Twentieth pacts for Magic TV

Former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Earvin (Magic) Johnson has agreed to develop, produce and host a new syndicated latenight talk-variety strip for Twentieth TV, which may be on the air by next year.

Johnson’s longtime agent Lon Rosen agreed to the deal Monday and will share executive producer duties with Johnson on the new hourlong series, sources said. Rosen and Johnson are expected to be headquartered at Twentieth TV, and the TV project is separate from Johnson’s new production pact with Fox Family Films (Daily Variety, Feb. 13).

Rosen could not be reached for comment, and Twentieth TV declined to comment, but the deal is expected to have a dramatic impact on the latenight TV landscape.

Said one industry source of Johnson’s chances: “In terms of booking, there’s probably not a celebrity in sports, entertainment or politics who would say no to Magic Johnson.”

The new Johnson series may deliver a serious blow to Buena Vista TV’s upcoming “The John Salley Show,” which debuts as a weekly latenight program on the Fox O&Os this fall, with hopes of going daily by January. If the Johnson show is stripped on the Fox stations, which is likely, it could force “The John Salley Show” to go elsewhere or shut down.

“If Fox doesn’t accelerate ‘Salley’ to a daily, we probably will pull the plug on the show,” said a spokeswoman at BVTV. “The John Salley Show” is also a talk-variety strip hosted by a former NBA player, and sources close to Fox said it’s unlikely the stations will air two nearly identical shows.

More threats

Salley’s isn’t the only show Johnson’s could threaten. The former Lakers point guard may prove a strong competitor to Columbia TriStar TV Distribution’s “Vibe,” a new latenight strip hosted by Chris Spencer and produced by Quincy Jones and David Salzman, which will be launched on Chris-Craft stations this fall. All of these new shows are designed to attract young urban auds, which were left underserved in latenight when “The Arsenio Hall Show” left the air.

Johnson’s fame and tremendous crossover appeal would presumably give his strip a leg up, at least in terms of sampling. That’s important in a latenight market that has become more competitive since “The Late Show With David Letterman” moved to 11:30 p.m., and with the addition of “Politically Incorrect” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” eating up prime shelf space.

The deal is also a coup for Twentieth TV president Rick Jacobson, who has been trying to sign some top-notch stars for syndie projects. Earlier, he wooed former football star Terry Bradshaw to a daytime show called “The Home Team,” which premieres this fall.

New arena

The Johnson show is just now entering the development process, and so sources would not give a target date. But industry insiders say it would probably take at least until next January to get the show developed, sold and ready to air. While hosting a daily talkshow would be a first for Johnson, the former basketball star is no stranger to showbiz.

Since he first revealed that he had contracted the HIV virus in 1991, Johnson has created a chain of movie theaters, done sports commentary for NBC, and he has hosted several TV specials, public service announcements and homevideos about his life and AIDS prevention.

Running a talkshow can be a tough and time-consuming job, but one source close to the process said, “We will focus on a format that will allow Johnson to do it without having to carry the whole load.”

No production team has been assigned to the show yet, but one potential candidate would be Kim Swann, a co-producer of “Fox After Breakfast,” who produced an AIDS awareness video with Johnson and Fox Broadcasting’s special “One on One With Magic Johnson” under Arsenio Hall’s production banner. Before the Johnson deal was completed, Swann was courted by Buena Vista TV to produce the Salley project, but she was not released from her contract with Twentieth TV.

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