2-year commitments stifle stations with ratings downer

In spite of low ratings, “The Roseanne Show” will be back for a second season in the fall, King World Prods. confirmed Wednesday — to the dismay of some station affils.

The tension between King World and some “Roseanne” affils is running high because King World already is making money on the show, while stations bear the brunt of the low Nielsen numbers in the form of lower ad rates and steep weekly license fees.

“We’re as disappointed in this decision as we have been with the show,” said Pat Wallace, prexy of the NBC O&O group, which carries “Roseanne” in Gotham, L.A., Chi and other top markets.

King World brass have been hearing the grumbling from station affils for some time, but say they’re confident that the show’s Nielsen numbers will improve with time. For the season to date, “Roseanne” has averaged a 1.7 national household rating and a mere 1.0 in the key daytime demo of women 18-49.

” ‘The Roseanne Show’ is a different and dynamic talkshow unlike anything else on daytime television,” King World chairman Roger King said. “We are confident that with Roseanne’s brilliant brand of comedy and outrageous take on everyday life, it has all the ingredients to grow to become a hit for stations and viewers.”

2-year pacts sight unseen

Thanks to Roseanne’s track record in primetime, King World commanded top dollar and two-year commitments for “Roseanne” — sight unseen — when the show was pitched to stations in 1997. NBC’s yearly bill for running “Roseanne” on 10 of its O&Os is understood to be upward of $12 million.

Generally, syndie distribs lose money even on successful first-year shows and thus are quick to pull the plug on strugglers. But with “Roseanne,” King World would be walking away from a profit on projected revenue of about $55 million if it didn’t move forward with a second season.

Compounding the situation is King World’s recent decision to merge with CBS in a $2.5 billion stock swap deal. The “Roseanne” coin was factored into King World’s earnings potential when the Eye was evaluating the company, and while “Roseanne” is hardly King World’s top moneymaker, the distrib would be hard-pressed to give up guaranteed revenue in the 1999-2000 season with a merger deal pending.

Stock closes way up

Not surprisingly, Wall Street applauded the news, sending King World stock up $2.19 to close Wednesday at $34.06.

Given their contractual obligations, station execs say they’re resigned to carrying “Roseanne” for another season, although some will banish the show to post-midnight timeslots.

“It is what it is. Stations that contracted for two years have to live up to their end of the bargain,” said Edward Piette, general manager of ABC affil KSTP Minneapolis, which is moving “Roseanne” from daytime to 1 a.m. as of Monday.

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