... but ad-free rival "Schmidteinander" is more popular, thanks to sidekick Herbert Feuerstein. EUROPEANS FIND LATE NIGHT TV A SNOOZE

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A strange thing happens to TV in Europe every night after prime time: It gets turned off.

In the U.S., viewers have stayed up for years to tune in to the vanguard of mainstream public thought-withering political barbs, Stupid Pet Tricks and Vice President Al Gore smashing government-issue ashtrays-along with words from sponsors.

But in Europe, there's very little interest. A :30 second spot on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" or "The Late Show with David Letterman" can attract between 4 and 6 million households and cost anywhere from $30,000 to $65,000. But a spot of similar length on Sweden's jawfest "Aschberg Direkt," for example, reaches 125,000 viewers and goes begging at $1,850.

"The intense [U.S.] inter-network competition for ratings doesn't exist in most countries in Europe" because many channels are still in state hands, said Simon Lloyd, chairman of Optimedia International, London. "It will come, and when it does there will be more rivalry between networks in head-to-head competition."

But first late night viewership in Europe will need a big boost. Stations have traditionally run old films and reruns, talk shows and documentaries and while the popularity of the timeslot across the Atlantic has prompted some European stations to experiment with their own adaptations of the genre, none of the shows draw big numbers of viewers.

Of Europe's large markets, Germany is most receptive to the U.S. format. Between 1.8 and 1.9 million viewers watch RTL's three-year-old "Gottschalk Late Night Show," hosted by the bland Thomas Gottschalk, Tuesdays through Fridays at 11:15 p.m.

The show's ad rate, $8,208 for a :30 spot, was adjusted from $13,294 in 1993 because the network overestimated audience reach.

But even so, late night TV is a tough sell in Germany. "There was nothing comparable to U.S. late night TV when [Mr.] Gottschalk got started," said Stefan Portune, director of Initiative Media's media buying arm TV-Top Spot. "The public is only slowly getting used to it."

The American formula for keeping audiences tuned-preceding the talk shows with the news, Mr. Portune says-is a pattern RTL has also begun to imitate.

Once every two weeks, German public channel ARD broadcasts "Schmidteinander," hosted by David Letterman doppelganger Harald Schmidt and Paul Shaffer-style sidekick Herbert Feuerstein. Mr. Schmidt, whose show is telecast every other Saturday at 10:20 p.m., studies Mr. Letterman's show when he visits the U.S., resulting in a show considered far superior to "Gottschalk."

Mr. Portune said it's unfortunate for his clients that ARD does not broadcast ads after 8 p.m.

Currently, the U.K.'s non-commercial channel BBC2's satirical "Sunday Night Clive" airs weekly at 10 p.m., but more typical Friday fare on ITV and BBC2 are soccer and old American films. The only formula approximating the U.S. lead is ITV's "The Word," airing on Channel 4 Fridays at 11:05 p.m. "The Word" is a music-and-talk show whose loquacious young host, Terry Christian, generally prevents his guests from saying more than a scant few words.

Advertisers on the show include Britvic Soft Drinks' Tango and Swatch watches.

Time on late-night also is inexpensive in Spain, where the daypart is still trying to compete with popular late-night activities in restaurants and nightclubs. Spanish late-night starts at midnight with the broadcast of a mixed bag of shows-the continuations of movies started during prime time or random programs such as B-movies and political debate programs, said Jose Ignacio Garcia, director general of Euro RSCG's Medi polis media buying center.

Spanish TV stations give big discounts off their rate cards, selling spots as a buy-one-get-three-free deal, in which the advertiser selects a percentage of the time slots and leaves the rest to programmers' whims. Stations often guarantee a percentage of spots will reach prime time viewers and dump the rest in late night or morning slots-the two lowest-rated of each day.

According to Spanish ratecards, there are 4.9 million late night viewers as compared to prime time's 14.4 million viewers between 9 p.m. and midnight.

Last year, regional Madrid public station Telemadrid aired a late-night talk show, "La noche se mueve" ("The Night Moves"), hosted by the smirking El Gran Wyoming (Jose Miguel Monzon) and a bandleader resembling Mr. Letterman's U.S. counterpart Paul Shaffer. The show aired at 12:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday before its contract expired last June and wasn't renewed because of low ratings. A :20 spot costs about $800.

France hasn't had a late night talk show since 1992, when the country's largest channel, TF1, stopped running the year-old "Ciel! Mon Mardi!" ("Heavens! It's Tuesday!"), Tuesday nights at 10:30 p.m. The host, former radio motormouth Christophe Dechevanne, chatted with celebrities and such odd citizens as neo-Nazis and adults who wear babies' diapers, for a show resembling some of the more bizarre offerings from the U.S.

"Mardi's" success spawned Mr. Dechevanne's 1993 talk show "Coucou, C'est Nous" ("Hi, It's Us"), in the more saleable 7 p.m. timeslot just before the popular TF1 nightly news. This show normally features a single celebrity and several strange regulars including a clairvoyant and a numerologist.

Sweden's late night roster typifies European apathy for the timeslot. "Sweden has no tradition of late night talk shows-11 p.m. is pretty late for a Swedish audience," said Totte Cederlund, a spokesman at TV3.

The channel's month-old "Aschberg Direkt," Sweden's first late night talk show, has earned a disappointing audience of 125,000. The competition is reruns of the U.S. detective series "Hunter," which attracts more than four times the viewers-510,000 insomniacs, or 42% of the viewing audience at that hour.

Prominent marketers such as Volvo and Unilever spend spare change to advertise on "Direkt"-$1,870 for 30 seconds of airtime, one-fourth the cost of the $8,370 for a :30 spot on "Hunter."

Robert Aschberg, the refrigerator-shaped host of "Direkt," is still better known for the show's prime-time predecessor, "Aschberg Ikvall [This Evening]," on the air for several years. "Ikvall," a glitzy, off-the-wall potpourri, once simultaneously featured Sweden's dignified Minister of Foreign Affairs Margareta af Ugglas and an obscure guest who could break wind in tune. Such wacky programming is much closer in spirit to American late night TV than primetime.

Written by Todd Pruzan from correspondent reports.

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