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Changes Planned for TV's 'USA Today'

September 22, 1988|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — The critically panned "USA Today: The Television Show," which billed itself as TV of the future, is being made "a little more traditional," its executive producer said Wednesday.

But Steve Friedman said the alterations do not constitute "a change of format. . . . We're moving things around, working hard to get the stuff that works in the show and eliminate the stuff that didn't work."

The changes won't be sudden, he added in a phone interview from the show's offices in Rosslyn, Va.

"We always said it (the show) will evolve. I don't think anybody ever said the show will premiere on Sept. 12 and won't change."

He referred to the start of the half-hour, weeknight video cousin of the USA Today newspaper, whose parent company, Gannett Inc., is co-producing the show in partnership with former NBC chairman Grant Tinker under their GTG banner.

The fast-paced, graphics-filled show--syndicated to 156 stations, including KCBS-TV Channel 2 in Los Angeles--is costing $40 million to get off the ground. Its debut received near-unanimous boos from TV critics.

Many called it technologically state-of-the-art TV, but rampant with fluff, an "infotainment" effort with no info and little tainment. Time magazine's media writer, Richard Zoglin, said flatly, "We hate it."

Friedman, credited with helping NBC's "Today" show rise to dominance in the network morning ratings when he was its executive producer, was mild, at least publicly, in his reaction to such carping.

"When 'Today' was launched in 1952, it got terrible reviews and nobody said it would last," he said. "It's still here."

Discussing the changes that are planned or already in effect for his "USA Today," Friedman said the show's "overall pace didn't work": It was too brisk--"everything was a fastball."

So now, he said, the pace will be slower, the transitions from each story "not so rapid-fire," and there will be "a format that has order to it--some sections longer, some sections shorter. . . ."

Friedman denied reports that the show will be "relaunched" Oct. 3. He said that many stations carrying the show probably have been waiting until after the end of NBC's Olympics telecasts to start publicizing "USA Today" extensively, and on Oct. 3, "they'll be fully ready to launch with a promotional blitz."

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