Latin spin for Access

Also, NBC is close to deal for rights for the newsmagazine

Access Hollywood is getting a Latin spin-off, and NBC is likely to take over distribution of the syndicated newsmagazine in the coming weeks.

Sources say that NBC, which produces and is the majority owner of Access Hollywood, is close to a deal to get the syndication distribution rights back from Warner Bros. Domestic Television. The NBC owned-and-operated stations are expected to renew Warner Bros.' own newsmagazine Extra through 2005 in exchange.

NBC Enterprises and Syndication will add Access Hollywood to its quickly growing library, which will likely include two new first-run series during the 2001-02 season: The Other Half and a daytime/access version of Weakest Link.

NBC's stations division is also getting involved with Access Hollywood, teaming up with Litton Inc. for a weekend series titled Latin Access. The syndicated series will be based at flagship station WNBC-TV New York and feature a weekly look into the lives of Latino film, music and TV stars. Litton's planned Urban Latino, already cleared in 80% of the U.S. for the fall, is being transformed into Latin Access. It will likely use some of Access Hollywood's production facilities and possibly tie in reports.

Neither NBC nor Warner Bros. would comment late last week, but sources say they are "very close" to finalizing a deal. "It makes sense on a lot of different levels," says one executive close to the negotiations. "It will likely get done."

The deal is logical for NBC for several reasons. Most important, the network has been forced to share a portion of the show's revenue with Warner Bros. for its distribution efforts. Having its own syndication outfit means that NBC can now keep the money in-house. NBC executives also want to get their own programming into key access time periods, where advertising prices for their local stations are highest and the network can control its lead-in to prime time.

For Warner Bros., the potential pact makes sense because its Extra is currently cleared on many of the NBC O&Os through 2003 and a commitment through 2005 would reap millions of dollars for the studio. It is unclear whether Extra would remain in key access time periods on the NBC stations, though.

The deal follows Warner Bros.' aggressive efforts late last year to get Access Hollywood into more access time periods across the country. Domestic TV President Dick Robertson held a press conference in Hollywood last November to get word out that the show would be available for special rates if moved into access time slots. The newsmagazine beats rival Entertainment Tonight in many top U.S. cities where it is carried in access slots, but it struggles throughout the rest of the country.

Access Hollywood has quite a history for a show that is only five years old. NBC developed it with New World Television and launched it on NBC and the New World stations. Fox subsequently acquired New World, and Fox's syndication unit, Twentieth Television, took over distribution. In 1999, NBC acquired the distribution rights from Fox and brought in Warner Bros. Fox still has a minority-ownership stake.

As for Latin Access, the half-hour series, which will debut in syndication in October, was originally in development as a local series at WNBC-TV New York. When South Carolina-based Litton Inc. executives got wind of it, they thought it would match perfectly with their nationally syndicated Urban Latino, slated to debut this fall.

"Latin Access is a better show. It's broader," says Litton CEO Dave Morgan, pointing out that Urban Latino focused on a lot of business issues. With Latin Access profiling personalities like Daisy Fuentes and Ricky Martin, the show will be able to lock up time slots adjacent to Access Hollywood or Entertainment Tonight
on the weekend, he added.

Besides WNBC-TV New York, NBC stations KNBC-TV Los Angeles, WMAQ-TV Chicago and WTVJ-TV Miami are signed on for Latin Access. The rest of the U.S. clearances are mainly deals brokered for Urban Latino prior to the change. Latin Access will have its own host, according to Executive Producer Stephanie Fisch, and will not use Access Hollywood talent or anchors.

Will Latin Access find an audience nationally? "You don't have to be Hispanic to look at Jennifer Lopez and enjoy her work," says WNBC-TV President Dennis Swanson. "We see this show as a real good entertainment vehicle."