- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

Double talk

The queen of daytime talk visits prime time’s chat King tonight on CNN.

Oprah Winfrey will appear on “Larry King Live” at 9 p.m. for the show’s full hour.

The celebrated host, actress and magazine entrepreneur, whose syndicated talk show airs daily in 109 countries, will discuss her recent trip to Africa as well as her unprecedented career.

Miss Winfrey also will field calls from viewers.

Her self-titled talk show debuted in 1986.

Front and center

It was bound to happen: Reality shows have gone the product-placement route.

In a new partnership, Sears, Roebuck and Co. has signed on as chief sponsor of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” a six-episode series that is in production and expected to air beginning in early 2004, Associated Press reports.

ABC and Sears say the programs will showcase Sears products such as Craftsman tools, Kenmore appliances and Land’s End home furnishings while telling the stories of hard-luck families whose homes are selected for free home makeovers.

Sears commercials also will air as part of the package.

A special hourlong premiere of “Extreme Makeover” aired Wednesday.

The New York Times, which first reported the partnership, said Sears is thought to be paying more than $1 million for the deal.

Both Sears, based in Hoffman Estates, Ill., and ABC declined to discuss the financial terms. However, an ABC official confirmed that it represents the television network’s biggest branded-entertainment deal yet.

Dan Longest, ABC senior vice president for integrated marketing and promotion, told AP it was a perfect match to secure the leading home-appliance and tool maker for a program he called “home improvement on steroids.”

Sears, meanwhile, gets to promote its products in prime time to a bigger audience than the one that stays tuned in during commercials.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to partner with a new show on prime-time network TV that portrays Sears as the ultimate home-solution partner,” company spokesman Ted McDougal told AP.

The head of an advertising watchdog group said the new show extends a disturbing trend of more and more embedded ads on television.

“‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ is not a regular program; it’s an infomercial for Sears,” Gary Ruskin, director of Commercial Alert, said Wednesday from Portland, Ore.

“It’s not just product placement, it’s product integration, plot placement, title placement, paid shills, virtual ads. Increasingly, television is turning into an infomercial medium.”

The consumer group, which was founded by Ralph Nader, filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission this fall asking them to enact stricter rules concerning the use of such advertisements.

The new ABC program will carry scenes of trips to Sears stores, trucks delivering merchandise from Sears to the homes and visits by Sears repair workers who will use Craftsman tools in their home-improvement work.

Ads aside, Mr. Longest said the focus will be on the families’ stories.

“Our first goal is always to develop the best programming possible,” he said.

Sears officials also said they have been sensitive to criticism about branded entertainment.

“It’s obviously something that needs to be integral or natural to the program, which in the case of home improvement is a totally logical and authentic place for Sears to be,” Mr. McDougal said.

“Consumers would not be fooled by forced sponsorship,” he added.

Marriott’s ‘Fake Date’

Evan Marriott’s 15 minutes of fame just got an extension.

The “Joe Millionaire” star will host the Game Show Network’s new relationship show, “Fake-a-Date,” which will premiere in March, Associated Press reports.

The show will feature a contestant who dates two singles: one looking for love and the other who’s hoping to win a luxury trip with his or her significant other, the Game Show Network says. The contestant must decide who is sincere.

Mr. Marriott will offer advice and act as a confidant to participants.

The Virginia native also will interview the contestant about the decision.

“I can certainly empathize with what the contestants are feeling,” Mr. Marriott said in a statement.

‘Ellen’ stays put

Ellen DeGeneres has survived the first cut of the daytime talk-show world.

The comic’s self-titled program has been renewed for a second season on the NBC-owned stations that carry her syndicated show, Reuters News Agency reports.

Locally, “Ellen” airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on WRC-TV (Channel 4).

The 14 NBC outlets represent coverage of more than 30 percent of the country, according to NBC Television Stations President Jay Ireland.

In all, the talker has been sold in more than 50 markets, including 19 of the top 20, representing more than 60 percent of the country.

Elsewhere in the syndication industry, the news feeding frenzy over the Michael Jackson arrest warrant fueled ratings boosts for the top three syndicated magazine shows, according to Nielsen Media Research data released late last week.

“Entertainment Tonight” (6.5 average audience household rating) scored its highest number in 39 weeks for the week ending Nov. 23 and managed a week-to-week increase of 3 percent.

The magazine strip gained 7 percent from the same period last year.

“Access Hollywood” (3.4) hit a new season high with a 10 percent week-to-week gain and a 21 percent year-to-year increase.

“Extra” (2.9) also hit a new season high with a 7 percent week-to-week gain. It was even with last year’s performance.

The magazine show “Celebrity Justice,” now in its second season, posted a 1.3 rating, which was up 8 percent from the previous week and down 7 percent year-to-year.

“Inside Edition” (3.7) was down 3 percent for the week but was up 9 percent year-to-year.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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