TV offers $9 million, so Povich packs yak

NEW YORK — Universal TV Enterprises has won the bidding war against such powerhouses as Paramount, Warner Bros. and King World for the right to distribute a Maury Povich-hosted talkshow starting in fall 1998.

Povich and Universal declined to talk numbers, but industry sources said U will guarantee Povich at least $9 million a year for three years. In addition, the studio will pony up $5 million to get Povich out of his contract with DreamWorks to do a magazine series with his wife, Connie Chung, in 1998-99, according to sources. That proposed magazine series expired when Povich decided to continue hosting his talkshow beyond the 1997-98 season (Daily Variety, May 28).

Povich’s deal is the latest in a series of huge paydays for daytime talk hosts. Last month, Roseanne negotiated a deal with King World for $8 million a year that includes a development package for her company (Daily Variety, May 21). Earlier this year, Rosie O’Donnell renegotiated her package with Warner Bros. up to $30 mil per year.

Paramount has distributed “The Maury Povich Show” since the 1991-92 season. But, explaining why Paramount decided not to renew the program, Paramount Domestic TV president of distribution Joel Berman said, “We made him a good offer. But Maury’s salary demands were not consistent with the level of rating performance for the series.”

Undermine the show?

Almost immediately, TV stations began circulating the word that Paramount, which still will control the series for the 1997-98 season as part of the current contract, has begun trying to undermine the show.

A Paramount spokeswoman declined to comment, but one anti-“Maury” strategy may include offering “The Howie Mandel Show” (which Paramount has in development as a talkshow strip) in April instead of September 1998 to TV stations that agree to drop “Maury.” Paramount would get good time periods, permitting the stations to put “Maury” on the shelf and reap a big discount from Paramount on the license fees for the first year and a half of a Mandel-hosted talkshow.

Jim McNamara, president of Universal TV Enterprises, said he’d counter that strategy by reminding stations that “only about one in every 20 series becomes successful in syndication.

Solid ratings

Maury’s show delivers solid ratings, so why would a station want to walk away from a proven commodity to take a chance on a show that’s total pie in the sky?”

Another maneuver by Paramount would be to sell the 1,200 or so hourlong episodes from the first six years of the Povich show to a cable network like Lifetime for a five-a-week daytime run, causing a “Maury” glut that could eat into the ratings of the syndicated originals and open the way for Paramount to sell the Mandel show or other possible replacement programming.

Povich, in a phone conversation, said that strategy could backfire for Paramount because “my show is on stations owned by such groups as Post-Newsweek, Gannett, Cox and Pulitzer,” who presumably would not be thrilled to see the Povich show decline in the ratings. “I doubt whether Paramount would really want to hurt its relationships with groups like these,” Povich said.

Another Paramount tactic, said one TV station general manager, is for the Par sales force to start whispering that Universal plans to turn “Maury” into a tabloid festival of dysfunctional families, like the two other talkshows U distributes, “Sally Jessy Raphael” and “The Jerry Springer Show.”

Status quo

McNamara said Universal has no plans to make any major changes in the show. Povich agreed, saying, “Stations are happy with the show the way it is, and I like the direction, tone and attitude of the show.”

Other sources said that, unlike Springer’s show for example, Povich’s is on very few advertiser hit lists. With its clean image, “Maury” can translate its 3.8 season-to-date Nielsen rating into yearly profits of about $18 million on revenues of $35 million or so a year ($20 million from station license fees and $15 million from advertising income).

One change in the show when it moves to Universal will be the loss of executive producer Diane Rappaport,who has a contract with Paramount. But sources said she’ll stay with the show for the 1997-98 season.

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