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NBC, Hearst-Argyle in programming alliance

No lay-offs in sales force anticipated

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NBC Enterprises and Hearst-Argyle Television have made an agreement in principle to create a jointly-owned venture to produce and syndicate firstrun programming for syndication and cable.

The companies will put their production and distrib assets together into the company, which will be majority-owned by NBC and minority-owned by Hearst-Argyle.

No name for the entity has been selected, and the deal is expected to close in 30-90 days.

The move is being termed a “merger” by both NBC Enterprises and Syndication prexy Ed Wilson — who will oversee the venture — as well as Tony Vinciquerra, exec VP/COO of Hearst-Argyle TV.

Pact follows last month’s announcement of a partnership between the NBC O&Os, Gannett Broadcasting and Hearst-Argyle to jointly develop and carry programming.

The new NBC/Hearst-Argyle company will work with the station consortium.

“It’s a continuation of what we think is a great partnership,” Wilson says.

Whether that partnership culminates with a merger of NBC’s and Hearst-Argyle’s station groups remains to be seen. For now, just syndie and cable production and distribution are involved.

Production facilities for NBC in Burbank and Hearst-Argyle’s studio in Boston will be used for future productions coming out of the venture.

Hearst-Argyle Television Prod.’s Bruce Marson will head the Boston facility, out of which Wilson says the company hopes to put together a ramped-up slate of projects aimed at cable.

“Bruce Marson and John Budkins, Hearst-Argyle Prods. head of sales, will be key to the business of the new company,” Wilson said.

“We’d like to get into production for cable with things like ‘Biography,’ as well as dramas for cable, and those efforts will be run out of that facility in Boston,” Wilson says, adding that NBC has been pitching original fare to cable nets this week at NATPE.

TV exec Francis Manfredi, who had worked with Wilson at Eyemark and King World, has joined NBC to call on cablers.

Both NBC and Hearst-Argyle have small sales staffs, so lay-offs within the sales forces are not really anticipated, Wilson says.

Vinciquerra says the new deal is advantageous to H-A in part because the future growth of the company’s production outfit was limited.

The 27 TV stations the company owns or operates in the U.S. do not include all of the major markets, making it difficult to shoulder the risk of launching a Mon.-Fri. show.

“Our business is running TV stations, and now we’re putting our production business in the hands of people who can handle it,” he said.