Warner Bros. and Time Inc. Wednesday unveiled their long-awaited six-day-a-week fall 1994 co-venture newsmag project, dubbed “Entertainment News Television.”
The announcement was precipitated by KNBC-TV’s unexpected decision early Wednesday to drop Paramount’s “Entertainment Tonight” to make room for the new show in the 7-8 p.m. prime access slot.
In another surprise development, KNBC disclosed it intends to discard Par’s “Hard Copy” in September 1994, even though both series have been on the Los Angeles station since their inceptions.
The station’s moves, which overshadowed the announcement of the new series, followed negotiations well into the wee hours of the morning. The news shocked some in the TV community who are aware of the strong programming relationship between Par and NBC O&O prez John Rohrbeck.
The decision to drop the two shows from the access block followed an assessment of their performance, according to Rohrbeck.
“We sat and analyzed the two shows, and there’s obviously been slippage,” he said.
“What we saw was an opportunity to try something different,” said KNBC general manager Reed Manville. “‘Entertainment Tonight’ to a large extent, and ‘Hard Copy’ to a smaller extent, have been drifting downward at the same time the license fee has been increasing.”
Par issued a statement noting that it was unable to complete negotiations with the O&O for the renewals of the two shows “because other stations in the market placed a higher value on these shows than did KNBC.”
There was immediate speculation that a full or partial group deal may be in the works with the CBS-owned TV stations. KCBS-TV would have to be considered a prime candidate, considering its dire performance in access since “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” went to KABC-TV last September.
Syndicator Par also sought to counter KNBC’s ratings arguments, insisting that during the May sweeps “Hard Copy” finished first in its 7:30 time period in the key demos of adults and women 25-54. Additionally, Par noted that those demos were up over the previous May.
In terms of “ET,” Par maintained there has been no decline in its 7 p.m. key demos over the last four major sweeps periods in L.A. It also finished flat year-to-year in terms of adults and women 25-54, as well as women 18-49, according to Par.
With the loss of the two shows, Rohrbeck said he is looking at several possibilities for the second half hour, including KNBC developing its own programming.
WNBC-TV in New York, which currently airs Twentieth TV’s “Cops” and WB’s “Love Connection” in access, also acquired the new WB series for the daypart.
The “ENT” deal does not address any of the other NBC O&O markets, with Rohrbeck saying that no decision has been made about extending the deal outside the nation’s top two markets.
Aside from KNBC, only the NBC O&O in Miami carries “ET” under a deal that lasts through the 1994-95 season. The NBC-owned station in D.C. carries “Hard Copy” in access.
“ENT” is being sold strictly for access on a cash-plus-barter basis for two years. WB will carve out 1 1/2 minutes of barter time and stations will receive 5 1/2 minutes on weekdays.
An all-original one-hour weekend version will leave the syndicator and stations each with 6 1/2 minutes of advertising time. An additional minute to be sold by WB will fund a co-op promotional pool to be shared with the stations.
Beyond ratings and license fees, Manville and Rohrbeck attributed KNBC’s interest in the new WB series to the producing talent involved.
Former “ET” exec producer David Nuell will serve as E.P. from L.A., while news vet Av Westin will coordinate between the TV show and the magazines at Time-Life’s Gotham headquarters (Westin will also serve as E.P. of several specials in the works).
As expected, the new six-day-a-week series will draw on the resources of Time Inc. publications, including Time, People, Entertainment Weekly, Life and Sports Illustrated.
In their first major programming alliance, Time and WB are splitting the $ 40 million-plus startup cost for the venture, which will seek to avoid the mistakes made by USA Today-owned Gannett and Grant Tinker a few years ago when they unsuccessfully tried to put the publication on the air.
Nuell said he is working to come up with the “next generation” of “ET,” with the program based to a large extent on stories being compiled by Time’s various magazines.
The key, according to Nuell, is to have the show involved in the various magazines’ story development from the inception. With the lead time, it could often beat the competition by being well into production long before the information breaks in print.
Broadcast and print editorial staffs will be working side by side in New York , with decisions about where stories break to be made on a case-by-case basis, according to Telepictures Prods. prez Jim Paratore.
Nuell is seeking to design a fast-paced, glitzy “zap-proof” TV show, which will not physically display the magazine titles.
WB Domestic TV Distribution senior VP of sales Scott Carlin said WB conducted a lengthy study and found that there is an “insatiable appetite for pop culture, entertainment and news.”
He explained that viewers don’t care where the information comes from, which could explain why the “ENT” will downplay the importance of the magazines.
Carlin asserted that there is room for another magazine entrant in the crowded access arena.
WB is “not out to reinvent the wheel,” he said. The new show is going after the same 18-49 access audience that “ET” currently leads in.
Stations, he claimed, are seeking an “advertiser friendly” vehicle along the lines of “ET” and are willing to discard the proven tabloid powerhouses — a contention that competitors dispute.
But WB will also undoubtedly target “ET” in its quest to clear the show on network affiliates’ access skeds.
Although Carlin praises the performance of “ET,” he said he thinks it is vulnerable.
“There is not a lot of loyalty to shows these days,” he said. “Stations kind of have a mercenary attitude.”