Magic Johnson has become the latest celebrity to discover that talk show hosts are not easily created, made-for-TV commodities.
Late last week, Twentieth Television, a division of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp., slam-dumped the anemic-rated "Magic Hour" just two months after its premiere. The show, syndicated nationally, had been seen on KTTV-Channel 11 and 21 other Fox-owned stations.
From the start, Johnson, who was the darling of sports writers, failed to bedazzle either the public or TV critics, who soundly savaged his inexperience as a talk show host.
"It shows you how difficult it is to make the transition from sports to live-time entertainment," said Steve Cesinger, an investment banker specializing in the entertainment industry at Greif & Co. "He was a great personality and a great basketball player, but at the end of the day, you have to give a great monologue and engage in engaging banter. The ratings spoke for themselves."
And the ratings were terrible.
"The Magic Hour" debut week, starting June 8, averaged a 1.8 rating nationally, meaning that 1.8 percent of households with TVs were tuning in, according to the A.C. Nielsen Corp. That was down to a 1.6 rating for the week beginning July 13, the most recent period for which there are national numbers.
For the week beginning July 20, Johnson posted a 2.4 rating in Los Angeles, compared with a 6.3 for NBC's "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno and a 3.3 for CBS' "Late Night with David Letterman." Johnson had been averaging a 1.8 in New York.
"It was a lack of ratings that killed him," said Arthur Rockwell, an analyst at Drake Capital Mamagement. "In this business, if you deliver the numbers, you stay on. If you don't, you're off. Quality doesn't matter."
In its cancellation announcement, Twentieth Television said "The Magic Hour" was too costly to continue with such low ratings and the ensuing low advertising rates that would follow.
"The economics of such an enterprise make it impossible to continue beyond its initial period without gaining higher ratings in a very short period of time," the announcement said.
The Fox division had hoped to capitalize on Johnson's magic with both white and African-American audiences. But the affable former Laker found the talk show transition difficult.
"Oh man, I thought there were a lot of sofa-couch basketball coaches when I was (a player)," Johnson said a week before getting his pink slip. "There is even more, now. Everybody is saying, 'Do this, say it like this. Don't wear suits, wear a coat.' I tried to be somebody that I was not, and it wasn't coming across well."
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