Getting ‘Gets’ Just Part of Talk Game

Jul 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

In Jeffry Culbreth’s ideal world, Julia Roberts, Ashton Kutcher, Colin Farrell and Demi Moore would appear on “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack” during premiere week. But the talent producer for the new syndie talk show, launching Sept. 15, knows that reality is often less than ideal.
“Would I love to have five A-listers during our first week up? Absolutely. Is it feasible or reasonable? Probably not,” said Ms. Culbreth, who previously booked guests for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and “Today.”
Landing celebs for a show that hasn’t yet launched is a daunting yet crucial task, “Living” executive producer Bruce McKay said.
Without a star-studded roster the first week, the task of booking becomes that much harder.
“If you come out that first week with no big stars, people say, `I’m not going to put my A-list stars on that show because nobody else will,”’he said.
“Living It Up!” which is designed to rely heavily on celebrity guests, will face some stiff, established booking competition. The newcomer will vie for the same big names as “Today,” “GMA,” “The View,” “The Early Show” and “Live With Regis and Kelly” as well as such new syndie talk shows as Warner Bros.’ two entries “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Sharon Osbourne Show.”
As a rule, many established shows refuse to book a guest once he or she has appeared on the competition, but Ms. Culbreth said she won’t be that discriminating. “If I called people right now saying `I want Ray Romano, but I will not follow `The Early Show’ or `Regis,’ I’d be cutting off my nose to spite my face,” said Ms. Culbreth. “But when we’re a hot-and notice I said `when’-then I can start saying, `I’m not following that show.”’
Nabbing a celebrity first alone does not guarantee a show’s success. “Ali & Jack” producer-distributor King World learned this firsthand with “The Martin Short Show,” which drew many stars but earned low ratings.
Forming a unique connection with guests also is a proven factor in sustaining momentum according to “Good Morning America” executive producer Shelley Ross. “When Regis and Kelly interview a celebrity that’s been on our show, it’s a different interview. It’s a Regis interview,” she said.
Simon Halls, partner in the publicity firm PMK/HBH, said “Living It Up!” shouldn’t have much trouble booking guests.
“Our attitude is the more the merrier. If a show proves itself to be good, we absolutely want to participate,” said Mr. Halls, whose clients include actors Nathan Lane, Jude Law, Frances McDormand and Kate Winslet.
Ms. Culbreth said she has been negotiating with PMK/ HBH about several stars appearing on the show but hasn’t yet confirmed any guests.
While Ms. Culbreth and senior talent booker Lori Teig are concentrating on booking celebrities, “Living It Up!” producer Suzanne Bass is scouring newspapers nationwide, looking for regular people with stories to tell. “My favorite booking of all time was Twiggy, the water-skiing squirrel,” recalled Ms. Bass, who was a producer on “Rosie.”
Since TV shows are on hiatus and many movies haven’t settled on opening dates for fall, Ms. Culbreth and Ms. Teig don’t have any guests firmed up for debut week. But they’re not worried-yet.
“If I have really short hair and no fingernails in a month, you’ll know things aren’t going as well as I’d like them to,” Ms. Culbreth said.