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‘ET’ to enter 2nd century; ‘Copy’ iffy

Another key piece of the lucrative prime access puzzle was locked in place Wednesday when Paramount Domestic TV renewed its top magazine franchise, “Entertainment Tonight,” on eight CBS-owned stations through the year 2000.

Its longtime companion magazine, “Hard Copy,” has secured long-term renewals in Chicago and Philadelphia, but was not included in the “ET” group deal and is still waiting for the greenlight beyond 1998 in the nation’s top two markets.

That means one half-hour timeslot in the high-rated hour before primetime is still up for grabs on the CBS-owned stations in New York and Los Angeles at the end of next season. CBS’ Eyemark Entertainment is expected to attempt to develop an access program that it can own and place on at least some of its stations.

“Eyemark would like the ability to put a show in access in New York and L.A., and the time periods for now can’t be committed,” said Joel Berman, Par’s president of domestic distribution.

“Entertainment Tonight,” which is consistently the highest-rated magazine show in syndication, will now air at least until the end of the century on the CBS stations where it airs now: WCBS New York, KCBS Los Angeles, WBBM Chicago, KYW Philadelphia, WBZ Boston, WFOR Miami, WJZ Baltimore and KUTV Salt Lake City.

Par and CBS would not provide details of the deal, but sources say Par was able to secure a slight increase in “ET” license fees, which a CBS station group source described only as “pretty healthy.” License fees for both “ET” and “Hard Copy” are now reported to be in the range of $120,000 per week in New York and Los Angeles, while “ET” alone now brings in an estimated $850,000 in total station license fees per week.

While Par may have won an “ET” fee increase, the company could have to take lower fees for “Hard Copy” when that show is renewed, either on CBS stations or elsewhere. That will especially be true if “Hard Copy” continues to be moved out of access and into less lucrative early fringe timeslots, as it will this fall in New York. Taking “Hard Copy’s” place in the Gotham access slot is Par’s frosh strip “Real TV,” which Par may be positioning as “Hard Copy’s” potential access successor (Daily Variety, Jan. 17).

“This is the first time ‘ET’ has been renewed without a concurrent renewal for ‘Hard Copy,'” said Bill Carroll, VP-director of programming at Katz TV. “But I think they began the transition when they made the deal in New York that moved ‘Hard Copy’ to afternoons.”

Despite the fact that “Hard Copy’s” fate in New York and L.A. is up in the air after 1998, Par’s president of distribution, Joel Berman, said the magazine is not endangered and “will make more money next season than at any point in its career.”

“Hard Copy” previously was renewed through 1999 on WBBM Chicago, where it airs at 4 p.m. “Hard Copy” has also been renewed through 2000 on KYW Philadelphia, where it airs in access. “Hard Copy” and “Real TV” are also now running as an afternoon block on the CBS O&Os in Baltimore and Salt Lake City.

On WJZ Baltimore, “Hard Copy” has been upgraded to 4:30 p.m. from a midnight slot elsewhere. In Miami, “Hard Copy” in January went from no clearance last fall to the 7 p.m. access slot on WFOR, and in Salt Lake City, “Hard Copy” has just been upgraded from a latenight slot to 3:30 p.m. on KUTV. In total, “ET” has been renewed in access through 2000 in more than 50% of the nation, while “Hard Copy” has been renewed through 1999 in early fringe or access in more than 50%, Berman said.

For the coming season, however, all eyes will be on the open access slot on the CBS O&Os in New York and Los Angeles. Competing for the slots will be Par’s “Real TV” and “Hard Copy,” DreamWorks’ “Maury & Connie,” and whatever Eyemark is able to come up with, including a potential strip with Bryant Gumbel. A CBS station source said the rumored revival of “PM Magazine” is now on the back burner and is an unlikely contender.

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