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The Deal On 'Deal'

Battling the same temptations that led ABC to burn out Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, NBC will run its game show hit Deal or No Deal two or three times per week through the end of the season, and then rest it for the summer.

NBC will run a season finale June 5, sending Deal off with a giant prize pool leading into a two-hour finale of The Apprentice. The network does not plan on using Deal again until September and hopes to program it just once a week then, with Mondays at 8 p.m. a probable destination.

The Millionaire comparisons have come because both ABC and NBC were struggling in prime before finding a game show that delivered ratings even when used several times per week. Deal has consistently won 8 p.m. time slots on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; by the time the season ends, NBC will have aired 39 hours of the Howie Mandel-hosted show.

“It's a big hit right now, but it's making me nervous,” says Regis Philbin, who hosted the ABC version of Millionaire through its meteoric rise and its fall. “It's getting a big number for them, and they could use the numbers. But I hope they don't run it into the ground.”

The show's producers at Endemol USA are also apprehensive. While thrilled with the exposure on the network, they are concerned with damaging the long-term value of the franchise. They not only want a long run on NBC but hope it stays hot long enough to add Spanish-language TV and syndication to the show's portfolio.

Endemol USA President David Goldberg says the show shouldn't run more than twice per week in regular rotation, although he acknowledges three times per week makes sense in limited cases. “Three times a week for an extended period of time is too much, and I've been very vocal about that,” he says. “We are constantly talking to NBC, and they get it. We have a great relationship.”

Goldberg says he understands that NBC needs Deal to prop up its struggling prime time lineup. “Broadcasters are in the business of solving problems and getting numbers today rather than thinking about three years from now,” he says.

NBC Executive VP of Program Planning and Scheduling Mitch Metcalf says the network has heard Endemol's opinion loud and clear. “They have been good sports all along,” he says.

One thing that both sides agree on is that there is no need yet to bring in stunts to keep the show fresh; don't look for a celebrity week anytime soon.

“If we can show some restraint and get back to two nights a week and rest it through the summer,” says Goldberg, “I don't think we have to be thinking about how to stunt this yet.”

He is in talks with NBC Universal-owned Telemundo for a Spanish-language version of the show to air sometime in the upcoming season. He also has targeted fall of 2007 or 2008 for a syndicated launch. “We'd love to see it play as a daytime strip,” he says. “It would be important to preserve the key elements of the game but not have it be an absolute facsimile of the network show.”