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Tv's Crystal Gazer Has Eye For Losers

September 09, 1985|MORGAN GENDEL | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — A year ago, while other media buyers were eyeing CBS' "Falcon Crest" Fridays at 10 p.m., Paul Schulman insistently championed NBC's "Miami Vice" on behalf of his clients, advertisers who spend a total of $150 million a year on network TV commercial time. The show went on to become a hit for NBC, emulated this year by at least two new series.

Schulman currently is touting "The Golden Girls," a sitcom about three middle-aged roomies--also set in Miami and also from NBC--as the only sure-fire hit of the fall season. And "Miami Vice," he predicts, will outdraw "Falcon Crest."

"By the way, we're the only agency that says that," Schulman said with a grin.

It's not so much that he's crazy about Miami. The setting of his two favorite series is pure coincidence.

But it won't be a coincidence if Schulman's prognostications come true--including his forecast that NBC will overtake CBS to become No. 1 in the ratings for 1985-86.

Schulman is president of the Paul Schulman Co., a division of Advanswers Media Programming, and his single most important task is to pick each TV season's hits and misses well in advance of their fall starts. He claims a "79% success rate in picking programs" over the last 1 1/2 decades, noting matter-of-factly that "the networks are not anywhere near that.

"We can tell you what won't work. We can also tell you what will work. To sit down and say 'Golden Girls' is the only one of the 20 new programs for next season that's gonna be a hit--you're not gonna get too many agencies that will say that."

Because he was the first to finger "Miami Vice," Schulman said, he was able to buy clients such as Ralston-Purina and Firestone Tire and Rubber a year's worth of 30-second spots in that show for less than $40,000 per spot. They're still running at that rate, even though more recent buyers are paying as much as $170,000.

He has little use for the scientific surveying and testing he said the networks employ in creating their prime-time schedules. Instead, he relies on his gut feelings, his evaluation of competing shows' relative performance and information gleaned from meetings with producers and programmers. And of course, there's his knowledge of viewing habits, honed over his 24 years in the business.

He also employs his own somewhat unscientific sampling: "I have some friends and neighbors whom I bring over to look at pilots," he explained. "The first year or two I let people see pilots, I totally discount their opinion because of the fact that it's such a big deal for them to see something that hasn't been on yet. So I let them see it, but they don't count in my sample."

Schulman said he showed "Golden Girls" to "about 20 different families--58, 60 people. Everybody, every age from 6 to 73, has loved it." The show would seem to skew toward an older audience--Bea Arthur, Betty White and Rue McClanahan star as two widows and a divorcee in their "golden years." But Schulman is convinced the show will attract a young audience as well, because "kids will love Estelle Getty" as Arthur's wildly outspoken mother.

Some other prescient observations:

--Don't expect much from two new attempts at family sitcoms a la NBC's "The Cosby Show." "Growing Pains" (ABC, Tuesday at 8:30) is "pathetic . . . simply proof (why) Alan Thicke couldn't work in syndication and now it will show he can't work on the network." "Charlie & Company" (CBS, Wednesday at 9 p.m.) "is on the air simply to prove that Gladys Knight and Flip Wilson didn't age well. Six weeks and then it's out."

--Pencil in a dismal forecast for clones of NBC's "Miami Vice" too. Schulman described as "dreadful" the pilot of "Hollywood Beat" (ABC, Saturday, 8 p.m.), about two undercover cops assigned to Hollywood Boulevard. He gave slightly higher marks to "The Insiders" (ABC, Wednesday, 8 p.m.), about a free-lance investigative journalist and his ex-con pal. "Both prove how hard it is to do 'Miami Vice.' The money's there; it just doesn't look like it. It's a bad, bad copy."

--Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories" (NBC, Sunday at 8 p.m.) may not live up to expectations, in part because the heavyweight behind-the-scenes talent has little appeal for "the people with the 12-inch black-and-white sets." Another problem is the limited promotability due to Spielberg's resistance to advance previews. "Every week you promote the same two words, 'Steven' and 'Spielberg,' and I'm afraid that makes it second in the time period, not first."

--"The Colbys" (ABC, Thursday at 9 p.m.), the "Dynasty" spinoff due to start later in the season, likewise "is not a sure-fire hit." Schulman cites its competition from "Simon & Simon" on CBS and "Cheers" and "Night Court" on NBC. "I bought 'Colbys' for the first two nights because I figured there will be a lot of cross-pollination with 'Dynasty,' but after that, I don't want it."

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