For Buena Vista, it’s all about the franchise.
The company that took “Live” host Regis Philbin and spun him into the blockbuster platform that is “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” also was firmly behind Barbara Walters adding new dimensions to her television presence by executive-producing the successful daytime talk show “The View” and the upcoming syndicated daytime show “Iyanla.”
On a different level, the studio was able to work out a deal with “All My Children” producers to tap star Kelly Ripa as a replacement for daytime staple Kathie Lee Gifford-a move that has sent the show’s ratings in the women 18 to 49 demo up 25 percent compared with year-ago averages.
“As we develop shows, we are looking for breakthrough talent and unique formats and work closely with BVT [Buena Vista Television] because we develop for specific dayparts,” said Angela Shapiro, president of the newly formed Buena Vista Productions. “We develop franchises. In success, `Iyanla’ will become a franchise for us. In success, [upcoming cable show] `Aphrodite’ will become a franchise for us. Thus far, we have been able to utilize the incredible synergistic opportunities we have.”
ABC formed Buena Vista Productions last year as a unit for development and programming for syndication, cable and daytime. Ms. Shapiro serves as president of the new unit while continuing her role as ABC Daytime president. She and her team are now charged with all development and programming and also provide creative oversight for such shows as “Live With Regis & Kelly,” “Your Big Break,” “Ebert & Roeper and the Movies,” “Win Ben Stein’s Money” and “Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush.”
Ms. Shapiro tapped former ABC Daytime Vice President of Reality Programming Holly Jacobs to serve as senior vice president of programming and production at the new unit. The team joined Buena Vista Television duo Janice Marinelli, president, and Tom Cerio, executive vice president of sales, in divvying up development and sales duties for current and upcoming shows.
“Our strategy is not to develop in volume but rather to put our creative and financial resources into a very select number of projects that are distinctive in all aspects and truly target marketplace opportunities,” Ms. Jacobs said. “In our division, less is more. Our goal is to make the best show possible and get it sold.”
As the team’s first projects, it was charged with replacing Ms. Gifford on “Live” and developing a syndication vehicle for Ms. Walters and former “Oprah Winfrey Show” regular and best-selling author Iyanla Vanzant. Both projects were quickly deemed successful. “Live’s” ratings are up with the addition of Ms. Ripa, and “Iyanla” was one of the first syndicated series to be cleared in most of the United States for next fall.
“This structure in which we currently operate is ideal,” Ms. Marinelli said. “We have Buena Vista Productions, who totally focuses on the creative. They live and breathe creating the show. This gives Buena Vista Television the ability to focus fully on getting the best clearances, knowing the marketplace and marketing the shows.
“We can focus on knowing where the opportunities exist now and in the future. Then we can help guide BVP where to go in the development process. With the new structure, you are getting experts in our fields. And each area can completely focus on our given area. We don’t get bogged down in areas that are outside our focus.”
The company recently wrapped up its final target for “Iyanla,” when Los Angeles station KNBC-TV picked up the series for the fall, taking its total clearance past the 85 percent mark, including WABC-TV in New York and WBBM-TV in Chicago. Ms. Jacobs and Mr. Cerio often approached stations in tandem to complete the deals.
“We’re casting a wide net that looks to appeal to the masses on the shows,” Mr. Cerio said. “The lines of communication between us have been outstanding and allowed us to focus on accomplishing this. We listen to them, and they listen to us. And we’ve been able to get that out to the marketplace. They know it’s a well-oiled machine.”
The company followed those initial projects with reality series “Aphrodite Jones,” which sold to USA Network.
“`Aphrodite Jones’ is another example [of] compelling talent with another very strong producing team [including] Ron Vandor [formerly of `Hard Copy’],” Ms. Shapiro said. “This is a show that is a unique crime-reality-hybrid idea that does not currently exist on the air. Once again, we feel like we’ve done something that has the unique ingredients that make for a very strong program.”
Not all series have broken out, however. The company distributed the Chris-Craft-produced reality strip “HouseCalls,” which was one of the first syndicated series canceled this season. Additionally, questions remain surrounding weekly variety series “Your Big Break,” which is still being evaluated with consideration being made toward a cable deal, as well as Comedy Central’s “Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush,” which may or may not return to the fold for another season, since the company is in negotiations with several different outlets.
However, other signature series are being primed for a long-term run through tweaking, including “Ebert & Roeper and the Movies.” Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper was added as a permanent host this season after the show had rotating guest co hosts for a year.
“We’re now looking to reinvigorate this show,” Ms. Jacobs said. “We have tremendous upgrades in New York and Chicago. With that, we plan to reintroduce the show in the fall, adding great definition. We will bring more signature segments that will continue to set this show apart and play on the strengths and credibility that both Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper bring to the table.”
“Win Ben Stein’s Money” will continue its run for another season on Comedy Central. The series is already in production for the fall, with Nancy Pimental continuing as host of the game show.
Meanwhile, Mr. Philbin’s two platforms-“Millionaire” and “Live”-will continue to ride their waves of success. Despite NBC’s plan to quickly take its own prime-time game show “Weakest Link” into syndication, no active plans are under way to do the same with “Millionaire.”
However, Ms. Marinelli said nothing can be ruled out.
“We’re never going to say we won’t do it,” she said. “But we don’t see the advantages of producing the series for syndication at this time, and until we do it will remain a unique prime-time show.”
The company is now deep in development for fall 2002. Buena Vista will avoid niche playing and instead search for the greatest number of eyeballs possible, whether the series ends up on Disney-affiliated channels or not.
Action hours will likely be out of the picture for the season, according to the executives, due to a dependence on international financing and lower license fees that have killed Studios USA’s “Xena” and Pearson Television’s “Baywatch Hawaii.” Instead, the team is in heavy negotiations as the summer approaches for projects in a number of dayparts.
“So many of us are producers first, and we bring that wealth of experience to our unit,” Ms. Jacobs said. “Having lived lives of producers, we have the souls of producers but the big-picture thinking of executives. I consciously positioned the development group this way. We bring a lot to the table.”