The unlikely pair of Reuters and Dick Clark Productions next fall will field the first real competition to the Big 3's dominance of the Sunday morning news and political affairs crowd: a nationally syndicated show, hosted by a prominent political figure, that will be underwritten by a small but powerful cadre of big institutional advertisers.
In fact, the show was originally conceived by New York ad agency Lowe & Partners/SMS, which has had a difficult time getting access to the highly coveted Sunday morning commercial avails for clients like the Hanson Co., Prudential Insurance Co. of America, Western Union and Mercedes-Benz of North America.
"It's become very difficult to get on Sunday mornings for an upscale advertiser," said Estie Todtman, senior VP-national broadcast at the agency. "The shows are all tied up with long-term multiyear agreements, and in the current marketing environment, they are almost always sold out."
Ms. Todtman said Lowe was finally able to crack "Meet the Press" for client Hanson but would like greater access to the Washington Beltway crowd, and suggested that Dick Clark develop a syndicated alternative.
The Dick Clark initiative is the first program to come out of a new advertiser-supplied programming division called Dick Clark Program Marketing, New York.
Mr. Clark has hired John Lazarus, a former head of sales at Fox and ABC Sports, who most recently was VP-general manager of Cox Broadcasting's Major Market Network, as senior VP of the new Dick Clark unit.
Mr. Clark has also begun discussing other advertiser-supplied series for network, cable and syndication.
The timing for the new Sunday morning news show couldn't be better, said Lowe's Ms. Todtman. The traditional Sunday morning troika will be thrown in flux in 1996 when David Brinkley is expected to retire from "This Week."
"This Week's" name and format will also be retired out of respect to the legendary TV journalist, and a new show hosted by another prominent ABC News personality, possibly Ted Koppel or Sam Donaldson, will take its place. That's a risky move for ABC, which dominates the roughly $100 million daypart and gets a premium ad rate for it.
Media buyers estimate that a 30-second spot on "This Week With David Brinkley" fetches upward of $40,000, vs. $25,000 or less for a :30 on NBC's "Meet the Press" or CBS' "Face the Nation." By comparison, the new, as-yet-unnamed Dick Clark show will probably cost only about $12,000 per :30.
The show, a half-hour syndicated series that's expected to clear 80% to 85% of U.S. TV homes by next fall, will be based in the Reuters Television Center in Washington. But unlike the Big 3 shows, the Dick Clark program will try to focus less on Beltway angles and more on global issues, tapping into Reuters' worldwide news footage.
Reuters and Dick Clark currently don't have a business relationship, but the project could grow into a joint venture.
Mr. Clark was unavailable for comment because he was traveling to Orlando, where he was scheduled to tape a segment for "New Year's Rocking Eve."
To a certain extent, the new show's format and possibly its name may be determined by its host, who hasn't been signed yet, but speculation is that Dick Clark is going after a major national personality like former Texas Gov. Anne Richards. It's likely that a seasoned journalist will co-anchor.
Initially, Dick Clark is projecting a 2 national rating for the show but will likely guarantee a 1.5. That compares with about a 3 to 4 rating for the Big 3 shows.
While those ratings are small by prime-time standards, it's not the volume of viewers but the composition of industry and government leaders who watch that's most valuable to advertisers. Big users of the daypart include institutional advertisers like General Electric Co., ITT Corp., Rockwell Industries and TRW Corp., but it's also a popular buy for high-end auto, financial services, telecommunications and technology companies.
Neither Lowe nor any of its clients will have a stake in the new show.