Millionaire and Regis Philbin: The Financial Breakdown … Found! A Road-Show Christina Ricci

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You’d think ABC is taking a big chance by scheduling Who Wants to Be a Millionaire three nights a week this winter. Like, what if someone wins a million bucks every show? But an NYTV analysis shows that ABC could give away $1 million every episode and still make a killing.

Let’s go to the numbers. Millionaire is making about $300,000 per 30-second ad. The network sells 8.5 minutes of ads per hour. So that comes out to $2.55 million per show. Of course, you have your expenses–about $300,000 per show once you factor in the transmission costs, the 800-number costs, Regis Philbin’s salary, the set, etc. A reminder: That’s the cost of one 30-second ad. When all is said and done, even after losing $1 million per show to the geniuses, ABC is left with about $1 million in profit right off the bat. If the show is to run 48 weeks per year, three days per week, it could bring ABC just over $144 million per annum.

(It doesn’t seem like so much of a stretch, the idea of a contestant pocketing $1 million each episode, what with questions like, “At sea level, water freezes at X degrees, define X.” But what comes easily in the living room is pretty hard when you’re under the hot TV lights and staring into the eyes of Reeg.)

Now, the Millionaire ad rate pales in comparison to that of NBC’s ER , the top-rated show on television. That show commands $545,000 per 30-second slot–which means $4.6 million in ad revenue per show. But each episode of ER costs $13 million to produce–so NBC is not looking at any sort of profit until rerun time in the late spring and summer.

So now you see that it’s no wonder that every other network is devising its own prime-time game show.

Millionaire will run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays starting this January. No Millionaire tonight. But tune into ABC for It’s Like, You Know … , produced by former Seinfeld producer Peter Mehlman. In the TV’s new game-show economy, this is the kind of show that gets scrapped–so catch it while you can. [WABC, 7, 8:30 P.M.]

Thursday, Dec. 9

Speaking of Millionaire , with it ABC won the November sweeps. That has executives at the other networks grumbling about the whole sweeps system–and lobbying to dismantle it. Sure, Millionaire kicked everyone’s ass fair and square, even beat NBC’s invincible Frasier in the ratings. But the whole idea behind sweeps is to gauge how many viewers the networks are drawing so they can then set corresponding ad rates. So, thanks to Millionaire , ABC’s overall rating was up, which will allow network executives to charge higher ad rates all around. But at the time of sweeps, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? wasn’t a regularly scheduled show. ABC ran it to goose its ratings (just as NBC ran Leprechauns and cbs aired a Shania Twain concert to goose their own). In fact, with its Millionaire -heavy lineup during the sweeps period, ABC ran only 70 percent of its regular programming. CBS and NBC ran 88 percent of theirs. So executives are saying: Is this a fair way to crown a ratings champion? Is it fair to charge advertisers rates based on specials?

“I don’t want to sound like I’m Mr. Sour Grapes here,” said Les Moonves, the chief executive of CBS. “I was in favor of eliminating sweeps when we won sweeps.” (CBS had been the No. 1-rated network before ABC’s upset.)

Added CBS’s chief researcher David Poltrack: “There’s a growing concern about the sweeps, and the advertising agencies and advertisers have talked to us about alternate approaches.”

He spoke of electronic meters and a world in which Nielsen can gauge the ratings more precisely through the entire year, without sweeps.

That may be paradise for the TV executives and advertisers–but what about us poor schmos at home, who channel-surf our way through the brain-deadening months, except in those gaudy sweeps months of May, February and November? Sweeps may be a cheap floozy, but right now she’s the only gal we got!

Tonight, on Frasier , Kelsey Grammer blows his back out while blowing out birthday candles. Silly billy. [WNBC, 4, 9 P.M.]

Tonight! On TNT! Overboard ! The great Goldie Hawn! Also Kurt Russell! Love sizzles on screen and off! [TNT, 3, 8 P.M.]

Friday, Dec. 10

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, WABC’s Eyewitness News led its 11 P.M. newscast with a report on the Seattle riots, which were related to the World Trade Organization conference in town that week. The report showed footage of windows being smashed and fires being set and people being arrested and, oh, the madness! The local guys even got a correspondent of their own on the scene. But after the report was over, you realized one very important thing: No one ever said what the W.T.O. is, what it was meeting about or what the protesters were protesting. It just came down to: The rioters rioted and the mysterious organization canceled its mysterious meeting. Local news at its lamest.

The W.T.O., by the way, is the public-private international group charged with loosening trade restrictions. The protesters were mostly labor people opposed to all this deregulation. The real trouble was caused by some longhairs looking to get excited over something and a police force that waaaay overreacted. (Does NYTV have to do everything around here?)

If you like a little information with your spectacle, catch WCBS’s News 2 this evening instead. [WCBS, 2, 11 P.M.]

Saturday, Dec. 11

CBS airs Stars on Ice . Watch Scott Hamilton, Tara Lipinski and company skate around, jump and spin. Why, it must be near Christmas time, and there couldn’t be a better way to spend a Saturday night. Who said CBS isn’t hip? [WCBS, 2, 8:30 P.M.]

Sunday, Dec. 12

Don Roos has finally found a woman to play the lead part in the upcoming sitcom M.Y.O.B. , which is based on his nearly flawless film The Opposite of Sex .

As NYTV reported, Mr. Roos had initially cast Nicki Aycox when he shot the pilot for the series, which hits NBC this March. But Ms. Aycox just didn’t have the same sarcastic bite as Christina Ricci, who played a sharp-tongued teenager preternaturally adept at manipulating grown-ups. Ms. Aycox was sent away, and the search for a small-screen Ricci dragged on and on. Love Ms. Ricci or hate her, there’s just one of her, and she’s not ready to lower herself to TV just yet. Not sitcoms, anyway. (She did her deadpan bitch routine just perfectly for Saturday Night Live on Dec. 4, giving that show its first decent episode of the season.)

Anyhoots, NBC sources tell NYTV that Mr. Roos has settled on Kate Towne, who happens to be the daughter of Robert Towne, who happens to have written the script for Chinatown and directed Personal Best (you’ve seen it), Tequila Sunrise (you’ve seen it–but you just don’t remember) and Without Limits (you should see it–really–it’s cool).

Ms. Towne has starred in Go and The Bachelor .

“We literally looked at hundreds upon hundreds of girls. We were looking for caustic–which you don’t usually find on TV,” said M.Y.O.B. executive producer Ann Donahue. “When Kate came in, she is so unlike everybody else. I pulled Don out of a writing session and I said, ‘You’ve got to see this girl. She’s got bite.’ I would say she’s got the soul of a 40-year-old gay man.”

That’s good, because Ms. Towne’s character is a manipulative little wench, just like Ms. Ricci’s in the movie!

It’s still unclear where M.Y.O.B. will be placed in the NBC lineup. It could wind up in Suddenly Susan ‘s Tuesday slot come March. But we’ll believe it when we see it. [The Movie Channel, 49, 9 P.M.]

Monday, Dec. 13

Now that the Internet has moved from the enough-already hype phase and is actually a real force, the major broadcast networks are trying to figure out how much it’s going to hurt them after it’s even more established. Right now, the two media are in a honeymoon phase, with Internet companies feeding TV’s coffers, buying ad time for one dopey ad after another. But a lot of the betting money is on the Internet taking down the networks, or severely weakening them, sometime in the not-so-distant future.

Still, no one really knows what to expect. During the November sweeps period, some networks even set out to find out how many television households are on line and how that affected TV viewership.

NBC research chief Alan Wurtzel is pretty happy with what he sees–and it goes against the prevailing wisdom. The latest data he has seen concluded that the average computer user spent 1.4 hours per week on the Internet and 30 hours per week watching television in 1998.

Not even a comparison there, really. But that was ’98, this is now. In the year 2000, average Internet usage per computer user is expected to double, to 3.7 hours per week. But, the study predicts, that won’t affect TV viewership–which is actually expected to grow a bit, too, coming in closer to 31 hours per week.

That supports the TV-Internet theory du jour: that the Internet could actually help boost television viewership. Huh?

“There’s a sense that one reason why traditional media may benefit is because the Internet makes your life more efficient,” said Mr. Wurtzel. “So you have more time to spend with traditional media.”

For instance, you used to have to go out to shop, and that can take hours! Now you can do it all with the click of a button, so you can watch more TV! (O, brave new world.)

The point: “The Internet is huge and is having a profound impact on many, many things: How we communicate, how we shop,” he said. “But I think sometimes you get carried away without realizing within the scheme of things the proportion of its role right now.”

Got it. But even Mr. Wurtzel admits nobody really knows what to expect.

“It’s like the wild West in terms of new technical research,” he said. “There’s just a zillion different numbers out there.” That’s a lot of numbers.

Today, for a glimpse at just how far all this computer stuff can take us, catch Short Circuit –about the madcap adventures of an adorable, yet zany robot. [Turner Network Television, 3, 1 P.M.]

Tuesday, Dec. 14

CNN’s Moneyline Newshour continues its special two-week series on this ridiculous economy–”The New Economy: Boom Without End?”–with interviews with Inc.’s Jeff Bezos, Boeing Company’s Phil Condit, Howard Schultz from Starbucks Corporation and other filthy rich guys. [CNN, 10, 6:30 P.M.]

Millionaire and Regis Philbin: The Financial Breakdown … Found! A Road-Show Christina Ricci