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There is life after Kathie Lee

Within a single year, Buena Vista Television (BVT) has had to consolidate operations and also endure the loss of a star from one of its top syndicated shows. But the Walt Disney-owned production/distribution company considers itself as strong as ever.

Beginning last February and completed by September, BVT's show- development unit was merged with ABC Daytime, a comparable division within its sister company, ABC. Both departments operate under the name Buena Vista Productions (BVP), which encompasses ABC network daytime shows, pay-per-view, cable, and nationally syndicated programming.

As a result of the merger, BVT president Janice Marinelli left network and syndication development responsibilities to Angela Shapiro, BVT's new chief, who continues to serve in her previous post as president of ABC Daytime. Shapiro now creatively steers such network shows as ABC morning hit The View, syndicated talker Live With Regis
and Comedy Central game show Win Ben Stein's Money.

Living through all those changes would be troubling to some but not to Marinelli, who remains head of BVT's distribution operations and is consulted on BVP activities.

She fully embraced BVT's new look.

"I think that it's been a very efficient and effective restructuring. With Angela as my partner, it's really helped get the division back on track," notes Marinelli. "Before, we found ourselves involved in the same types of pitches; BVP was listening to the same pitches as ABC Daytime. So it was just a way to streamline our efforts, use the synergies of our entire company in order to woo the right talent."

Marinelli was grateful for the recent consolidation when ABC network star Barbara Walters signed on to executive-produce the studio's big fall 2001 prospect, talk show Iyanla.

"By merging with ABC Daytime, we are now able to tap into the wonderful resources of the network," Marinelli says, mentioning Iyanlas'
other executive producer Bill Geddies, who currently executive- produces The View
with Walters. "The outcome has been nothing short of positive."

BVT was arguably thrown for another loop when Kathie Lee chose to step down last summer as co-host of Live With Regis and Kathie Lee
. But the recently rechristened Live With Regis
has been steadily climbing in the ratings, without Lee. Headlined solely by Regis Philbin and a rotating roster of guest co-hosts, Live
was the only talk show to improve upon its November 1999 showing (3.8 average household rating during the November 2000 sweeps period, up 9% from last year's comparable period, according to Nielsen Media Research).

"The show continues to outdeliver its performance of a year ago," adds Marinelli. "We're right on target with this show." She adds that the show's producers are narrowing down the search for a new co-host to replace Lee. Recently under consideration is All My Children
star Kelly Ripa.

The revamped production company, besides attracting network talent, may also be able to win over its partnered ABC O & O station group. Historically, ABC-owned outlets have not been open to taking new BVT products, since many of those stations are already packed with such long-running syndicated programming as Oprah, Wheel of Fortune
and Jeopardy.

"It was wonderful getting Iyanla
cleared on ABC," says Marinelli of certain top-market clearances the show nabbed in New York and Philadelphia. "It speaks a lot for how this company feels about this talent. But there's not a lot of opportunities for us [on the ABC O & Os], so we'll still be a distributor that focuses on the entire marketplace."

What would capture ABC stations' attention? Grabbing a syndicated run of ABC's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? "We are looking at taking the show into first-run syndication," she explains, "but it continues to do gangbusters for the network, so right now the decision is on hold."

However, it hasn't been completely smooth sailing for BVT. Cooking/talk hybrid The Ainsley Harriott Show

was pulled last April after just four months in syndication. Yet Marinelli was happy for the experience, learning what not to do in future efforts.

"Part of the problem with Ainsley
is that we came out with it mid-season. Once we securedit on the NBC stations [for a January debut], we had 60 days to lock up the rest of the country and staff up the show. We were pressed for time on every level," she recalls. "The key is to have a show in development for a more respectable amount of time."

, a Chris-Craft/United Television production, distributed by BVT, has been plagued by low ratings since its fall 2000 launch, but, "unfortunately, this year, Housecalls
is doing as well as any other show out there," says Marinelli. "That might not be saying much, but it was a poor year all-around."

Other shows housed at BVT include off-network series Home Improvement
and first-run shows Ebert & Roeper at the Movies

and Your Big Break