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BVTV, Wayans ink for latenight strip

The already intense battle for latenight TV viewers is about to get even bloodier. Disney’s syndication arm Buena Vista TV has inked a deal with Keenen Ivory Wayans to produce and host a nightly, hourlong talk-variety show starting this August.

Wayans, who created, produced and starred in Fox Broadcasting Co.’s “In Living Color,” will executive produce and have creative control over the series, which does not yet have a launch group in place.

Wayans’ agent Eric L. Gold, a partner in the Gold/Miller Co., will co-executive produce the show, which is the lat-est in a long line of latenight shows being developed with black hosts.

Paramount had also made a play for Wayans, but the studio was outbid by Buena Vista, as expected (Daily Variety, March 24). BVTV and Gold would not comment on terms of the deal, but industry execs say it may be one of the largest syndication talent deals ever.

Sources said Wayans will be guaranteed about $6.5 million regardless of whether the show goes forward and about $5 million a year after that. Wayans will also have a significant percentage of the adjusted gross and Gold will also get a small piece of the gross, insiders said.

BVTV denied that the figures were entirely accurate, but Marcus said Wayans’ pay is “not inappropriate for the tal-ent” and the studio would not cut a deal that isn’t potentially “highly profitable.”

BVTV president Mort Marcus said the company has not yet decided the status of its latenight talkshow with former NBA player John Salley, which is supposed to debut as a weekly on the Fox-owned station group this June, with hopes of being stripped by next January.

No executive producer has yet been named for “The John Salley Show,” whose prospects for being stripped on the Fox O&Os were damaged when Fox-owned Twentieth TV signed Earvin (Magic) Johnson to a latenight talk-variety strip, which could debut by next January (Daily Variety, March 4).

Guest host

Sources said Salley has met with NBC about the possibility of hosting “Later,” which has used guest hosts since Greg Kinnear left the show.

BVTV has the final say on whether Salley will be released, but it’s a question-mark if BVTV will be able to focus on and sell two latenight talk-variety shows targeted to the same audience.

When Twentieth TV signed Johnson, sources said, Marcus was pressured to sign a well-known, slam-dunk talent in an attempt to one-up the Johnson deal.

Wayans, Johnson and Salley aren’t the only players going after urban, latenight audiences left unserved when “Arsenio Hall” went off the air. Columbia TriStar TV Distribution has sold a latenight talk-variety strip “Vibe,” which is produced by Quincy Jones and will debut as early as summer on the Chris-Craft station group.

“I’m not worried about Magic Johnson or ‘Vibe,’ ” Wayans told Daily Variety. “This show has a core point-of-view. It’s built around my personality, like ‘In Living Color.’ I’ll have the same creative freedom, and I want the same en-ergy and party atmosphere that Arsenio had. I want it to be sexy.”

Most industry observers believe only one of these new latenight shows will survive, which may be the reason BVTV is attempting to get the show on the air by August, before the Johnson show debuts. It’s unclear where the show will be sold and if it can be cleared in just five months, however.

“The business has changed so much. Station groups are so large that it doesn’t take as long” to clear shows, Marcus said.

First at bat

“We don’t want anyone else to get a leg up. We figured we should get out first because everyone realizes there’s not room for five shows, and if we lose the opportunity, it will be several years until we get the chance again.”

Chris-Craft is committed to “Vibe” for at least 13 weeks, but could have room for two shows, at least initially, sources said. Tribune Broadcasting is having great success with latenight “Seinfeld” reruns in some top markets, and BVTV is less likely to seek earlier timeslots than its own ABC stations have following “Politically Incorrect.”

“Stations want to buy the best show,” Marcus said. “Big decisions have to be made. Stations will either buy this or will go up against us.”

Despite all the new players lining up to fill Arsenio Hall’s shoes, Michael Davies, senior VP of development at Buena Vista Prods., said he’s focused more on competing with the current network latenight shows than the new strips. “Ratings are obviously softer for Letterman. At a certain point, Leno and Letterman become the old guard, and something new needs to come in.”

Aside from “In Living Color,” Wayans has starred in features “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” and New Line’s upcom-ing “Most Wanted.” Wayans says he’ll continue to make about one film a year.

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