programming for America’s Talking, which will consist of wall-to-wall on-air personalities chatting up guests and taking calls from viewers. “It could be your uncle or my aunt. If they have a sense of humor and strong opinions, and project intelligence, they could be the winner.”

In a statement, Roger Ailes, president of America’s Talking, who dreamed up the idea, said: “An average American will have the opportunity to become the next national talkshow star. It could be a schoolteacher, a construction worker, a cabdriver, a company executive or even a local talkshow personality.”

Tilson says the network will lay out more than $ 1 million on marketing the contest, which she hopes will attract enough attention “to put us on the map.”

Although exact details of the contest are still to be worked out, Tilson says the dozen or so finalists may get flown to New York for a final weekend of heavily publicized winnowing out, a process that could take place on the air, possibly on CNBC, which reaches 49 million subscribers and is the parent of America’s Talking.

America’s Talking is guaranteed a healthy launch in the fall because NBC linked it to agreements with many of the largest cable systems for retransmission consent.

In exchange for agreeing to take America’s Talking for a relatively modest monthly per-subscriber license fee, the cable systems got permission to carry the signals of NBC’s owned TV stations without paying an extra tariff, as envisioned in the Cable Act of 1992.

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