- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 13, 2001

NEW YORK — Television sets are beginning to rival local civic centers as concert venues. CBS is airing a two-hour Michael Jackson concert special tonight and begins a run of three weekly Garth Brooks shows tomorrow. NBC will present Jennifer Lopez on Nov. 20, and 'N Sync will be on CBS Nov. 23. ABC is giving Mick Jagger a prime-time hour on Thanksgiving, part biography, part performance.
Largely ignored by network television for many years, pop concerts have become a programming genre of their own.
"The mainstream, Middle American television audience in the year 2001 are people who grew up going to concerts and for whom concerts remain a regular part of their entertainment," says Bill Flanagan, a VH1 executive. "That's different from what it used to be."
The concert specials have filled the niche variety programs such as "The Ed Sullivan Show" had in the 1960s, Mr. Flanagan says.
They don't necessarily get big ratings. A one-hour condensed version of the "United We Stand" concert on ABC Nov. 1 drew 6.2 million viewers, a fraction of the 27 million who saw "Friends" the same night. CBS ran highlights of the Concert for New York City the night before and attracted 5.6 million viewers.
The concerts generally bring in a younger audience than typical prime-time network fare, however, enabling the networks to sell time to different advertisers, says Jeff Gaspin, head of alternative programming at NBC.
That's particularly important at CBS, which traditionally has the oldest audience on network TV. CBS has been the most aggressive of the four major broadcasters in airing concerts; Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Ricky Martin all have done CBS specials.
Because CBS' parent company, Viacom, also owns MTV, VH1 and Country Music Television, musicians are eager to do business with the network.
The three Brooks concerts this month surely will draw bigger audiences for CBS than "Wolf Lake," the struggling drama whose time slot is being filled. In a ratings "sweeps" month, that's money in the bank.
Mr. Brooks had announced he wouldn't be doing any more concert tours.
"CBS has given me the opportunity to take the music to the people in a new way, to have the fun of performing it live and do it in such a way that I don't have to be away from home for long periods of time," he says.
He'll do one show from the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and another at the Forum in Los Angeles. The third show, on Nov. 28, will be at a site yet to be announced.
For the most part, seeing a concert on television is a lot like watching fireworks on TV, Mr. Gaspin concedes: It's just not the same as being there. Still, the price of concert tickets is getting steep, and many fans don't have the opportunity to see their favorite acts, he says.
Network executives say they try to create something that can't be duplicated at the local civic center. Because Miss Lopez, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Brooks aren't out on the road, TV is the only option for their fans.
"We try to create a very powerful package that nobody can come close to," says Jack Sussman, senior vice president for special programming at CBS.
The success of shows such as "Behind the Music" on VH1 convinced network executives that music can work, says Mr. Gaspin, who was a VH1 executive before he joined NBC. The broadcasters previously had pretty much left music to the cable stations.
It's also a different form of programming for those tired of traditional sitcoms and dramas, he says.


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