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August 12, 2000

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The GSN Half-Sale: What Does It Mean?

       Don't suggest I go on one of these late-night Tarot cards commercials. However, reporter's instinct through the years tells you something ultimately had to be up with an entity such as Game Show Network. Its sale of half-interest from Sony to Liberty Digital places several things on the counter.
       Some wild speculation is already erupting of this being the beginning of the end of Sony's affiliation with GSN. That eventually we'll have back "our network," which in some readers' imaginations are returning to those "thrilling days of yesteryear" with all the Goodson-Todman classics intact five days a week.
       Let's try to sort all of this out, understanding the deal has just been done and a lot of pieces of this puzzle are far from being assembled. Here are the likeliest scenarios:
   First off, the Goodson-Todman library will be phased out between now and the end of 2002. Sony has decided, despite no public comment on the subject, those 35,000 shows are too expensive and, besides, Pearson Television may well have some other ideas for their use.
   Next, $250 million---the estimated cash price of the sale (plus $50 million in Liberty Digital stock, which will go to Sony)---cannot possibly program a network around-the-clock with original shows. Plus, Sony will use about $100 million of that money to cover the losses of the network's first five years.
   Let's assume $150 million is available free and clear. You'll see most of the money plowed into two things: more original shows and Liberty Digital's main interest: building a total interactive online environment for the network, where home viewers can play along with virtually every game (a la Enhanced TV) in real time. Hopefully, no more disasters such as Throut and Neck, which some past GSN personnel had touted as "the interactive show which will blow you away." It did, all right.
   How much original production? Let's tell the truth, even with $150 million on the table, the cable financial model suggests a lot of what you've seen with Inquizition, Hollywood Showdown and All New 3's a Crowd. For every batch of 65 to 100 new episodes produced, those shows will be repeated at least twice to amortize their costs in cable economics. You'll see that continue. Only, by 2003, expect GSN to be virtually all-originals between 6 p.m. and midnight. The one good thing: even if traditionalists don't like the shows, it will mean more jobs for people in the industry who have been frozen out by our "scripted entertainment" pals at CBS, NBC and Fox. At best, however, this network will probably be in the 40-50% original ratio over the next three years to retain a profitable base.
   That means a diet of classic repeats will remain. Prediction here: don't be surprised if GSN makes a stab at shopping for a few game show libraries which are lying dormant at the moment to freshen the classic menu. Some which do not have the volume of Goodson-Todman but have some gems. You can guess them as well as I can and one which has been untapped and has the two jewels of Truth or Consequences and the Tom Kennedy Name That Tune shows is Ralph Edwards' vault and those shows do exist, my friends.
   So do the Pearson Goodson-Todman episodes go into the Museum of Broadcasting? Not so fast, folks. I'm certainly not going to outguess those folks. However, they are sitting on more than 40,000 shows with the G-T and Reg Grundy offerings, plus a huge vat of international versions. They own the international rights to Greed. There's a big, big if----much depends on the speed of digital cable's expansion and what happens with high-speed internet connections. However, when those shows expire from GSN, don't pronounce the benediction. Pearson is quietly sniffing around possibilities for a run of its own in the U.S. market, much as it has successfully done with satellite game show networks overseas. GSN may be shutting the door in the next two years but, as my old friend Mary Nichols used to say, "The door swings both ways."

       POST-GAME NOTES: At last a sense of reason: Colleen Haskell has squashed all offers for in-the-buff poses after her Survivor ouster. At least there is a smidgen of integrity left....You can almost take it to the bank Les Moonves isn't going to let Mark Burnett take his Destination Mir to another network. The asking price: $30 million for the rights....We're taking a break from recaps of Supermarket Sweep, Shop 'til You Drop, Hollywood Squares, Wheel and Feud, since all are in repeats until next month....Expect PAX to do another batch of new Sweep and Shop episodes....Three new pilots either taped or commissioned this week indicate some of the busiest activity in the game show field in more than a decade. Lots of new ideas are still being pitched....LMNO's Since You've Been Gone has a tentative air date of Sept. 12 on Fox....Many, many thanks to a number of readers who are regularly keeping us tipped to news breaks and interesting newspaper stories in our genre. We can't do it without you!

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