Magazine Shows Spruce Up for Fall

Sep 1, 2003  •  Post A Comment

ABC’s “PrimeTime Monday,” which is scheduled to run only through the regular NFL season, will kick off with a previously announced TV tour of six large cities, starting with Las Vegas. November is expected to bring specials revolving around weddings and their back-stories, said ABC News Senior VP Phyllis McGrady.
“PrimeTime” on Thursday plans more investigations and in-depth hours, including one that tracks a year in the life of a couple whose divorce smacks of “The War of the Roses.”
On “20/20,” the staples will include big interviews by Barbara Walters and regularly scheduled reality-style parenting and family segments from Ms. Walters’ new co-host, John Stossel.
Also planned are new installments of two limited series that first ran last season: “24/7” with the New York Police Department, and the court-focused “State v.”
At CBS, “60 Minutes” producer Don Hewitt is still undecided about whether there are roles for former President Bill Clinton and former Sen. Bob Dole, whose “Point/Counterpoint” debates opened to great anticipation last spring but were presumed dead by the end of last season. “They are not coming back in the `Point/Counterpoint’ format,” Mr. Hewitt said, “but I am not ruling out their appearance in some other format.”
No noticeable change is expected at “60 Minutes II,” spun off in 1992 by executive producer Jeff Fager, to whom Mr. Hewitt will hand off the “Minutes” mothership at the end of the 2003-04 season.
“48 Hours Investigates” did its retooling last season, when “60 Minutes” correspondent Lesley Stahl succeeded Dan Rather as anchor and the focus was narrowed to emphasize investigative stories. At the end of the TV season, “48” could point to a 27 percent increase in viewership while the other magazines were essentially flat or down slightly.
During the upcoming season, “48 Hours” executive producer Susan Zirinsky’s subjects will range from crime and punishment and the aftermath of the war on Iraq to some stories that have entertainment connections.
Indeed, the market for prime-time celebrity interviews was so bullish last season that Ms. Zirinsky is noodling with ways to capitalize on the interest in entertainment subjects with a format separate from “48 Hours.”
Asked who she expects to be the celebrity interview that would inspire the fiercest competition next season, Ms. Zirinsky made the producers’ vote for Martha Stewart unanimous, but not before she quipped: “Who’s on self-destruct?”
“All the magazine shows have had this hungry drive for the entertainment things-except for `60′ and `60 II.’ They do them when they want to do them,” Ms. Zirinsky said.
“Dateline NBC,” which is on the schedule two nights per week, down from three nights last season, plans to capitalize on breaking news and produce fewer of the could-run-anytime hours on which the magazine has relied in recent seasons. “Dateline,” which still is in no rush to name a replacement for talk-show freshman Jane Pauley as Stone Phillips’ co-host, will get a freshened-up set and new opening sequence. “Dateline” executive producer David Corvo said the newsmagazine also will do more big newsmaker and celebrity interviews.
“Dateline” and “Today” began pooling booking expertise last season to more effectively compete for the “big gets,” which then will become promotable elements on both shows.
In a new synergistic wrinkle, “Access Hollywood” host Pat O’Brien interviewed Jennifer Lopez and fiance Ben Affleck for an hour-long “Dateline” special (excerpted on “Today” and MSNBC) that helped NBC win a July sweeps week.
The “Access”-NBC deal provoked a direct response from ABC News, which struck up its own symbiotic, promotion-driven relationship with Paramount Television’s “Entertainment Tonight.”
What these deals reflect is unprecedented pressure to bring the largest-and youngest-audience possible into the magazines’ tents. There is ample evidence that younger viewers who watch in dramatically increased numbers for the Jennifer Lopez or Whitney Houston interviews are not likely to be converted into loyal viewers of that newsmagazine.
Still, hope springs eternal that such out-of-the-ordinary shows serve as “a platform for you to tell that audience: `These are other things we’re going to be doing,”’ Ms. McGrady said.