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Where the average Joe is king

Turner's Superstation is spending $70 million on regular guys, its newly defined target audience. TBS will tease those ordinary, average, "Midwestern" Joes with the tagline "It's Your World, We're Just Programming It."

Picture a John Goodman type riding a tractor mower with a television strapped to the engine cover. That's one of the TV spots in Turner's multimedia ad campaign that began April 7.

Who is this average dude? TBS researchers spent two years and a few thousand phone calls finding out. Executive Vice President and General Manager Dennis Quinn described the regular guy as "Midwestern." His median age is 42, younger than the audience for USA's World Wrestling Federation programming, that vortex for males 12 to 24. Demographically, 66% of the TBS alpha males are married, 95% are employed, 40% of them in blue-collar jobs. His family watches TV with him 80% of the time.

"So when we target the regular guy, we deliver him and his family," Quinn said.

The family is gravy. The guy's the thing. Media buyers across Madison Avenue agree: Guys are hard to get, although younger is better.

Turner has been quietly repositioning TBS as the guy network for the past two years, Quinn said. Animation and documentaries were eliminated. The afternoon "teen block" was ditched. Original movies, theatrical premieres, sports and reality shows like Ripley's Believe It or Not! were added. NASCAR is coming to the network next year, along with 22 more episodes of Ripley's, which averaged a 2.7 rating the first quarter of this year. Another possible addition is a new original series based on a project from Lethal Weapon 4 partners Mel Gibson and Jet Li, called Invincible.

The network bought spot cable, radio, USA Today, Entertainment Weekly and Sports Illustrated ads and billboards in Times Square and Los Angeles to get the point across and to differentiate itself from TNT, the other Turner cable behemoth. Viewers confuse the two, Quinn said.

"We're two different networks," he said, "but we often get lumped together."

Perhaps that's because both TNT and TBS share World Championship Wrestling and NBA games, to the extent that both networks slipped in ratings when those franchises took dives. NBA ratings are out of Turner's realm, but the company owns the WCW. Quinn said problems with it "are being addressed." Brad Siegel, president of general entertainment networks at Turner, is once again in charge of the WCW, following Bill Busch's departure late last month. Eric Bischoff and WWF veteran writer Vince Russo are gearing up for a major creative overhaul, expected to appear April 10.

Siegel himself was put in charge of the entertainment networks last year when Bill Burke left the company. He and Burke worked together but split the duties of running the networks, with Siegel overseeing TNT and Turner Classic Movies, and Burke running TBS and Turner South. When Burke left, all four networks were lined up under Siegel, who hired new executives to run them and to "to craft an identity for each," Siegel said. TNT is going after an upscale audience.

In other words, if TBS is the Oscar Madison of the Turner duo, TNT is Felix Unger.

Of the two, Oscar makes more money and spends less. According to Paul Kagan and Associates, TNT will spend in excess of $527 million on programming this year, while gross ad revenues are expected to reach more than $633 million. TBS, on the other hand, will spend only $316.5 million on programming and gross more than $669 million in ad revenue for the year.

Both networks reported prime time CPMs of around $13 in late 1998, the last period Kagan collected the information.

Although viewers may confuse the Turners, media buyers do not.

"TBS and TNT are not the same animal, even though they're from same company," one Madison Avenue media buyer said. "TBS is a superstation, more like an independent station. It continues to have that kind of profile."

Regarding TBS'pursuit of regular guys with more of what they're already doing, he said, "it's not going to make much difference."