Help for Saturday's Lost Audience of Grown-Ups

It's 4:30 in the morning and "Great Weekend" already is an hour behind schedule. The tape machine operator, it seems, was in a car crash on his way to the West Los Angeles studio and the show can't go on until he arrives. A costly delay for any TV show, but possible disaster for one broadcast live.

"That's why we're doing this run-through," says Lionel Schaen, president of producing USTV. "Now that we know this can happen, we'll have a guy on standby who can be here in a minute."

"Great Weekend" will try to answer the question: What's there for an adult to watch on Saturday morning? Research, say USTV executives, tells them that there is a lost audience of grown-ups up on Saturdays looking around for something to watch on TV.

"I think the habit is to turn on the TV, flip around and then turn it off because all there is are cartoons and commercials," says Jerry Greenberg, vice president of programming and creative affairs for USTV, a subsidiary of Hubbard Broadcasting. "Now, there will be something to watch."

The one-hour show, which airs locally on a tape-delay basis on KHJ-TV Channel 9 at 9 a.m. beginning today, looks a lot like the morning news programs in both setting and style.

Hosts Dale Harimoto, whose credentials include "Entertainment Tonight" and "P.M. Magazine," and Bob Goen, veteran of the broadcast news and game show wars, provide a leisurely pace and anchor a team of correspondents linked to the studio--and the home audience--by satellite.

"A live show has a lot more energy," says executive producer George Merlis, whose past efforts have included stints at the helm of "CBS Morning News," "Entertainment Tonight" and cable's "Dick Cavett Show." "More problems, but more energy."

"Great Weekend," which is likely to look more like a features magazine than its weekday counterparts, is consciously intended to entertain as well as inform. Sports segments from Kerry Millerick might originate from the site of the Super Bowl; weather segments from Patrick Flanigan from the ski slopes of New Hampshire or the hot tubs of Palm Springs, and Cindi Rinehart's entertainment reports from the gates of a Hollywood studio or heights of a record company. Some segments will be broadcast live via two-way hook-ups, others will be on videotape.

"We're not going to have Henry Kissinger in the studio and we're not going to have three people sitting in a room talk about a book or things like that," says Schaen, "but it will have newsy elements as well."

Those weekly elements will include a fast-paced news review anchored live from Minnesota by newscaster Stan Turner; Dr. Michael J. Breen, live from the heartland, with updates on health and medical news, and social commentary and think pieces from former KNBC-TV Channel 4 newsman Jack Perkins taped in and around his Maine home.

The appeal for the audience, says Merlis, is that the program is tailored toward them and not entertainment business. "It's a service show," he says. "It has as a philosophy to supply as much information as people want and can use, to somehow make watching a profitable experience for them."

Segments will include looks at tourist spots (like an upcoming report about travel in New York on a budget); a look at romantic getaways; ski schools for kids; a live remote from Graceland coinciding with Elvis Presley's birthday; a profile of psychics in Sedona, Ariz., and a look at America's knack for turning history into tourist attractions.

Schaen insists that USTV will spend as much money on its one-hour presentation as network weekday morning programs do on shows that are twice as long.

"Not being at a network means lower production costs," says Merlis. "We have more field pieces in one hour than they have in two--we're something more elaborate."

The show was designed and organized specifically with the weekend audience in mind. "We're giving it a horizontal mix so it can be enjoyed by people who just want to kick up their feet and those getting ready to get out of the house--we'll have news and entertainment segments in the same act because research says our show should cut across the demographics."

Shows like "Good Morning America," he explains, are arranged with complementing stories in each segment.

USTV is hoping to appeal to stations by employing broadcast technology that allows affiliates to insert regional material to give the show local appeal. Local news can easily wrap around Turner's national reports, and activities "windows" will allow stations to list a calendar of local events and offerings.

"Great Weekend" was sold to stations for its initial 17-week cycle, and less than two dozen bought. While that number includes several large cities, the show will reach only 25%-30% of the country.

"A lot of stations . . . have expressed interest in seeing what the show is about," says Greenberg, noting that the no pilot was made. "Stanley Hubbard really believes in the show and he wanted to put it on so those stations could see what we're doing, what the show looks like."

Its second cycle will be sold at the upcoming convention of the National Assn. of Television Programming Executives, so performance during this first run is crucial to the program's potential profitability and marketability.

Though Schaen says USTV will stick with the show even if it gets off to a slow start, he acknowledges "the real key is the February (ratings) sweeps period--which gives us four weeks" to fine-tune the program and allow an audience to find it.

He's confident there is an audience out there.

"Everybody has just assumed that Saturday morning is just for kids, but our research tells us something different," he insists. "Maybe kids control the set in their room or the living room, but 70% to 80% of homes have two or more sets and one is plunked down in Mom's bedroom.

"That set," Schaen concludes, "is the one we're going after."

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