ABC inking games thru 2002

NEW ORLEANS — In what may prove to be the most significant deal at NATPE, King World is close to inking renewals for its veteran access gameshows “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” on all the ABC O&Os through 2002.

The deal suggests that in a world of increasing consolidation between suppliers and outlets, indies that don’t outright own stations still can sell, if they have the right stuff.

By midday Tuesday, three top ABC O&Os, WABC New York, WLS Chicago and KGO San Francisco, had reupped the two gamers for an additional three years beyond their current contracts, which expire in 1999, sources said.

King World chairman Roger King told Daily Variety that the WLS and KGO deals were sealed, and ABC station sources said the rest of the network group was completing deals at press time.

“They just haven’t gotten to all of us yet,” one top ABC station exec said.

New lower rates

Right now, WABC and KABC are paying King World $25,000 a day for each of the two shows, but industry sources speculate the license fees for the new deal may be lower.

The Belo and LIN TV station groups also have renewed the gameshows through 2002, according to insiders on the convention floor.

The ABC-King World deal is important on several levels. Disney, which owns the Alphabet web, will not be able to program access for its own stations at least until well into the next century. It had been widely expected that Disney’s syndie arm, Buena Vista TV, would try to develop an access show for ABC in 1999.

The deal comes at a good time for King World, whose stock may receive a much-needed shot in the arm. The syndicator has been searching for a buyer for several years, but many potential suitors questioned whether an indie without stations would be able to provide a future for their shows into the next millennium.

Although it’s unusual for stations to renew shows so far in advance, one ABC station source said it’s more impor-tant to hold onto established hits than to create its own shows that may fail.

It’s also crucial for ABC to protect its successful franchises at a time when the network news and primetime entertainment schedules are under pressure.

No guarantees

While the new series offered by syndicators with station groups are the ones that are selling well this year, there’s no guarantee that those shows will be successful. The shaky start for NBC’s “Access Hollywood” and the failure of Eyemark’s “Day & Date” at CBS demonstrate the downside of supplying one’s own station group.

ABC execs also said the likelihood that anybody today could create firstrun shows that will generate the double-digit ratings of a “Wheel” or “Jeopardy!” is next to nil.

“There’s nothing else out there that’s working,” one ABC station programmer said. “Do you want a 3 rating or a 12? A lot of people are pumping a lot of money into shows that are failing.”

With the debut of off-net powerhouses “Home Improvement” and “Seinfeld” in access timeslots, ratings for “Wheel” and “Jeopardy!” have been eroding the past few seasons, and its core audience has aged.

But in the November sweeps, King World stanched the bleeding. According to an analysis by Petry Television, “Wheel’s” household rating was flat year-to-year in access, averaging a 14.5/28, while “Jeopardy!” was up just slightly, at 13.5/28.

“Wheel” also held onto to its access demos, while “Jeopardy!” dropped by about a share point in each major demo category. The gamers fell off far less than access magazines did.

Syndicators now are lining up development projects for 1998, when several multiyear deals for current access strips expire.

When the Kings finish locking up renewals for their gameshows through 2002, one major buyer, namely ABC, will have been taken out of the market for access.

In addition to its two games, sources said King World’s newsmags “American Journal” and “Inside Edition” have been renewed for next season, and sources said some deals may have been tied to the games.

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