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Fast Track

The Deal on 'Deal or No Deal'

NBC Universal has discussed the possibility of launching a half-hour strip version of the game show Deal or No Deal in fall 2007, according to knowledgeable station executives. At deadline, a spokesman for the syndicator said he was unaware if such a move is under consideration for the Endemol USA-produced game show.

NBC has already ordered an unspecified number of new prime time episodes of Deal to air in March after the Winter Olympics. Hosted by Howie Mandel, the game show has contestants seek a $1 million top prize by picking from closed briefcases filled with varying amounts of cash, starting at $1.

The order came after the ratings-starved network saw strong numbers over five nights for the one-hour series in the non-competitive, pre-Christmas week of Dec. 19.

Now its mission is to avoid making the same mistakes that doomed another once-popular game show, ABC's Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, which ultimately succumbed to overexposure.

ABC's former top programming executive, Lloyd Braun, had initially licensed another version of Deal (with a different host and execution), but the network's new programming regime passed and the rights reverted back to Endemol.

The production company then sold it to NBC, which now finds itself in the same dismal situation as ABC was when it relied heavily on Millionaire to improve its fortunes.

Mitch Metcalf, NBC executive VP of program planning and scheduling, says, “We don't want to overuse or underuse it. In the reality world, we don't know how long the life cycle for these shows can be. We need to strike a balance.”

Although the series' next outing comes outside of sweeps, it should give NBC a better indication of how well Deal will do against stronger competition, having mostly faced reruns in December.

If the next edition also does well, the network must decide whether the popular international format, imported to the states by Endemol, would do best in the fall, mid-season or summer, and how best to configure it.

Endemol USA President David Goldberg, favoring one or two weekly runs, thinks viewers are now familiar with the show's concept and there is no longer a need for NBC to strip it in prime time.

“I think this is the kind of show that can have a nice long run, but I don't want to see it get burned out,” he says.

The five nightly December episodes boosted their time periods by 54% in adults 18-49 (4.3 rating versus 2.8) and 51% in total viewers (12.7 million versus 8.4 million). The show's 18-49 ratings peaked on Dec. 21 with a 4.9, up 104% from the season average of 2.4.

While NBC was quick to label the show a success, rivals are expected to do their utmost to prevent Deal from turning into a big deal by putting up strong shows against it in March.

Still, Metcalf remains encouraged by nightly growth from one half-hour to the next, as well as an upscale audience skew and season-high 18-49 ratings in the time periods.

“It came as a breath of fresh air,” says the scheduling executive, who was delighted to see any signs of life after a tough year in which the network got battered in prime time. “It was a good way to end 2005.” —Jim Benson

Oliver Rejoins Reed TV Group

Lawrence Oliver has returned to Broadcasting & Cable and Multichannel News as the VP and general manager of the Reed Television Group. The appointment was announced Dec. 21 by Tad Smith, CEO of Reed Business Information.

Oliver will report to Charlie Koones, president of the Variety Group and publisher of Variety.

The Long Island, N.Y., native had most recently been VP and group publisher of Reed's New York Retail Group. But he is best-known for his management roles at various media publications, and his leadership role in several TV trade organizations.

“I am pleased to return to the industry that was formerly a major part of my life and career,” Oliver says.

“Larry is a seasoned pro and we're excited to welcome him back to RBI's Television Group,” Koones says. “Together with Group Publisher Chuck Bolkcom, and B&C editor in chief Max Robins and Multichannel's editor in chief Tom Steinert-Threlkeld, Larry will bring great value to our readers, online users and advertisers.”

Oliver joined Broadcasting magazine in 1991 and was in charge of cable advertising as the publication evolved into Broadcasting & Cable. In 1994, he left to join Multichannel News and Cablevision magazine. After Reed acquired those magazines, Oliver was named group publisher of the Reed Television Group.

“I feel I never really left the TV business, having been a regular reader of the two magazines and Web sites I will now preside over,” says Oliver. “I look forward to continuing to grow the B&C and Multichannel News franchises and further strengthening their positions in a multimedia landscape that is evolving at lightning speed.”

Nielsen Releases First DVR ratings

Nielsen Media Research will release its first national ratings that include viewing data from digital video recorders (DVRs) right after New Year's, but the ratings giant does not expect to see significant impact on ratings for at least several months.

On Jan. 4, Nielsen will release its first full week of data measuring DVR viewership. From then on, ratings data will be split into three streams of information: live viewing, live viewing plus programs played back by 3 a.m. (when Nielsen meters report viewing to the company's Florida processing center) and live viewing plus programs played back within seven days.

But the added data is sure to cause confusion in the industry. Media outlets may be unclear which batch of ratings to report. Nielsen plans to use “live plus same day” ratings, the most immediate set of data that still includes DVRed programs, as the default data on its Web site. Nielsen executives have stressed that networks and the ad community will likely use all three streams.

Says Sara Erichson, Nielsen's general manager of national services: “Research shows 90% of all DVR viewing occurs one week after initial airing.” —Allison Romano

Sony Signs Michael Davies

Sony Pictures Television has signed Michael Davies and his production company, Embassy Row, to a three-year deal to develop unscripted and scripted programming.

Under the deal, Davies remains executive producer of ABC's Wife Swap and keeps his first-look prime time deal with the network. Davies also continues to oversee the syndicated version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.

SPT says it wants to have at least one show through Davies each in cable, syndication and prime time network reality. The cable side will come through GSN, which Sony co-owns with Liberty Media.

The game-centric network is expected to commit to at least one new series from Davies as part of the deal.

“Where we have a renewed enthusiasm and needed to build was the reality/alternative business,” says Zack Van Amburg, co-president, programming and production, Sony Pictures Television.

Under the deal, Davies also takes much of his current development slate to Sony. He will work with Sony for international distribution of an upcoming VH1 project as well as a CBS special with magician Keith Barry.

A show for former Jeopardy! prodigy Ken Jennings is also still under consideration.

Neither Wife Swap, Millionaire nor his upcoming darts series on ESPN will fold into the deal.—Ben Grossman

Fox Re-Enters Late-Night Arena

Fox is preparing for a fourth foray into the late-night wars after a 12-year absence.

The network has named Todd Yasui, former executive producer of CBS' Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn, as senior VP, late night programming.

Yasui is already executive producer on Talk Show With Spike Feresten, a pilot currently under consideration for a late-evening time slot.

“Exploring the late-night arena is a priority for Fox,” says Entertainment President Peter Ligouri, “but we won't jump into that time period without a sound strategy that effectively serves both the network and our affiliate body.—J.B., John Eggerton

TNT No 1., Again

Through Dec. 25, TNT ranked as the most-viewed ad-supported cable network for the year, with an average 2.57 million total viewers in prime, up 5% from last year, according to Nielsen Media Research.

This is the third consecutive year that TNT, home of the hit The Closer, has taken the #1 slot with total viewers and households in prime.

USA was second with 2.33 million followed by Nick at Nite with 1.88 million.—Anne Becker

Distributors Race To Close Station Deals Pre-NATPE

The first-run syndication landscape for fall is coming into clearer view as distributors rush to close programming deals leading up to this month's NATPE conference.

It now looks like Warner Bros.' Tyra Banks Show will join this fall's other two freshman strips, NBC Universal's Martha and Twentieth TV's Judge Alex, in returning next season.

Executives at multiple station groups say Warner Bros. has renewed Tyra for a second season after the Fox O&Os picked it up again, along with Warner Bros.' young Dr. Phil-like project featuring Keith Ablow for its UPN affiliates. A studio rep would not confirm the sales.

While the dual pickups are good news for Warner Bros., it would likely have to give up some double runs for Tyra on duopoly stations, which could impact her ratings next fall. That's because Ablow took those time periods in the event Tyra failed to return.

Stations also are preparing to replace NBC Universal's Starting Over in their lineups. NBC U admits the reality show is on the bubble but says it still isn't sure whether the show will return for season four. Meanwhile, Martha, with two-year deals, is returning and NBC U says Megan Mullally has been sold in more than 50% of the country.

King World's Rachael Ray has already surpassed 85% of the U.S. Smaller market stations are still waiting to get a look at the Harpo-backed show, which is seen as the most competitive offering this year.

With Tribune on board, Sony has given a firm go for a talk show from author Greg Behrendt, and many groups in non-Tribune markets report picking it up. Sony's Maria Lopez is cleared in more than 90% of the country, and Twentieth's Christina's Court is also moving forward. A court show project at Paramount is said to be dead due to station concerns about it having a jury format rather than a celebrity judge.—Paige Albiniak, J.B.