Neither increased competition from former “Group” member Chris Matthews nor the loss of funding from longtime sponsor General Electric Co. shall be cause for pause by John McLaughlin, the commentator who helped turn verbal brawling into a TV genre.
After some 15 years as Mr. McLaughlin’s highly visible sponsor, GE is overhauling its media strategy. Among the results: an end to the $2 million-plus in GE Fund and advertising money that had been going annually to Mr. McLaughlin’s shows, “The McLaughlin Group” and “McLaughlin: One on One,” seen largely on public television stations around the country.
GE has pledged to buy advertising time in “The McLaughlin Group” in the two cities in which “Group” airs on commercial stations: in New York, where it has long been a ratings winner in the cushy time slot between Sunday “Today” and “Meet the Press With Tim Russert” on WNBC-TV, and in Washington, where it has traditionally aired Saturdays and Sundays on WRC-TV (except during the football season, when it gets bumped about by the station’s Redskins programming commitments).
But GE has been changing its advertising focus-buying less time on Sunday morning newsmaker-style programs and going for time slots and programming in which it can expect to connect with a broader audience.
So GE is sponsoring “The Freedom of Us,” an upcoming history series to be voiced by “Today’s” Katie Couric, on public TV. GE is not getting out of the newsmaker dayparts altogether, said someone familiar with the game plan. It still buys some time in ABC’s “This Week” and will continue to advertise in NBC’s powerful “Meet the Press” and other key news programs. GE will not be advertising in the NBC-syndicated “Chris Matthews Show” that debuts this fall in 70 percent of the country.
“`McLaughlin’ has been good for GE,” said a spokeswoman for GE. “We’ve enjoyed the association.”
Meanwhile, sources familiar with the “McLaughlin” situation say new sponsors have been lined up-“It’s not 100 percent, but it’s close. … It’s a crazy year out there”-but are not ready to announce themselves. They say that “McLaughlin” will not be shunted to lesser time slots in the Big Apple and D.C. by the advent of “Chris Matthews.” (Indeed, in New York and Washington, it is scheduled to be the lead-out for “Meet the Press.”)
Mr. McLaughlin himself, during a break from back-to-back taping of six shows, told The Insider: “I welcome new talk shows. It dilutes the competition.”
“I thought you’d like that,” he said when that drolly delivered line produced the expected laugh.
The word on the `Blue’ streak
Will Andy Sipowicz’s relationship with Connie (Charlotte Ross) develop to the point that Andy gets, well, l-a-i-d? What’s the next word “NYPD Blue” producers want to get past the standards and practices crew at ABC and onto the air? And is it harder to be true “Blue” when being crowded by so many wannabe-bad-boys (and girls) shows?
The Insider didn’t have to sweat the answers out of executive producer and frequent director Mark Tinker, because (a) the heat index was at 105 degrees on Day 1 of the “Blue” crew’s first trip of its 10th season to New York for exterior scenes with genuine backgrounds, and (b) Mr. Tinker is a gracious pro.
“The jury is totally out” on the Andy-Connie question, Mr. Tinker said. There are two camps on the question of just how far to take the odd-couple relationship. Co-creator Steven Bochco is inclined to see the two hook up, as the kids say. Mr. Tinker is among those inclined to think that would ring false. Stay tuned. The season starts Sept. 24 with a walk down video-memory lane in honor of the show’s 200th episode at 9 p.m., followed by “Blue” back in its rightful spot at 10 p.m. Tuesdays.
The S-word is one Mr. Tinker would like to have at his writers’ disposal when it feels natural. In his opinion, the word felt forced when much was made of its use in an episode of the late “Chicago Hope.”
Mr. Tinker firmly believes that “network television is going to be doomed” unless it can offer increasingly sophisticated audiences a more adult viewing experience that approaches what they can get on cable, where the old TV taboos are an increasingly endangered species.
Mr. Tinker raves about HBO’s “Sex and the City” and “Six Feet Under.” The latter “has gone places no other show has,” said the producer-director, who particularly likes “Six Feet’s” follow-through on story lines. On the other hand, the tendency to drop story lines is frustrating for a fan of “The Sopranos.”
As for “The Shield,” Mr. Tinker said the blunt force and language that made it a critical pet and star Michael Chiklis a surprise Emmy nominee feels “wedged in.”
“Our stuff feels way more organic,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Tinker said that as “Blue” rounds the 200th episode milestone, the show and its crew find themselves in a good place where, like “Law & Order,” they can relax in their relationship with the audience without falling into a creative rut.
Even after 10 years, he said, “Every day is different.”