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Who wants to be a franchise?

Jul 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Even before the first new syndicated series make their bows for the fall, distributors are already grabbing headlines this summer with news of development deals and station clearances for the 2002 season-part of an effort to combat competition from the encroaching cable channels.
No series, however, has drawn as much attention as Buena Vista Television’s stripped version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” With a slew of deals already under its belt, the upcoming series has now cleared more than half the country, including a number of top CBS owned-and-operated stations, a situation that could cause a major change in the access lineup in 12 months-and possibly affect the fortunes of “Hollywood Squares,” which is produced by a CBS sibling, Viacom-owned King World Productions.
“`Millionaire’ has proven to be an incredible warrior for ABC since its debut, always increasing its lead-in no matter where the network put the series,” said Lloyd Komesar, senior vice president of strategic research at Buena Vista. “Therefore we’ve been able to pitch the series as an equally powerful player in syndication as we ramp up the tension and drama even more.”
The upcoming strip most recently cleared another five stations in the top 50 markets: WUSA-TV in Washington; Seattle station KLMO-TV; Portland, Ore.’s KATU-TV; WBTV in Charlotte, N.C.; and WHTM-TV in Harrisburg, Pa. Most stations are already preparing the series either for a news lead-in or to serve as a bridge in access-between the news and prime time.
With CBS stations such as WNBC-TV in New York, KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, WBBM-TV in Chicago, KYW-TV in Philadelphia and KPIX-TV in San Francisco committed to the show, station programmers are already considering bumping the successful “Hollywood Squares” to a new slot to accommodate the new acquisition. “Squares” was often coupled with “Entertainment Tonight” on the CBS stations in the access hour. “Squares” remains sold to the stations through the 2003-04 season.
“You can’t argue with the credentials of `Millionaire,”’ said one station manager who is contemplating such a move despite CBS’s kinship to King World. “We have to and always will look out for our station’s best interests, especially in a market as tough as this.”
Most surprising about the sale, according to analysts, was that the series was sold without any host attached, as was NBC’s competing syndicated version of “Weakest Link.” Katz TV Programming Vice President Bill Carroll has said that in this case, the format is more important than the face. Buena Vista execs are now focusing on bringing in a familiar face to carry the syndicated “Millionaire” under the supervision of original network producer Michael Davies.
“We have a list of A-list talent we are slowly sorting through, but we feel that that the person must be just right for the show, as this franchise is not just a about the network series, it’s about theme park attractions and board games and spans a lot of platforms for us,” said Tom Cerio, executive vice president of sales at Buena Vista. “The great thing about [network host] Regis [Philbin] is that he lets the contestants be the star, and that format works for the show. There are 71 countries airing the series with 71 different hosts, so clearly the series will be able to work even if Regis isn’t at the helm.”