We're Going To Make You a (Local TV) Star

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As Jimmy Durante was fond of saying, Everybody wants to get into the act! And since there's not enough room for every local ham (or would-be star, depending on your point of view) to appear on American Idol,
Post-Newsweek Stations has a solution: It's syndicating a talent show format called Gimme the Mike!, a sort of local Star Search.

The station has already tested the show in Miami; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Houston, where it owns stations.

The syndicated version is set to air for six to eight weeks next March and April, and Post-Newsweek has enlisted NBC Enterprises to help sell the format to stations in the top 50 markets. The pitch includes a presentation tape highlighting some of the two dozen episodes that Post-Newsweek has already produced.

"I think it's great for local television," says Alan Frank, president of Post-Newsweek Stations. "It's the type of show that local stations used to do and haven't done in a long time. It's an entertainment show with grass roots community involvement all rolled into one."

Ed Wilson, president and CEO, NBC Enterprises, said the project "stesses the value of having strong ties to the community. For us, it's an opportunity to be in business with local stations on a local project."

Although it worked well in 53rd-ranked Jacksonville, Frank concedes that the show probably isn't economically viable in many smaller markets, given the costs. Ad revenue probably isn't sufficient in smaller markets, either. "It would probably work to market 75, but, for the first time out, we're focusing on the top 50."

Nevertheless, it got big ratings and made tons of money last spring on WJXT(TV) Jacksonville, the Post-Newsweek station that dropped its CBS affiliation in 2002 after failing to come to terms with the network.

After it worked there, Post-Newsweek over the summer tried local editions at co-owned stations in Miami and Houston—WPLG(TV) and KPRC-TV, respectively—that also generated ratings and profits, Frank says.

Stations will pay a fee for the format rights, and Post-Newsweek gets a minute of ad time per episode to sell to a national sponsor, which Frank says is already lined up. The advertiser, one of the biggest buyers of TV time, hasn't signed a contract yet so it can't be identified, he says, adding that the announcement is imminent.

Post-Newsweek has established a national office that will help stations set up local versions of the show, helping them with everything from running auditions and selecting candidates and judges to working on music clearances, says Frank.

Among the choices stations have to consider are whether to do the show live or taped and whether to do an hour or half-hour version. The finale is always live.

Post-Newsweek Productions executive Jim Dauphinee will serve as executive producer at the program's national office. He is a veteran of the TV-program wars, having served stints with CBS, King World and Group W Productions, where he produced Evening Magazine, a local show whose format was also syndicated.

Frank says he's "very close" to announcing a pocketful of major-market clearances for the format, probably this week.

And while there will be one major national sponsor, he says local advertisers are attracted because it's unusual to find locally produced programming outside of news and sports. "Clients can be very involved in a local entertainment show like this in ways that would be inappropriate for them to be involved, say, in a newscast."

Think of the product placement opportunities that abound in a program like American Idol, he adds. Auditions at the local car dealership? Don't rule it out.

In Miami, the show was produced at a trendy South Beach nightclub. Not only was the club a sponsor, but WPLG used the opportunity to bring other clients to the club as a value-added benefit. It's not quite like being invited to the Olympics by NBC, but you get the idea.

And just as Idol
gets a lot national press, Gimme the Mike! gets a lot of local press, which almost guarantees high sampling levels.

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