‘Access’ anchor to exit

Fernandez to focus on prod'n, Galavision specs

“Access Hollywood” co-anchor Giselle Fernandez is set to exit the NBC-produced syndie newsmag strip when her contract expires early next year.

There’s no word yet on a replacement for Fernandez, but the odds-on favorite to move up to the anchor’s desk with Pat O’Brien is said to be “Access” weekend anchor Nancy O’Dell.

Fernandez, who was a hard news journo with CBS and NBC before signing on for the launch of “Access” in 1996, said she’s looking to develop news and infotainment programming through her Skinny Hippo Prods. outfit. She’s also set to do another series of “Cafe Ole With Giselle Fernandez” interview specs for the Spanish-lingo cabler Galavision.

Distrib changes

In addition to Fernandez’s departure, there are behind-the-scenes changes in the works at “Access,” which at present is a 50-50 partnership between NBC and Fox’s Twentieth TV. NBC is poised to take over distribution of the show for the 1999-2000 season from Twentieth, although the distribs are still trying to hammer out a deal that would leave Twentieth with a passive minority interest in the show.

NBC is said to be considering assembling an inhouse team to handle the syndication of “Access” to stations outside the NBC O&O markets. Another scenario would have NBC producing “Access” strictly for its 13 O&O stations and adding the show to the Peacock web’s early ayem overnight block, along with reruns of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and “Late Night With Conan O’Brien.”

Solid performer

After a slow start, “Access” has blossomed into a solid performer for the 13 NBC-owned outlets, which cover 27% of U.S. TV households and six of the top 10 TV markets. “Access” airs in the crucial half-hour leading into primetime in most of the NBC O&O markets. But the show’s ratings and clearances are much weaker outside the O&O markets, so keeping the show afloat in national syndication may turn out to be more trouble than it’s worth for NBC.

“Access” is not a cheap show to produce, with a weekly budget estimated in the $600,000 range, but Peacock number crunchers view it as cost effective for the NBC O&Os. Without “Access” or another inhouse production, the 13 Peacock stations would likely have to shell out as much coin to buy programming from an outside distributor as it costs to produce “Access.”

And because the Peacock owns the show, there’s no danger that the stations would one day be forced to pony up big license fee increases or risk losing “Access” to a competitor. In fact, NBC first began developing “Access” after its stations lost the “Entertainment Tonight” and “Hard Copy” combo to the CBS O&Os in 1994.

“Access” was originally created as a joint venture of NBC and Ronald Perelman’s New World Communications. At the time, New World owned a number of major market Fox and NBC affils, and “Access” was developed specifically as an “Entertainment Tonight”-like vehicle for the NBC- and New World-owned stations.

Fox and the Peacock became unwitting partners in “Access” when Fox parent News Corp. bought up New World in mid-1996. Since then, the “Access” partnership has been rocky, as the Fox station managers who took control of the New World stations were less enthusiastic about “Access” than their predecessors.

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