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‘Ali & Jack’ Premiere Short on Big Names

Sep 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

“One minute to launch,” Deb Miller, the director of “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack” announced to the engineers, King World executives, publicists and producers packed in the control room the morning of the show’s debut.

“I feel like we’re at NASA,” one engineer whispered underneath her breath.

“That wouldn’t be this chaotic,” said another.

Moments later, the new show’s opener unfurled across the monitors and Alexandra Wentworth and Jack Ford made their small screen premiere as talk show hosts.

After Ms. Wentworth and Mr. Ford traded anecdotes, country star Patty Loveless, whose new CD was hitting stores the following day, performed a song, and Julie Chen and Dave Price of CBS’s “The Early Show” stopped by to wish the hosts luck.

“We had problems, obviously, attracting guests for the first program,” said “Living It Up!” executive producer Bruce McKay. “Publicists just did not want to put clients on a show they hadn’t seen.”

The first week’s guests included Cameron Mathison (“All My Children”) Elmo, Mario Cantone (“Sex and the City”), Jamie Kennedy, Erika Slezak (“One Life to Live”), and Christina Ricci and Jason Biggs, who were promoting the new Woody Allen movie. This week, Susan Lucci, Sarah Ferguson and Luciano Pavarotti are set to sit down with Ali and Jack.

“I think the show was good enough today that we’ll break out and start booking better people,” said Mr. McKay, just minutes after the first show wrapped.

Without A-list guests, Ms. Wentworth and Mr. Ford filled airtime on their first day with a humorous taped segment about their recent trip to Hollywood to woo said A-list guests (the only “star” they met was Phyllis Diller). Mostly, they relied on their host chat and chemistry to win over viewers.

“The host chat is the hardest thing,” said Ms. Wentworth. “When you have a guest, you’re busy interviewing. But a host chat is just 15-20 minutes of us just talking.”

Mr. Ford was pleased with the way he and Ms. Wentworth performed in their debut appearance.

“We looked at each other before we came out and said, `Let’s rock ‘n’ roll. Let’s do this thing,”’ said Mr. Ford. “Afterward, my first reaction was that I had a lot of fun doing it. And if I had fun and Ali had fun, hopefully the audience did too.”

Just hours after the show’s premiere, the “Living It Up!” online message boards were filled with reviews of the first episode. They were mixed.

“I was really disappointed with this new show. Ali is really annoying and lame. I feel sorry for Jack,” posted one viewer who added optimistically, “Hey, `Good Day L.A.’ is still on the air, so maybe this show will work.”

Another viewer was much more generous, writing, “Kelly and Regis are going to have something to worry about with this show. That is for sure.”

If the ratings are any indication, “Regis and Kelly” may not have to worry about “Ali & Jack” for some time. The show’s premiere episode averaged a 1.3 rating/5 share in metered markets, according to Nielsen overnight ratings. Even before learning of the ratings, Mr. McKay said he didn’t have high ratings expectations.

“We are in what’s called a broken time slot. They were only getting about a 1.3 rating in this slot before. I’ve been in syndication long enough to know that at best we’re going to get a 1.5 or a 1.6. It’s kind of depressing to start that low, but we have nowhere to go but up,” Mr. McKay said.

With the first episode completed, Ms. Wentworth and Mr. Ford gathered the show’s staff and crew on the set for a mini-celebration.

“We’re blessed with the best staff and crew either of us have ever worked with,” Mr. Ford said.

“So we hope you won’t be upset when we tell you there are budget cuts-only by 50 percent-so that we could have better wardrobes,” Ms. Wentworth said.

After less than 15 minutes of sipping mimosas and nibbling on mini-quiches, the staff drifted out of the studio and headed across the street to the “Living It Up!” offices, where they had a meeting to discuss the next day’s show.