Edited by Mark Lasswell -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/14/2005 8:00:00 PM
Burnett: Naysayers Need Dose of Reality
In the past, when Mark Burnett was going from success to success with shows like Survivor and The Apprentice, he wasn’t just a reality-TV contender, he was the genre’s heavyweight champ, the rock star of unscripted shows. Ratings roared, and marketers paid fortunes for “branded integration” on his shows. Then came The Contender and Rock Star: INXS. Those less-than-brilliantly performing shows brought out industry critics, whose toes might have been smarting from past encounters with the reality Bigfoot. Burnett got his comeuppance, they crow privately, and the Burnett brand can’t be relied on anymore to deliver the value to advertisers that it has in the past.
Burnett is having none of it. “When anybody is on top, it just becomes sport to try and knock them off. That’s all it is,” he says. “You have to take the ups and downs. When you get patted on the back so many times, it would be childish to take it personally when it goes the other way.”
He is dismissive of the idea that product placements on his shows that didn’t perform up to expectations were bad deals. “The fact of the matter is, everyone got treated right. You’ll see how many return to The Contender. ... We are one of the very few companies where the quality is guaranteed, more than just ratings.”
There’s a lot riding on his upcoming projects with Martha Stewart, but Burnett is already looking beyond them. “I’ve been doing this longer than anybody,” he says, vowing to still be in the reality business 20 years from now. That comes out to, what, Survivor #127?
'Six Feet’ Digs for Gold
Scott Carlin, HBO’s president of domestic TV distribution—a.k.a. the network’s Svengali of syndication—may need to tap all of his powers if he’s going to hit the trifecta of rich deals, following his successes with The Sopranos and Sex and the City, when he takes Six Feet Under to market. Sources tell us that Carlin’s informal presale discussions about the quirky mortuary drama have met with an underwhelming response from basic-cable executives. One of them says the show is just too off-beat, likening it to a syndication nonstarter from a few years ago, Ally McBeal.
Carlin, who declined to comment, has yet to come out with a formal marketing plan for Six Feet Under and probably won’t until early this fall, after the series wraps up on Sunday. And he certainly shouldn’t be counted out: Carlin is, after all, the man who managed to sell Sex and the City, with its raunchiness toned down, both to TBS on basic cable and to the Tribune company for broadcast syndication (starting next month). His record-shattering deal for The Sopranos, which saw A&E win a fierce bidding war with TNT with a $2.55 million-per- episode offer, still reverberates in the industry.
But Six Feet Under, even though it ran for five years and put more than 60 episodes in the can, was always an acquired taste, even by the cable audience’s boundary-pushing standards. The show may have one foot in the syndication grave, but Carlin could still pull it out.
No More News at 11 (Miles Per Gallon)
When local TV-news reporters race to the scene of big stories, they usually ride in a gas-sucking SUV or van. And it’s understandable: big lights, big cameras and, usually, big crew members. But what if you’re one of those little news channels operated by a cable company—say, Cablevision’s News 12 The Bronx or News 12 Brooklyn in New York—and your reporters do double duty shooting and editing their own reports, using small cameras and laptops? Why, quicker than you can say Larry David, Cablevision started building a fleet of Toyota Prius hybrid electric/gas vehicles. But realizing the eco-dream was a slow process: Demand for the hybrids made them hard to get.
News Director Camilo Pombo says he hit on the Prius idea last year, when News 12 The Bronx needed to replace its aging stable of Chevy Luminas. “The Bronx has one of the highest levels of asthma in the country,” Pombo says. “We wanted to be environmentally friendly and help the borough.”
That, and save some cash: With the cars getting 60 miles per gallon, the channel is on target to reduce its fuel expenses by 50% from 2004.
When News 12 Brooklyn was preparing to launch in June, the channel—learning from the months-long delays in obtaining cars for the Bronx operation—ordered its vehicles well in advance. In all, Cablevision has purchased 19 Priuses for its news operations. No doubt the cars get a tad more use than the ones used by Leonardo DiCaprio or Cameron Diaz to tootle around L.A.
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