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NEW YORK ( -- As part of an effort to turn itself into a "drama" network, Turner cable's TNT considered enhancing sportscasts by placing heart monitors on the wives of NASCAR drivers, according to company officials.

This afternoon a TNT spokesman confirmed that the concept had been part of the network's

Concept: wiring up NASCAR drivers' wives.
brainstorming sessions for content changes but had been discarded because it was "so poorly received" during a morning news conference at Turner's New York offices.

"They're not going forward on that idea at all," spokesman Mark Harrad said, referring to TNT executive vice president-general manager Steven Koonin and production staff. "They hadn't taken it to NASCAR. They're not going to take it to NASCAR. It's dead."

Toying with the concept
Earlier in the day, Mr. Koonin said that he was toying with the concept of using heart monitors on the wives of lead drivers to gauge the intensity of the race.

In the wake of the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt, Mr. Koonin said the devices would not be used to capitalize on

TNT general manager Steven Koonin.
the risk involved in races, but simply to increase the exictement of the telecast. "It's certainly not about the danger element," he said.

The aborted idea emerged as AOL Time Warner moved in advance of the upfront sales period to alter TNT's programming in a manner aimed at grabbing a larger share of the urban, upscale adult 18-to-49 and 25-to-54 age group. Overall, the injection of new kinds of dramatic elements would differentiate TNT from its sister station TBS, which a year ago acquired a more humble format as the "TV Haven for the Regular Guy."

"For so many years people looked at TBS and TNT as sort of the same network," said Brad Siegel, president of general entertainment networks at Turner Broadcasting System.

NASCAR, which many thought would air on TBS under a new rights contract, starts July 5 on TNT. That prevents possible programming conflicts with TBS's coverage of Major League Baseball games featuring AOL Time Warner-owned Atlanta Braves.

The new TNT repositioning carries the tagline "TNT: We Know Drama" from Omnicom's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. TNT declined to release ad spending for the TV, print and outdoor campaign, which is scheduled to launch May 21. In the past the network used a campaign pegging it as "The Best Movie Studio on Television."

TNT's programming will focus on movies, dramatic series such as Law & Order and sports such as the NBA and NASCAR. The repositioning follows Turner's decision to sell its World Championship Wrestling property to World Wrestling Federation Entertainment as part of a move to attract the upscale audience.

Bigger piece of the pie
Mr. Koonin also said TNT has 11 new episodes of the rating-challenged Wall Street drama Bull ready to air if Hollywood writers and actors go on strike. If no strikes ensue, he said the episodes may not be seen. The show is not currently on the air.

TBS will continue its "It's a Guy Thing" ad campaign this year. Early on, Publicis Groupe's Publicis & Hal Riney handled the account, but that has since been moved in-house.

Differentiating TNT and TBS from each other could help AOL Time Warner position its the two networks to gain a larger share of the wide-reach cable network audience the two stations battle USA Networks for.

But will any network gain more ad dollars in the sputtering economy?

Turner's Mr. Siegel said he is "cautiously optimistic" and "each week is getting a little bit better." But, he added, "nobody's predicting huge CPM growth [in the upfront]."

Copyright March 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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