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NBCU’s ‘Date’ No One-Night Stand

Jun 6, 2005  •  Post A Comment

NBC Universal Television Distribution last week sealed deals to bring back the dating strip “Blind Date” and three of its syndicated weekend half-hours for the 2005-06 season.

The syndicator also confirmed its previously reported deal with “Will & Grace” series regular Megan Mullally to host her own talk strip for fall 2006.

After a half-dozen seasons on the major market, former Chris-Craft Industries stations “Blind Date” will move to Tribune-owned stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago for its seventh season this fall.

The series has proved to be a survivor, said Barry Wallach, president of NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. “Date,” for example, has weathered multiple corporate mergers. Universal Domestic Television launched the show, then that company’s syndication operations were combined with Studios USA’s syndication operation. Last year Universal Domestic TV was merged with NBC’s syndication division.

In addition, the show launched on big-market stations previously owned by Chris-Craft. Those stations have since been bought by Fox Television Stations. “Date” also made it through a proliferation of competing dating shows.

With only one other syndicated dating show left in syndication, Warner Bros.’ “Elimidate,” Mr. Wallach said, “Blind Date” is poised to experience a ratings resurgence.

“‘Blind Date’ was the original,” he said. “A lot of the imitators have come and gone. We’re going to have growth back into ‘Blind Date’ now that the genre is back to where it should be in terms of product and how many shows should be in the marketplace.”

Even though “Blind Date” has not been a programming choice for the NBC Universal-owned stations, Mr. Wallach said the show has a place in the market.

“The combination of the Universal assets in syndication and the NBC syndication assets has really been complementary,” he said. “Different TV stations have different personalities. The great thing about the combining of the companies is we serve all these stations. Are we in the business of affiliate-based shows? Absolutely. But there are a lot of opportunities on Fox-, The WB- and UPN-[affiliated stations].”

Half-hour weekly “The Wall Street Journal Report With Maria Bartiromo” has been cleared in more than 92 percent of the U.S. for the 2005-06 TV season, its second season. Half-hour weekly “The Chris Matthews Show,” now in its sixth season, has more than 95 percent clearance for next season. “The George Michael Sports Machine” has been cleared in over 90 percent of the country and will go into its 22nd season as a weekly half-hour in 2005-06. All three half-hour weeklies have been cleared on the NBCU-owned station group.

“If you look at the majority of our weekend shows, they tend to be news/information-based, which, program flow-wise, works very well for network affiliates and their network news shows,” Mr. Wallach said. “It’s kind of a niche, to a degree, we have carved out with our sister divisions [the NBCU-owned stations, NBCU’s cable networks and NBC News].” Ms. Bartiromo is a host on NBCU-owned cable network CNBC; Mr. Matthews’ show is a production of NBC News; Mr. Michael’s program is produced out of the NBC Universal owned-and-operated station WRC-TV in Washington.

NBC Universal’s deal with the Emmy-winning Ms. Mullally sets the stage for a one-hour talk-variety strip that will feature celebrity interviews interspersed with segments featuring ordinary viewers. The strip, which NBC Universal is targeting for morning and afternoon time periods, will have a band, taking advantage of Ms. Mullally’s singing talents. NBC Universal is currently putting together a marketing plan for the show but said it plans to take the strip out to “the whole marketplace,” and not just the NBC Universal stations.

Unlike syndicated talk personalities such as Rosie O’Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres and Tony Danza, who became household names for essentially playing themselves, Ms. Mullally is best known for playing the flamboyant Karen on “Will & Grace,” a character quite different from her real-life persona. Audiences will not be disappointed when they tune in and find Ms. Mullally instead of Karen, Mr. Wallach said.

“She’s well liked by the American public,” he said, noting her successful guest hosting duties on CBS’s “The Late Show With David Letterman” and “Saturday Night Live.”

“When we see her cross over and host these other vehicles, she’s a natural at it,” he said.