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Sports Vet Eyes Daytime

Aug 15, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Having mastered the art of drawing male audiences as the producer of such sporting events as the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Olympics, Michael Weisman is out to conquer female viewers on a whole new field of competition.

Now executive producer of “The Jane Pauley Show” for NBC Universal, Mr. Weisman is working nights in New York for the upcoming strip instead of days in Athens for the Olympics as he prepares his foray into daytime television. The series will debut in first-run syndication Aug. 30.

“The biggest surprise has been the workload,” he said in comparing sports and daytime talk. “In sports our job is to report on and enhance what’s going on in front of you. In daytime talk, every day is a blank canvas and you have to create a whole hour from scratch. It’s a lot of fun, but a lot of work as well.”

Mr. Weisman is best known as a producer/executive producer of high-profile sporting events, including the French Open, Wimbledon and the NCAA Championships. His work has earned him 22 Emmys, including most recently one for Fox’s coverage of the 2003 World Series. Among the network sports divisions where he has entrenched himself during his career are NBC Sports, Fox Sports and CBS Sports, and he has 18 World Series telecasts, nine Super Bowl telecasts, the Seoul Summer Olympics and the Salt Lake City Winter Games under his belt.

Last year Major League Baseball presented Mr. Weisman with the rare “gold pass” as a token of appreciation for his work, which allows him to enter any game for free.

“What that means is open to interpretation,” he said. “In New York that means I get to sit in the bleachers, while in Cincinnati I get a box seat.”

Among the innovations Mr. Weisman leaves behind in sports television are introduction of the first female play-by-play NFL announcer as well as the first female network sports host, the “Silent Minute” and the “10 Minute Ticker” for updating NFL scores, and the skycam.

“It’s difficult producing for sports audiences, because you’re at the mercy of the game,” he said. “No matter what kind of innovations you bring in, you’re not going to hold on to viewers if the Super Bowl score is 44-0. With daytime audiences, you are in control of segments and can gauge whether or not it’s working.”

Its was that sports background that first brought him to Jane Pauley, who was hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games. Now, 16 years later, the duo will reunite as the onetime “Today” show and “Dateline” co-host shifts her attention to the syndicated world.

“I remember the first time I met Michael, when I first arrived at NBC in 1986,” NBC Universal Television Group President Jeff Zucker said. “He was the most talented producer imaginable, someone I learned so much from. And it is just a thrill to have him back at NBC on one of our most exciting projects of the year. His talent, vision and enthusiasm are a perfect combination for Jane Pauley. I can’t think of two people I have more faith in.”

Episodes are already in the can, and this week they will tape six more episodes. He is quick to note that the quality level of talk shows currently on the air is different from what he expected and part of the reason he accepted the job.

“I’ve exercised my TiVo quite a bit, and what immediately surprised me is how the production quality and pace of the episodes have been so greatly enhanced,” he said. “`Oprah,’ `Dr. Phil’ and `Ellen’ have all raised the bar, and that’s good for television.”

NBC Universal has now cleared the series in 99 percent of the country, including 204 markets, a record for first-run strips. The series will air at 10 a.m. in Los Angeles and 11 a.m. in New York. The show will look to air stories, be they about celebrities or average Joes, that Ms. Pauley feels need to be told to audiences.

“We won’t have celebrities out hawking the latest movie, and the show will not have a political bent. Jane has said that she wants the show to be a no-politics zone,” Mr. Weisman said. “Instead, for the first couple of weeks we will be trying to establish who we are to viewers and what we represent.”

Among the first episodes will be a segment featuring designer Isaac Mizrahi taking members of the studio audience and dressing them in flattering outfits, clearly a different challenge than airing the Super Bowl halftime show.