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Finding a timely home - Broadcasting & Cable

Finding a timely home

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The logical syndication spot for ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and NBC's Weakest Link
is the attractive 7-8 p.m. access daypart. But that hour might not be easy to obtain: Many outlets, ABC- and NBC-owned stations included, have long-term contracts on such shows as Wheel of Fortune
and Access Hollywood.

"The way to maximize the potential of any show—particularly a game show—is to run it in access," says Katz TV's Bill Carroll. "But that's going to be pretty tough."

ABC and NBC affiliates aren't the only game in town: Syndicated versions of top-10 network shows could prove hard for any station to pass up.

But Art Moore, programming director, WABC-TV New York, says some ABC stations may raise objections if a market rival gets Millionaire. "You run the risk of weakening the Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune franchises," he says, "as well as Millionaire." NBC stations squeezed out of a syndicated Weakest Link could marshal a similar argument. TV insiders speculate that the shows' distributors—Buena Vista and NBC Enterprises, respectively—could stipulate that the stripped versions run outside access, but executives of neither distributor would comment.

Steering the shows to a roomier daypart could open up selling options. One large-market general manager suggested benching low-rated ABC soap Port Charles to fit in Millionaire.

But, "if they come out in daytime with it, they'll have to price it accordingly. And I don't know if that merits their taking it out," notes Lou Verruto, general manager of CBS affiliate WIVB-TV Buffalo, N.Y. Daytime, one of the least-watched dayparts, delivers the lowest license fees.

Nevertheless, Buena Vista and NBC might be swayed by the fact that several CBS O&Os, having lost ground with Dr. Laura, would stand to gain with Millionaire or Link in daytime. Also, sources say Hearst-Argyle might pair the slated half-hour Weakest Link with a half-hour Millionaire (a likely but not definite plan) on several of its NBC and ABC affiliates.

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