Forget the play. The deal’s now the thing.

The crippling blow NBC dealt Warner Bros.’ “Extra – The Entertainment Magazine” last week: announcing it would replace the expensive WB syndicated series on the Peacock stations with its own entertainment magazine in fall 1996, is the strongest example yet of fallout from the U.S. government’s rush to deregulate the TV business.

That’s the consensus of many in the industry concerning the NBC and New World series. The partners will have an equal ownership stake in it and guarantee the program access slots on their top-market stations.

The new venture will be helmed by well-regarded former “Entertainment Tonight” exec producer Jim Van Messel, who ran Paramount’s top-rated “ET” from the mid-1980s until early July. He has signed a long-term deal with NBC Prods, and will be loaned out to the joint venture partners for the show. It’s believed Van Messel will be given an ownership stake in the project, the first under NBC and New World’s 10-year programming agreement that was announced in July.

NBCP will produce the Peacock-inspired series in Burbank, with New World’s Genesis Entertainment handling national and international distribution and ad sales.

The companies are expected to equally split the production, marketing and distribution costs for the show. Industry sources pegged the startup production budget at $15 million-$20 million.

It’s the perfect deal for everyone – except WB which, despite its standing as a studio giant, lacks the one critical element needed for success in syndication these days: station ownership. Without it, WB could not guarantee “Extra” slots in the access hour preceding primetime.

Ironically, the show has been turning in its best performances in access on the NBC O& Os.

“This is exactly what we felt would happen” in a deregulated TV environment, says a large station group owner with programming interests. “The big will get bigger,” with a few companies dominating the programming scene in this country.

“Disney and Westinghouse will do the same thing. There will be more and more of those strategic alliances, which will squeeze out the local operators, independent producers and distributors. It’s very clear to see what will emerge from this.”

Deal’s the thing

Many in the industry say the new wave of deal-driven shows is bad for the business. “Viewers won’t see good shows, they will see shows the networks and big companies can make money on,” a broadcaster asserts. “The whole purpose of these rules was to keep diversity. Is this diversity?”

One observer wonders whether Westinghouse – if it ultimately gains control of CBS – may not be inclined to follow NBC’s lead and ultimately replace Paramount’s “Entertainment Tonight” on its stations with its own magazine series.

The untitled NBC-New World series, which also will include a one-hour weekend edition, will have immediate access clearances on five NBC O& Os in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami, as well as on all the New World owned stations.

And in other Peacock markets, NBC TV Stations president John Rohrbeck, who has long sought to lure Van Messel into the Peacock fold, says the new entertainment show would move into access slots when existing program commitments lapse- unless of course, the program has been sold to a competing station. Combined, the two groups cover more than 36% of the U.S.

Although the syndicator is getting set to make its station group pitches for the show in the next week- with the creative staffing process starting immediately after Labor Day-the ample launch base already guarantees it will go into production next year. A sales presentation tape will be prepared shortly.

Fall from access

For “Extra,” the new fall ’96 magazine means it will be replaced in access on the NBC stations in New York, L.A. and Philadelphia. (WMAQ Chicago is taking “Extra” out of access for the fall season.) WB needs major market access slots to keep the extremely expensive “Extra” alive. With the CBS, ABC and Fox station groups committed to other programming, however, WB would have to seek slots on an independent group such as its network partner, Tribune.

Magazine shows, though, generally work better on network stations that have a strong news presence than on independents.

“We’re really disappointed, (but) we’ll find new stations to sign up in these cities, ” WB Domestic TV Distribution president Dick Robertson says. “We have a very valuable program and will have no problem placing it. (The question) is where and for how much money.”

Starting from scratch

Robertson says replacing “Extra” with a new entertainment show “is going to be very tough for (NBC). They could have had a show going into its third year. (Now) NBC will have to start from scratch with a brand-new show.”

To add further injury to its insult, the new series will also take away “Extra’s” library footage. That was furnished by KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.

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