Chicago has Oprah. New York has Rosie and Geraldo. But Los Angeles will soon have its own big gun in the daytime television talk-show wars Roseanne.
TV's best known ex-housewife, whose sitcom touched the hearts of working class America, has become one of the hottest selling personalities in the rough and tumble world of TV syndication.
"We have 77 percent of the country sold," said Jeff Wald, Roseanne's manager and executive producer of the new talk show, scheduled to debut in 1998. "We have $70 million in sales so far."
Wald said the show will be taped in Los Angeles, although he would not disclose where.
The show will be syndicated by King World Productions Inc., the New York-based syndicator of "Oprah," "Wheel of Fortune," "Inside Edition" and other shows.
"This is one of the biggest launches in syndication ever," said Jules Haimovitz, the L.A.-based president and chief operating officer of King World, which has offices in Brentwood. "Most first-run shows don't have bidding."
Indeed, the growing lineup of stations appears to be especially impressive, since all the deals are for two years not the industry standard one-year pact Moreover, the swiftness of King World's sales have staggered some competitors.
"She's changed the rules of the game," one rival syndicator said of the Roseanne show.
NBC's owned stations were the first to line up to buy Roseanne, giving her all important outlets in at KNBC in Los Angeles, WNBC in New York and WMAQ in Chicago.
"We wanted her to be with us and not our competition," said Steve Cagle, vice president for programs and creative development at NBC's owned stations division. "If she is successful, she will be very successful and the risk of not having her is greater than having her."
NBC reportedly is paying as much as $100,000 a week in New York and Los Angeles. Rosie O'Donnell initially drew $27,000 a week in these cities during her premiere season, according to published reports. That figure jumped to $160,000 when she renewed her show this year.
Jerry Eaton, general manager of KPIX, the CBS-owned station in San Francisco, said he was initially drawn to Roseanne's sizzle with the public.
"She is a big personality," he said, "and I have confidence in King World that they will produce a good show. We are rolling the dice but when you deal with syndication you always roll the dice with something that has no track record."
Dennis Swanson, general manager of WNBC, discovered Winfrey while he was running WLS, the ABC owned station in Chicago. In an effort to test Roseanne's clout with the public, he went to see her performance as the Wicked Witch of the West in the recent Broadway revival of "The Wizard of Oz."
"The crowd went nuts when she came out," he said. "She is a nationally known personality."
That recognizability and sometimes notoriety has been built over eight seasons as "The Lucy of the '90s," as TV Guide once called her.
"I can't stress how important it is to have a known personality, especially with cable," said Dick Kurlander, director of programming at Petry Television, which represents 110 TV stations and is responsible for selling national spot advertising. "You must have immediate recognition. You no longer have the luxury of growing an unknown person. You can't put an unknown on the air and expect it to work."
Kurlander also said that Roseanne's sales were boosted by fear that Winfrey would quit. Winfrey, however, decided last week to continue her popular show through the year 2000.
Among 1998's freshmen class that will compete with Roseanne are Paramount's Howie Mandel and Columbia's "Donnie & Marie," all of whom are also untested as talk shows hosts, but who don't have her past audiences.
"The marketplace is wide open," Kurlander said.
Roseanne's sales are likely to have an impact on Wall Street. Arthur Rockwell, an analyst at Yaeger Capital Markets, said he expected Roseanne to increase King World's market value by 50 cents per share.
"That's a nice pop," he said. "Roseanne is incredibly well sold in syndication."
Roseanne's arrival at King World is serendipity for both star and her bosses.
King World was looking for someone to help bolster its talk show lineup if Winfrey quit and made offers over the years to stars like Jim Carrey and Rosie O'Donnell. Roseanne was looking for a new home after the cancellation of her ABC series.
The two forces came together, according to King World sources, when she approached the New York-based company with an offer to revamp "Hollywood Squares."
Roseanne's deal, according to Haimovitz, includes King World stock options and a significant slice of the profits from the show. "She is our partner in the show," he said.
Roseanne's upfront money was "less than 10 million," said a source close to Roseanne.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about Roseanne. In the time honored Hollywood tradition, her competitors have been bad mouthing her in the stalls of the syndicated bazaar.
The main points are that Roseanne has no experience as a talk show host, she has a volatile public personality, and she may not have the temperment to handle the daily grind of a daily talk show.
"It's the competition," Wald said. "The same people who made offers to her are the ones bad-mouthing her now. We hear it and we ignore it."
Bill Mandel, senior vice president and director of national broadcast at Grey Advertising, says the issue "isn't (the number of stations), but whether people find her appealing, will they find something they want to watch and will she able to do a show week after week,which is problematic. It's really too early to tell."
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