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McLaughlin Shifts Base

May 4, 2008  •  Post A Comment

John McLaughlin doesn’t make changes often, but when he does, they’re significant.
First he left his life as a Jesuit priest and teacher to follow his interest in politics. Then, after an unsuccessful run for office and stints as a speechwriter for Presidents Nixon and Ford, he began the highest-profile of his careers: broadcaster.
In 1982 he began producing and hosting “The McLaughlin Group,” a weekly public affairs show he created that would launch an entire genre of often raucous, combative imitators and inspire legions of impersonators.
Mr. McLaughlin recently concluded a deal that moved his program from its longtime NBC association to WCBS-TV in New York and Gannett-owned CBS affiliate WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C. Mr. McLaughlin’s Oliver Productions and production of the show relocated from NBC-owned WRC-TV in Washington to new office and studio space at WUSA.
The show has moved to a new business model as well.
Now, instead of buying the time slots in which it aired and then selling the commercial inventory itself, “McLaughlin” will share revenue from the commercials, up from four minutes to six minutes per installment, with WUSA selling the ad time and marketing the show.
Mr. McLaughlin was ready for such help, which frees him to focus on the editorial aspects of his “Group.” He had seen the selling of “Group” time go from easy to very time-consuming.
NBC parent company General Electric was a sponsor for 17 years and for a time had bought up all “Group” ad inventory, something that was curtailed under changes in GE leadership.
Oliver Productions, which also produces “John McLaughlin’s One on One,” an hourlong interview show seen on public broadcasting stations, was an independent with fewer options to offer advertisers than many of the bigger players competing for advertising dollars.
After 26 years of originating from WRC-TV—in the same studio used by “Meet the Press” and moderator Tim Russert—Mr. McLaughlin had a week to move set and staff to WUSA, a challenge he described to TelevisionWeek as having to “do an Evel Knievel and clear this ravine.”
WUSA General Manager Allan Horlick is a former WRC sales executive and general manager who has known Mr. McLaughlin and his New York-based business manager, former adman George Karalekas, for more than two decades.
“The McLaughlin Group” has not lacked for suitors over the years. Having tired of footing the bill for the clearances in Washington and New York, Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. Karalekas recently decided it would be smart to circle back around to some of its former suitors.
Mr. Horlick said Mr. McLaughlin approached him with the question of whether there was a better business model for “Group.”
“I believe that together we were able to build a better mousetrap,” said Mr. Horlick, who declined to discuss how revenue will be shared.
For WCBS, it’s a traditional syndication barter model, said Joel Goldberg, senior VP for the station’s operations. At the flagship CBS-owned station, “Group” is expected to fill the Sunday 11-11:30 a.m. slot that has heretofore been occupied by a potpourri of paid and syndicated programming.
Initial advertiser reaction to the new availability of this “brand-name” show with a loyal following has been “positive,” Mr. Goldberg said, confessing his surprise at learning how often “Group’s” ratings had consistently built up from its lead-in, “Meet the Press,” in the Big Apple.
According to overnight data from Nielsen Media Research for March 30, in New York City, “The McLaughlin Group” averaged a 3.8 rating, compared to “Meet the Press’s” 3.2. “The Chris Matthews Show,” starring the former “McLaughlin” panel member, had a 2.4 rating as a lead-in to “Meet the Press.”
In Washington on the same day, “Group” earned a 3.7 rating, to finish a typical second among Sunday public-affairs shows to “Meet the Press’” 5.6 rating.
However, Mr. Horlick is not limiting his vision to “Group.” He’s thinking that it will make a good tentpole on the other end of an underexploited Sunday-morning block that includes “CBS Sunday Morning”; “Face the Nation” moderated by CBS News veteran Bob Schieffer; and “This Week in Defense News With Vago Muradian,” the new weekly half-hour spinoff of a respected Gannett-owned publication.
“That would be the first part of what you would say are bigger plans for the [‘McLaughlin’] show,” Mr. Horlick said.
The WUSA leader also sees real potential for developing “The McLaughlin Group” internationally and online, the latter a platform he said would augment, not conflict with, the distribution of “Group” to 315 public broadcasting stations.
Meanwhile, Mr. McLaughlin finds the decrease in his business chores “agreeable.” Without saying what his take from the new deal is, he said it will support “my appetite for luxury [which] continues to expand.”
The changes in what viewers see will be subtle; for example, “more sophisticated” video packages that help frame the discussion throughout the show. Late last week, Mr. McLaughlin was tickled at the prospect of including a snippet of music, “Staying Alive,” with the video setup on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
His bullpen of roundtable panelists remains intact and they remain free to say what they believe at the volume they feel is appropriate.
“I impose no rules editorially. It’s a free market,” Mr. McLaughlin said. He believes his approach lends the show “an authenticity that is magic. I cherish the spontaneity.”
When asked if hugs are given after a show with particularly brutal exchanges, he displayed his trademark dry wit and ability to turn on a verbal dime. “No, we don’t do any of that,” he said. “We just let them wander off.”
Mr. McLaughlin is glad to be part of the longevity revolution.
He is 81 but said he feels “maybe 62 or 63.”
Over the course of a wide-ranging conversation, it’s clear that not one of his brain cells has retired.
He said he just signed a two-year contract after being offered a longer deal. But he suspects he’ll want to be in a position to comment on the 2012 presidential campaign.
“I think the next presidential cycle is going to be intriguing,” said the man who concedes he has, over the years, mellowed to the point that he can see merit in ideas on the other side—that is, the left side—of the political-philosophical divide.
“I would say that I am not an idee fixe conservative,” he said.

6 Comments

  1. have been trying to find The Mc Laughlin Group as they departed NBC..I am in new york, and are they currently on Sundays 11 am on ch 2 in NYC?
    advise.

  2. Help! I cannot find any information- after cruising the net for an hour- on the change of panelists on the McLaughlin Group.
    I think the two additions are not pluses and I miss the chemistry of the former panel.
    I realize change is the name of the game in TV but let’s change for the better also.
    Thank you.

  3. I really enjoy the show but can no longer find it in San Diego schedule. Please help!

  4. Where can I listen to the show on internet? Please let me know.
    GH

  5. Does anyone know time/day for mclaughlin group in san diego???

  6. You did a good job.

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