The Rivera rivalry

NBC, Fox in fight over rights to talkshow host

NEW YORK — Geraldo Rivera is the subject of a bitter tug-of-war between NBC and Fox News Channel, with the outcome likely to be determined today.

Rivera has accepted an offer from Fox News Channel to host a new 9 p.m. talkshow and to co-anchor a nightly 7 p.m. newscast, sources confirmed. He’d also get four to six primetime news specials in the next year on Fox Broadcasting, and would serve as a roving correspondent or anchor for both the broadcast and cable networks.

But NBC, for whom Rivera hosts “Rivera Live” on the CNBC cable network at 9 p.m., has the contractual right to match Fox’s competing offer and retain his services. Rivera’s NBC contract, signed in February 1994, expires Dec. 31, but the debate isn’t about money: Both offers are said to be in the $2 million-plus range per year. The issue for Rivera is solidifying his journalistic credentials and gaining broader exposure, even on a lower-rated cable network.

“The essence of his deal is he’d have a broad range of opportunity as a newsman,” said one Fox News exec. “To match the deal in spirit, they’d have to offer him the same thing.”

The hitch is whether NBC would be prepared to offer Rivera that kind of broad role at NBC News, for which he’s sought to appear on “Today” or other programs but has been rebuffed, in part due to opposition by NBC News chief Andy Lack.

“This network is more conservative in bringing people on without (specific) roles,” said one NBC News source.

Still, executives familiar with the talks late Thursday said NBC prexy Bob Wright would attempt to keep Rivera by matching Fox’s offer but had yet to come forward with specifics of its proposal. They were expected to do so today.

Wright’s interest stems from protecting the Rivera franchise on CNBC. His show is the cable web’s top-rated hour and anchors its primetime schedule. And Fox News chairman Roger Ailes hired Rivera when he ran CNBC, so the tussle has a bit more inherent drama: Ailes already has lured dozens of other CNBC staffers to Fox News.

Fate unclear

Also unclear is the fate of Rivera’s talker for syndicator Tribune Entertainment, given the probable increased demands on his time. His reps have said he’s interested in retaining that strip, but Rivera also is in the midst of negotiations to reup for 1998-99, despite plans by top-market CBS O&Os to drop the show, which would segue to Tribune-owned stations in those markets.

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