Tayloring talk deal

Thesp near pact to host show for MGM TV

NEW YORK — MGM Domestic TV Distribution is close to inking a deal with actor Meshach Taylor to host a Las Vegas-based daytime talk-variety show for fall 1998 or sooner. The show is the latest in a series of “Rosie O’Donnell”-type strips that will compete for viewers and guests late next year.

Taylor, who played handyman Anthony on “Designing Women” and starred in “Dave’s World,” will receive a fee of about $1 million, sources said. MGM had little luck this year with its short-lived syndie talkshow “The Bradshaw Difference,” but the studio is hoping Taylor will be a better bet.

Taylor certainly doesn’t have the name recognition of “Roseanne,” who some sources said could receive a record fee north of $8 million to do a talker for King World. But Taylor’s Q scores are as high as Rosie O’Donnell’s were before she went on the air with her talkshow, according to a source at MGM.

Crossover appeal

“He’ll have black and white audiences, young and old, women and men,” said Taylor’s manager Steven Greener, who will also executive produce the show, packaged by William Morris.

Taylor is the latest of many recognizable performers being prepped for a talk-variety show in 1998. Paramount recently paid comic Howie Mandel about $5 million, and a Donny & Marie talk-variety show is being pitched by William Morris. Sources said Columbia TriStar TV is among those taking a close look at that.

Latenight is also crammed with talk-variety shows, including Columbia’s “Vibe,” and Buena Vista TV’s “The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show,” both of which debut this year. Twentieth TV’s talk-variety show with Earvin (Magic) Johnson is still being developed for early next year.

While Taylor’s deal doesn’t reach the dollar level of O’Donnell’s, Mandel’s, Roseanne’s or Wayans’ — which is pegged at about $6 million upfront — syndicators are complaining that the cost for talk talent is starting to spiral out of control.

“It’s very scary,” said one studio TV chief, who asked not to be named. Said another industry source: “Almost anyone who’s ever done anything is getting $5 million to do a talkshow.”

O’Donnell started the trend when she signed with Warner Bros. for a then-record $6 million, plus a movie deal and a cut of the show’s profits. That amount became the new standard for top talent until the “Roseanne” deal, which isn’t yet done.

Competition for guests on these shows is expected to be so frenzied that studios may have to pay talent more than scale to appear too. Whether there will be enough viewers for so many similar shows remains to be seen, and some syndicators are predicting there could be major financial losses. But to many, the upside of a hit like “Rosie O’Donnell” is worth betting the farm.

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