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Martha Moves to the Front of the Line at NBC

NBC Universal Domestic Television President Barry Wallach doesn't have much to say about The Jane Pauley Show, which has pulled in disappointing ratings in its first three months on the air.

But he is downright chatty when the subject turns to Martha Stewart, the cooking, gardening and housekeeping diva serving time at a prison in West Virginia.

He recently ordered up a daily one-hour talk show from Stewart and producer Mark Burnett, which NBC will be promoting at NATPE.

Wallach has high hopes for the series.

“When you look in today's marketplace, there's not a lot of stuff working out there,” he says. “This is an opportunity to go back to a tried-and-true performer in an even better reincarnation.”

NBC Universal announced plans for the series in December, effectively shelving development of another series starring singer Vanessa Williams.

While he says his company has no plan to launch the Williams show, it is still in the NBC Universal pipeline.

“There are lots of opportunities,” he says. “When we think we might have the project, we'll roll it out.”

For now, Wallach is focused on selling Martha Stewart and bolstering support for Pauley, which has been downgraded in several markets.

Wallach refused to speculate on whether NBC would cancel that show after it completes the current season.

“All I can I say is that we have two-year deals on that show,” he says.

If it isn't renewed, it would be NBC Universal's second freshman to flunk out this season. Home Delivery, a daily one-hour reality/talk show, was cancelled in November.

The problems with Jane Pauley and Home Delivery cropped up at the end of a watershed for Wallach and his family.

In May, in a messy transition, he was promoted from executive vice president to president after two successors abruptly left the division following NBC's merger with Universal. Eventually, NBC snagged rights to the Martha Stewart/Mark Burnett program, beating out rivals who wanted to distribute that show.

In the midst of that, Wallach's wife, Carolyn, passed away following a long battle with cancer, making the 42-year-old excutive the primary caregiver for their three children.

These are the latest challenges for Wallach, who has spent more than two decades in syndication, having sold some 100 TV shows.

He got his start in the business while still in college at Syracuse University. He interned at Katz Media Group and took a trip to Hollywood to meet prominent Syracuse alumni, including Fred Silverman at CBS and Mark Tinker, the producer of shows such as The White Shadow, L.A. Law, St. Elsewhere and NYPD Blue.

He spent a decade at Genesis Entertainment, where he played a key role in the company's 1996 launch of Access Hollywood.

He moved to CBS/Eyemark Entertainment, where he worked on 27 shows, including Everybody Loves Raymond's off-net sales and Martha Stewart Living in first run.

Wallach is a native of Stamford, Conn.; he and his daughters currently live in Darien, Conn.

He is hoping he found the recipe for a hit with Martha Stewart. And he is also evaluating options for other potential shows.

“If it's the right talent, the right concept, the right production—if you get those three pillars, and it's a show the marketplace endorses, stations will find a way to get it on.”