TV audiences are welcoming back Kotter, Taxi, The Odd Couple and The Jeffersons. All four are part of WPIX New York’s nostalgic programming strategy. Up against a Saturday-night lineup of theatrical movies, owner Tribune chose to counterprogram, says Betty Ellen Berlamino, WPIX VP/GM. The WB is dark on Saturday nights, so WPIX had a free hand.
In October, the station stopped airing films and built on its existing sitcom strength. Since PIX has aired The Odd Couple in New York for years, it opted for an evening of beloved prime time comedies from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.
So far, the comedy block’s ratings average a 2.0, about the same as the movies formerly shown in the time period.
To market “PIX at Night,” the station contracted Manhattan-based Squid Attack, a small animation studio, to create a sequence in which a cab driven by Taxi’s Tony Danza picks up characters from all four shows. The station also created fun interstitials to run inside the block, such as 1970s trivia and fashion flashbacks.
The Odd Couple came from The Program Exchange, a syndication time-bank run within New York-based ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi. The Program Exchange buys barter time from stations and fills it with programs acquired from big syndicators. (Paramount produced The Odd Couple and Taxi; The Program Exchange handles the barter time.) WPIX paid cash for Welcome Back, Kotter and The Jeffersons to Warner Bros. and Sony, respectively. No barter time is included in either show because there is no national clearance; thus, no national ads are run.
PIX Program Director Julie O’Neil is so enamored of the new slate, she has put together theme nights, such as marriage moments, in-laws and parents, and New York City plotlines.
Viewers are calling to express their thanks. Former actors are pleased, too. Welcome Back, Kotter’s Ron Palillo, who played the teenage Arnold Horshack, offered to host a night. O’Neil also hopes to convince Danza, who is currently hosting his own New York-based talk show, to participate.
“This strategy makes sense for us because we are a sitcom station,” says O’Neil. In fall 2005, PIX continues its Manhattan-centered shows, lining up Sex and the City to augment its late-night comedy lineup.