Strategy generating good buzz for 'Insider'

Just as “Oprah” begat “Dr. Phil,” “Entertainment Tonight” is prepping “The Insider.”

Spinoffs are nothing new — but syndie strategists have devised a new way to play for their dedicated audience by teasing new shows out a bit at a time on established hits.

It’s a strategy that was a bonanza for “Dr. Phil,” and so far is generating good buzz for “Insider.”

The soft-launch debuts of “Dr. Phil” and “Insider” were mastermined by Terry Wood, exec VP of programming for Paramount.

Latter strip originated as a segment on “Entertainment Tonight” and is now set to bow as a separate half-hour newsmag in fall 2004.

“It’s not just an additional take, but an inside take,” says Wood. “It’s where our relationships and contacts will come in. Experience has to count, and you’ll see that in the stories we select, the interviews, and the way we produce it.”

But exec producer Linda Bell Blue, who also oversees “ET,” says the focus won’t be restricted to Hollywood.

“The stories will be about people, whether they’re celebrities or people in the news,” she says

The numbers are promising.

Industry sources estimate a weekly license fee near the $1 million mark. And while Par syndie prexy John Nogawski won’t comment on numbers, he says “The Insider” will be “a profitable program from day 1.”

The strip has yet to announce a host, but has already been cleared in 80% of the country.

Of those, 61% are in prime access slots — the 7 p.m. hour (ET/PT) or 6:30 time period (CT/MT) . Where an access slot isn’t available, as is the case in some Midwestern cities, Paramount will aim for placement near the early news broadcasts or after the late night talk shows.

“Insider” will also have the blessing of a good neighbor. Of the stations that will carry both “ET” and “Insider,” 71% will be pairing them in access, creating a seamless hour of programming.

“That’s where we’re going to have real opportunity–an hour of power,” says Nogawski.

“For many years, we couldn’t determine what our lead in or lead out was. Now when we start our day and prepare it, we know exactly what the two half hours will be to complement each other.”

Since the show cannot be twinned with “ET” in every market, Nogawski says he believes “The Insider” is also capable of standing alone.

“It’s logistically impossible to sell it everywhere together. Whatever it ends up being paired with, or even if it ends up competing with it, it won’t have the same content,” he says.

“In some places (‘ET’ and ‘Insider’) will go head to head and we are prepared for that,” says Wood.

According to Nielsen numbers for the week Nov. 3- Nov. 9, entertainment newsmag ratings are rising (thanks in part to an unusually heavy news cycle).

“ET” is maintaining season high numbers with a 6.1 — and those numbers were registered before the Jacko-hungry hordes descended on Santa Barbara for the singer’s arrest.

As offsprings go, “Celebrity Justice” (a spin-off of “Extra”) is up 8% from both week before and last year’s averages with 1.3 national rating, respectable results considering that show is programmed across different dayparts.

But “The Insider” is being launched into an arena that has changed significantly since “ET”‘s debut in 1981.

Entertainment and celeb programming can be found readily all across the dial — “ET” franchises also include MTV and VH1 editions.

“The real question isn’t the ability to produce first-rate programming, but is there sufficient material to have this expanded take,” wonders Katz Media exec Bill Carroll. “It comes from good stock, but it doesn’t mean it’ll graduate. We won’t know until the material is up and running.”

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