Getting access for Access

After weeks of negotiations, NBC Enterprises has taken control of distribution rights to Access Hollywood
from Warner Bros., and NBCE chief Ed Wilson stresses that he'll continue Warner Bros.' work of aggressively pushing stations to put the entertainment magazine in the ratings-grabbing 7-8 p.m. access daypart.

Warner Bros. is not giving up on the NBC-produced show, selling its national barter advertising for a stake in its revenue.

Another sign of affection: Warner Bros. apparently agreed to hand over the series only after the NBC O&O stations cleared its other magazine strip, Extra, through 2005—a term finalized just prior to NBC Enterprises' officially picking up Access Hollywood.

Wilson admits he won't be offering stations the same juicy deal Warner Bros. chief Dick Robertson was pitching to stations: giving them Access Hollywood
for half the price of whatever other syndicated show they were willing to replace between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. In November, when Warner Bros. unveiled its revolutionary proposal, 13 stations were on board. That number has now risen to 25.

"I was proud of the stations they were able to add," says Wilson, of such outlets as WHDH-TV Boston, KIRO-TV Seattle, KCRA-TV Sacramento and WBAL-TV Baltimore. "But the plan they had was a Warner Bros. plan. We will have our own."

Although he "will be totally focused on trying to upgrade time periods, getting it into access time slots wherever possible," Wilson declined to give the specifics.

Selling the facts will help. Access Hollywood
does gangbusters on the NBC O&O stations in access, regularly topping the ratings its chief rival, Entertainment Tonight,
averages in those markets, according to Nielsen Media Research. For May sweeps, Access Hollywood
pulled a 4.9 rating/9 share on 12 of 13 NBC-owned outlets that air it between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. That's loads better than the 1.5/5 it averaged in other markets, where stations that aren't owned by NBC don't feel so obligated to air it in access.

That discrepancy contributes to Entertainment Tonight's huge leg up nationally (6.0 season to date through June 2, vs. Access Hollywood's 2.6). But, once Robertson's deals really kick in—several stations start their discounted arrangements in the fall—Access Hollywood's
ratings could jump, says Wilson, and that might persudade more outlets to slot it between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

There is the chance, however, that Wilson's current drive to secure clearances for his January syndicated spin of Weakest Link
could conflict with his campaign for Access Hollywood. He's now targeting two shows for access, which will be a challenge considering that many stations are tight for space in that daypart, being currently committed to veteran series like Extra
or King World's Inside Edition.

"I don't think they'll actually sacrifice Access Hollywood," says one station source. "But it could go into late night. It might be worth more to them to have Weakest Link
come out of the box in access time periods."

So far, Weakest Link
has won afternoon slots on the CBS O&Os in New York, Baltimore and San Francisco, leading another source to counter that the two shows are "very compatible. What better lead-in for Access Hollywood
than a young-skewing Weakest Link?"

Another potential glitch in placing Access Hollywood
in better time periods is that the NBC O&Os' luck with it in access might have more to do with their own stations' dominance than with the show's own strength. In the top markets, Entertainment Tonight
runs against Access Hollywood
primarily on weaker CBS O&Os.

In the 29 markets outside the NBC group that are currently airing Access Hollywood
in access—nine of which took part in Warner Bros.' bargain-pricing strategy—Access Hollywood
earned a 2.0/4 in May, which is 34% below the time period's performance last year.

"I happen to be a fan of the show. I see what it can do in other markets. But it hasn't been a self-starter yet," says Paul Montgomery, programming chief at WRTV-TV Indianapolis, which took Warner Bros. up on its offer. The show was 15% below where Inside Edition
was in May 2000, but Montgomery is launching a summer promo.