TV Guide makeover

Channel to serve up gossip, trivia, interviews

The TV Guide channel hopes livelier programming about television — bits that feel like a cross between Access Hollywood and E! — will pull viewers to the net and keep them there for longer.

The ponderous scroll on the bottom of the screen, which execs insisted Tuesday is still widely used by subscribers, is taking a back seat to the shows on the top, which will serve up segments about what’s on TV with gossip, trivia, entertainment news and celeb interviews.

The new look, which will launch Monday, comes as TV Guide joins the lineup of sister company DirecTV and boosts its sub count to 70 million.

DirecTV and TV Guide parent Gemstar are both owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Gemstar chairman and former Fox exec Jeff Shell acknowledged at a press conference that the DirecTV relationship doesn’t endear Gemstar to cable operators, most of which are terrified of Murdoch’s new distribution powerhouse. Still, the net has inked deals with Time Warner Cable, Comcast and others.

The new daily show “What’s On” includes “What’s Next,” “TV Talk,” “Quick Flick” (movie recommendations for video-on-demand channels), “Family Do’s and Don’ts,” “News & Views,” “60 Second Life Story” and “Feedback.” Weekly and bi-weekly segments include “Watercooler,” “Cover Story,” “Frat House Friday,” “Horoscope” and “16th Minute of Fame,” plus “TV Guide Close Up” and “TV Talk.” The net’s planning a handful of specials with the Super Bowl, Golden Globes and Oscars featured this quarter.

“‘What’s Next’ will tell you the three or four things on in the next hour we think are good,” Shell said.

The same logic drove a redesign of TV Guide magazine last fall. As channels proliferate, you “can’t possibly list everything …We refocused it to what it was when it launched in the 50s — not comprehensive, but guidance,” he said.

Soft at newsstands

He said the new TV Guide magazine is playing well with advertisers, but newsstand sales are still soft.

“What’s On” will be hosted by Lesley Ann Machado, most recently of TBS’ “Movie Break” and produced at new studios on Hollywood Boulevard. Other hires include VP of production Scott Woodward, exec producer Mark Phillips and supervising producers Eddie Delbridge and Natalia Garcia. Woodward, Delbridge and Garcia have all worked for E!. Phillips was an independent producer who developed projects for King World, Discovery Channel, TLC, Game Show Network and USA Network.

“Americans are watching more television today then ever, and they are also faced with an exploding range of choices that make finding what they really want to watch more complicated and confusing … Gemstar-TV Guide is the only company dedicated to simplifying and enhancing the television viewing experience,” Shell said.

The shares rose 2.81% to $5.12 on news of the relaunch.

Arguably, companies like TiVo and personal video recorders in general are also simplifying TV — in a way that’s not congenial to a network like TV Guide.

The channel also faces a tough road with advertisers unwilling to pay full price for commercials when viewers may only be watching with half a brain — the other half following the scrolling guide on the bottom of the screen.

Shell said Gemstar “is a very different company” than it was only a year ago. “It’s a little bit cleaner and simpler.”

The company’s been through some troubled times. Five former execs were sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for accounting irregularities. The company has restated earnings several times and a plunge in the stock over the past two years forced News Corp. to take writedowns of more than $7 billion.

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