Former Lakers star set to host talkshow

“The Magic Hour” has arrived.

Twentieth Television’s new syndie latenight talkshow hosted by Earvin (Magic) Johnson has been picked up by all 22 Fox-owned TV stations for a June 8 bow. The NBA legend inked a deal with Fox’s Twentieth TV back in March. (Daily Variety, March 31).

The long-expected deal between the Fox O&Os and their sibling syndie wing raises the stakes for two other new syndie latenight contenders, “The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show” and “Vibe,” which have been vying for slices of the latenight audience pie since early August.

With the Fox O&Os on board, “The Magic Hour” has cleared the major hurdle for a national syndication launch next summer. The Fox-owned outlets, which currently carry “Wayans,” cover nearly 40% of U.S. TV households and 12 of the top 20 markets. Twentieth is embarking this week on a major sales blitz to clear the show in the rest of the country.

“The Magic Hour” is being pitched as a mix of celebrity interview, comedy sketches and performance segs. On the surface, the show sounds similar to “Wayans” and “Vibe,” which have faced an uphill battle since the summer. So why does Twentieth want to jump into the fray with another startup show?

‘Tremendous charisma’

“We feel Magic has a tremendous charisma and a tremendous ability to reach a wide audience,” said Twentieth prexy Rick Jacobson. “This show represents a huge, multi-multi-million-dollar commitment for (Fox) and we’re confident that there’s a broad-based audience out there that Magic will speak to.”

Left unanswered with Tuesday’s announcement was the question of whether “The Magic Hour” will displace “Wayans” in the optimum 11 p.m./11:30 p.m. timeslot on the Fox O&Os.

Buena Vista TV is understood to be in the process of negotiating a renewal of “Wayans” for the 1998-99 season. At the same time, “The Magic Hour” has emerged as a high corporate priority for News Corp. and therefore is expected to secure the best possible timeslot on the Fox O&Os. Sources on all sides of the issue said Tuesday that the touchy subject of timeslots was still very much in flux and no final decision is expected from Fox station brass for some time.

Others start slowly

Both “Wayans” and “Vibe” got off to a rocky start this season. Columbia TriStar TV’s “Vibe,” which airs on the UPN O&O group in key major markets, has seen its ratings perk up over the past two months since comedian Sinbad replaced original host Chris Spencer. Col TriStar is now in the middle of its own sensitive negotiations with Sinbad to continue as frontman for the upcoming season.

“Wayans” and “Vibe” ended the November sweep in a dead heat in Nielsen’s 38 overnight metered markets with a 2.4 household rating and 6 share. This month, “Wayans” has, as of Dec. 15, averaged a 2.2/6 to “Vibe”‘s 2.1/5.

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