Worldvision Takes ‘Stand’ On Big Ticket

Popular on Variety

“If you don’t have ‘Night Stand,’ you don’t have Dick,” proclaims a trade ad aimed at TV station executives.

For the uninitiated, the Dick in question is Dick Dietrick, the aptly named fictional host of a new, scripted weekly one-hour latenight parody of daytime talkshows – a genre that many argue is already a parody of itself.

In a business renowned for its inability to laugh at itself, “Night Stand” and the marketing campaign surrounding it have captured widespread attention.

World vision Enterprises introduced the show from sister Spelling Entertainment Group’s Big Ticket TV in late January at a rather subdued National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab.

It immediately caught on with stations, particularly a select group of 67 key execs who had been wondering about the identity of a blatantly tacky gift giver named “Dick Dietrick.”

Bearing gifts

He had peppered them for a month leading up to NATPE with cheesy gifts, including Cold Duck champagne for the New Year, a 10-inch salami in the shape of a football at playoff time and five short-stemmed roses for their secretaries. He would leave messages on their answering machines at night, acting like an old friend who was calling just to say hello.

One station exec thought Dietrick was a high school buddy who he hadn’t seen in 20 years.

The scheme, which will be expanded to the general populace around premiere time, was devised by Worldvision marketing maven Gary Montanus. And it worked.

By the end of the three-day NATPE bazaar, “Night Stand” – propelled by curiosity, word-of-mouth and a mention in the Wall Street Journal – had pulled off a minor miracle: 74 markets representing 67% of the U.S. licensed the series for fall.

“If it is really good, you can catch lightening in a bottle,” an impressed competitor told the show’s producer.

Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV, says this is the first time he can remember hearing “genuine belly laughs” during a pilot from the somewhat jaded audience at his station rep firm.

“Night Stand” is the outgrowth of a routine from Tim Stack, the comedic actor and writer who honed his craft in the Groundlings improv troupe and created Dick Dietrick for a standup act. His character meshed perfectly with the concept devised by Paul Abeyta and Peter Kaikko (who, along with Stack, exec produce the series).

Stack, who played the father on Fox’s “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” is the quintessential talkshow host – right down to his sincere look and Jerry Springer-like “commentaries” at the end of each show.

The half-hour pilot, which was delivered by Big Ticket president Larry Lyttle to Worldvision only a few days before the start of NATPE, borrows heavily from an old Phil Donahue show. It features Dietrick interviewing a man “whose addiction to sex ruined a lucrative career as a dentist. Tonight, sexoholics – the cause, the cure and where to meet them.”

Among the audience members is the founder of Slut Nation, whose group’s motto is “Just Say Yes.” She ends up in a cat fight with a reformed sexoholic as Dietrick, watching in mock horror, encourages them to continue.

Holding tight

Dietrick tells the audience his next guest is a “do-it-yourselfer” – in other words, a “compulsive masturbator.” Shaking the visitor’s hand, the host comments, “Quite a grip there, Ed.”

Later, Ed’s unsuspecting wife comes on the show under the false premise of receiving a free makeover.

“Will she think her husband is a perverted, disgusting canker sore on the epidermis of humanity, ” Dietrick asks, “or will she say, ‘Hey, that’s cool?'”

As the program fades into a commercial, the ditty “All By Myself” blares.

There are other staples of daytime chatshows on “Night Stand,” including the customary namecalling, shouting and casting calls for guests (“Do you or someone you know have extra body parts?”).

Although people in the industry get the “SCTV”-type humor, many will be watching to see whether latenight weekend viewers – many of whom may not be accustomed to dysfunctional daytime talk – are equally as floored.

Worldvision Enterprises prexy John Ryan wasn’t laughing when Lyttle called him in early December and asked if he would roll out the new company’s first project at NATPE.

“I thought he was out of his mind,” Ryan says, laughing at the memory of that conversation.

Lyttle, who wasn’t even approached with “Night Stand” until after Thanksgiving, prevailed and convinced Worldvision brass, including sales head Bob Raleigh, to fly to L.A. for a presentation.

The syndicator liked what it saw, but continued to question the prudence of bringing the show out at NATPE. Traditionally, shows introduced at the convention have an extremely slim chance of getting launched.

Lyttle won out again, how ever, and Worldvision agreed to go ahead with the project.

The next step was to decide whether the show should be a strip or a weekly. The latter approach seemed like the best way to go – at least initially – because of the difficulty of coming up with scripted material five times a week.

Worldvision gave stations the choice of clearing the weekend show, which will bump up against “Saturday Night Live” in many markets, as two half hours or one full hour. So far, every station has opted for the 60-minute version.

$250,000 pilot

Big Ticket invested $250,000 in the pilot and convinced eight writers, including the three exec producers, to cancel their holiday plans. They gathered Dec. 16 to start writing the script and pretty much worked non-stop for the next few weeks.

Relying on a thick collection of material gathered from 15 years of daytime talkshows, the writers found they needed to change only a few things to make the show really funny, Ryan says.

The producers delivered the half-hour tape to Worldvision the Friday before NATPE. Ryan says if it had turned out to be lousy, “no one would have ever found out who Dick Dietrick was.”