The Private Goes Public

Her duty to country over, Iraq War vet starts serving media

For TV, Jessica Lynch is a dream come true. She has Girl Next Door looks blended with Coal Miner's Daughter
country smarts. And during next month's sweeps, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and CNN all will get a little bit of the former Private (and formerly private) Lynch.

On Nov. 11, ABC News' Diane Sawyer gets the big "get": the first exclusive TV interview with Lynch, her family and the author of her new book, Rick Bragg. The book, I'm a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story
(published by Alfred A. Knopf), will go on sale the next day. Sawyer will conduct the interview this week or next.

And then there's Saving Jessica Lynch, the NBC two-hour made-for-TV movie that Lynch, after some deliberation, decided not to cooperate with. In a bit of gamesmanship (or ambush marketing, depending on whom you talk to), NBC last week scheduled the movie for Nov. 9, just days before the Sawyer interview.

It seems clear that Sawyer's interview will generate big ratings—probably in the mid teens, roughly double the normal prime time. Likewise, NBC has high expectations for its movie, although it's going to encourage its audience to stick around by showing the first 40 minutes without a commercial break.

When those spots start running, though, NBC will reportedly be getting premium rates compared with the typical made-for-TV movie. ABC is not so aggressively pursuing big ad sales premiums for the Sawyer-Lynch interview, according to ad buyers. Spots are said to be going for $150,000-$175,000 per 30-second spot, in line with what PrimeTime Thursday
normally gets.

ABC sees a greater opportunity for a premium in the Barbara Walters interview with Martha Stewart, who is speaking out for the first time in a sit-down interview since being implicated in the Imclone insider-stock-trading flap last year. The premium for that special, likely to air early next month, sources say, might be upwards of $300,000 per spot, or twice what 20/20
usually fetches for a 30-second spot.

Insiders say ABC's a little lukewarm on the Lynch interview because the news value doesn't justify hitting advertisers up for big premiums. "The story is known," says one source, and, what's more, "she doesn't remember a lot of it."

Paul Bogaards, Knopf's executive director of publicity, disagrees. "That's what has been reported," he says. The truth, he adds, is that Lynch remembers a lot more than has been previously revealed. "She's not missing weeks or days but a few hours."

We'll certainly find out. After Sawyer, Lynch will be on NBC's Today
in a two-parter Wednesday and Thursday (Nov. 13 and 14). She also has dates with David Letterman Nov. 14, CNN's Larry King Nov. 17, and Fox News' Rita Cosby Nov. 18.

And while she may be a simple country girl at heart, Lynch is no longer poor. She's splitting a seven-figure book advance with Bragg, the former New York Times
correspondent. The initial hardback run is 550,000 copies (priced at $23.95), a huge first printing.

That, of course, is where TV's part comes in. As with movie stars and best-selling novelists, packaging is everything. For Lynch, this is a public-relations marriage made in ... Iraq?

According to Bogaards, the ABC interview—and the others that follow it—were granted with no strings attached. No money exchanged hands, and no sweeteners or potential movie deals from parent Disney were included in the Sawyer proposal.

Bogaards insists that the disclosure that CBS News asked for its interview with a sort of "did-we-mention-that-we're-co-owned- with-a-big-TV-movie-studio-that- would-be-interested-in-doing-your-story-too?" pitch didn't hurt the network's chances at landing the big interview. But it sure didn't help. CBS will likely air an interview on its morning news show a week after Sawyer's.

Viewers will be barraged with TV and print interviews not just with and about Lynch but also with and about her family, author Bragg and even the TV interviewers themselves as TV's promotion machine revs up in advance of the interview air dates. Sawyer, for example, will do a round of interviews with ABC TV and radio affiliates across the country and will likely do some late-night and syndicated TV appearances as well to promote her interview. n