NBC Adding 'Reality' to Christmas Parade

By DEBORAH BELGUM
Staff Reporter

The annual Hollywood Christmas Parade will take place on the Sunday night after Thanksgiving per usual. Everything else about this year's event will be anything but.

After losing $100,000 last year, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce cut a deal with NBC and Blockbuster Inc. that has the annual parade turning into a national broadcast that features various stunts and special effects more in keeping with the network's reality show "Fear Factor."

Now dubbed the Blockbuster Hollywood Christmas Spectacular," the event will feature the usual floats, bands and celebrities as well as musical acts, special stunts and scenes of movie special effects. Joe Rogan, host of "Fear Factor," and Brooke Burns, host of another NBC reality series, "Dog Eat Dog," will emcee the telecast, which will be edited down to a one-hour special to air the following Sunday, on Dec. 8.

The new arrangement gives NBC exclusive broadcast rights and means that Angelenos will not be able to see the parade broadcast live for many, a decades-long tradition that unofficially marked the end of the long Thanksgiving weekend.

The parade has been broadcast for the past four years by KCOP-TV (Channel 13) and syndicated to other stations nationwide. Before that, KTLA-TV (Channel 5) broadcast the event for 20 years.

"This gives us the best national exposure we've ever had," said Leron Gubler, president and chief executive of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which has organized the parade for the past 71 years. "But I do anticipate some unhappy people who won't be able to see it live."

It also means that viewers might not get a chance to see the wholesome, if goofy, tradition of celebrities like Florence Henderson and Pat Boone sending out their holiday wishes along Hollywood Boulevard. Perhaps the most daring parade decision up until now was naming "Easy Rider" star Peter Fonda as grand marshal.

But Gubler noted that 2001 "was our worst year ever. It was right after Sept. 11. We lost a lot of floats. Before Sept. 11, we were on target to break even," he said.

And expenses keep going up. The cost to insure the parade has gone from $10,000 last year to $30,000 this year. Security expenses in a post 9/11 world keep increasing too.

The chamber hired Global Icons, a Los Angeles marketing and licensing company, to approach NBC about broadcasting the event in order to get more mileage out of the parade.

Gubler was skeptical that the deal could be made. But Jeff Lotman, chief executive of Global Icons, suggested jazzing up the festivities to meld with the entertainment aspect of television. In the newly configured event, the parade itself is likely to play a secondary role in the one-hour production.

"It will be like a one-hour program with a parade in the background," said NBC spokeswoman Lisa Okikawa.

No one would say how much NBC or Blockbuster is paying the Hollywood Chamber, but for Hollywood, the national exposure means an hour of publicity Tinseltown couldn't buy. Chamber officials hope that the program, which will be centered at Grauman's Chinese Theater, the Pantages Theater and the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex, will showcase revitalization efforts that have been undertaken in recent years.

It also comes at a time when international tourism is down in the city. "It will help get out the word about Hollywood," Gubler said.

And despite the changes, this year's parade, as always, will feature celebrities. LeAnne Rimes will be performing on center stage, as will Destiny's Child. David Copperfield will be doing his magic.

Also on hand will be Frankie Avalon, Pat Boone, Lorenzo Lamas, Mickey Rooney, and William Shatner. No grand marshal has been named yet.

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