High tide at Pearson

TV company floats $150 mil fund, sinks 'Baywatch'

Pearson Television’s North American operation is making waves.

It’s decided to permanently pull “Baywatch Hawaii” from syndie’s waters after this season. In addition, the company has gotten clearance from its German owner, RTL, to earmark $150 million for future program development and production.

The “Baywatch” franchise dates back more than a decade, when the weekly babe-filled action hour debuted as a series on NBC, then segued to firstrun syndication, invigorating the weekly syndie action hour biz and eventually airing in more than 100 countries.

Although the franchise has been revamped and was redubbed “Baywatch Hawaii” last season, the changes have not been enough to keep the show afloat in the increasingly difficult weekend hour biz.

Show earned a 1.9 national household rating for the week ending Jan. 28, according to Nielsen.

Pearson TV North America prexy-CEO Brian Harris said the show has simply run its course.

“The economics associated with bringing the program back could not be justified,” Harris said.

“It has been an amazing success story,” he added, “but over last couple of years, one wouldn’t have been surprised with this announcement. This is a logical and natural end to the show.”

Project by project

Meanwhile, the new $150 million programming fund will be doled out on a project-by-project basis in the areas of light entertainment, action hours and longforms for the North American and international markets.

Harris said the funds are being made available over a period of years.

“We were seeking an underpinning, an ability, from RTL, and the sum that was approved by the full RTL board was a sizable one,” Harris said. “I look at it as an endorsement of the North American business, and it provides us with the resources to take this business forward.”

Programming plans

Harris also outlined the company’s programming plans for the 2001-02 season.

In addition to the current A&E co-venture “100 Centre Street,” the company will go forward with syndie action hour “Lean Angle,” but pass on “Colosseum,” which was being shopped at NATPE.

Pearson also is planning for a weekly series hosted by Karen Duffy about what women really look for in a guy, called “Man O Man.”

Harris said “Man” is a strikeproof project that has been in development, and that discussions about distribution are ongoing.

And the trio of gamers — sophomore syndie strip “Family Feud,” frosh “To Tell the Truth” and upcoming “Card Sharks” — are all go projects.

“Sharks” has been cleared in New York on WWOR, in Los Angeles on KCAL and in Chicago on WCIU.