Martha Stewart will get to leave prison for up to 48 hours per week to work on pretaped segments of a new syndicated talk show planned for a fall 2005 debut.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, NBC Universal and Mark Burnett are teaming up on the show, one of the products of a consulting deal between reality show vet Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) and Stewart's company.
On hand for the unveiling of the show in New York Wednesday were NBC Universal Television President Jeff Zucker, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia President Susan Lyne, and Burnett.
Stewart couldn't make the announcement press conference, at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia headquarters in New York, but Burnett thought she might be watching--there were tons of TV cameras to capture the announcement.
Burnett said Stewart has been involved in the planning process and had already taped some test footage before she started serving her time. Burnett, who said everybody likes a comeback story, also said he has been viewing the outtakes from her old show, plus appearances on Letterman and Leno and called her "hilarious, smart, warm, and engaging."
Burnett said that in one meeting with Stewart before she went to prison, she gave him a fruit peeler and joked that she wanted him to bake it into a pie and send it to her.
The show will be the same kind of high-end, how-to cooking and decorating program that Stewart built her reputation and fortune on before being found guilty of lying to federal investigators about a stock trade.
Stewart continues to appeal the conviction, but decided to serve her time anyway to get it over with and on with her life and work.
No name for the show yet, but it will probably not be Martha Stewart Living, the name of her former syndicated show, distributed by King World.
There is also talk of a prime time network show from Burnett and Stewart for NBC, also reportedly for fall '05, though nobody was talking about the prime time effort yesterday.
The new syndicated series could be a replacement for NBC U’s flagging Jane Pauley syndicated hour-long talk show, which has had a tough time in its freshman season, though Barry Wallach, president of domestic distribution for NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, says the two are not linked.
"Jane is a show that we’re behind and we’re committed to," he told B&C. "We’ve seen some positive ratings in the past few weeks. Obviously, the show has had some time-period adjustments and we’re behind that with our stations and other stations around country." He said that given the relative paucity of new shows and a lot of available time periods, " if Jane can demonstrate the growth needed, there’s a scenario that it coexists [with Martha] on our stations and others."
Zucker did say he had been inundated with calls from station groups interested in the Stewart show, saying there was "a real clamoring for it."
Many stations are looking for strong early fringe shows to help deliver viewers to the early newscasts, though Zucker said time periods would differ.
Pauley's less-than-stellar ratings in the key fringe time periods has led to speculation the show might not make the second year of its two-year deal, leaving an opening for other syndicators unless NBC U can come up with a strong replacement.
The deal between NBC and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (MSLO) makes sense because Zucker and Burnett already are in business together on The Apprentice and the upcoming The Contender.
What’s more, Barry Wallach, president of NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, is close to Stewart. His late wife, Carolyn Kelly, was an executive producer of Martha Stewart Living. Burnett teamed with MSLO last summer as a production consultant. --Paige Albiniak contributed to this report.