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Cauldron Boils Over Geraldo's 'Devil Worship' : 'Satan' Wins Ratings, Loses Advertisers

October 27, 1988|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Long on efforts to shock but short on ads, Geraldo Rivera's NBC special on Satanism went to ratings heaven, national audience estimates from A.C. Nielsen Co. showed Wednesday.

"Devil Worship: Exposing Satan's Underground" won its two-hour time period Tuesday night with a 21.9 rating and a 33 share of audience--meaning it was seen in about 19.8 million homes, one-third of the number that were watching TV between 8 and 10 p.m.

However, one network source said the Rivera show may have cost NBC $500,000 in lost advertising revenue because potential sponsors either didn't want their products associated with the program or couldn't see the show in advance.

NBC declined to comment on whether "Devil Worship" lost money. But as viewed here, the telecast carried only 14 network and local commercials--two of them for the National Enquirer and three for new horror movies. To fill the empty slots, NBC aired 22 "promos" for its new and returning entertainment series.

Rivera's special, made by his Investigative Reporters Group here, had the fast-paced tabloid style of his earlier syndicated shows.

With each segment preceded by parental-discretion warnings from Rivera, the Satanism show had gruesome reports of torture, ritual murder and allegations of sexual abuse of children. One taped interview was with a man identified as a Satanist and admirer of convicted cult killer Charles Manson. Portions of a Manson interview from an earlier Rivera special also were revived for Tuesday's show. Said Manson's admirer: "We would like to see most of the human race killed off because it is unworthy of the gift of life. . . ."

An NBC spokeswoman said the network received a total of 440 calls in New York and Burbank after the telecast--311 of them complaints and the balance expressions of approval, many from parents concerned about teen-aged Satanism.

At NBC affiliate WVLA in Baton Rouge, La., the reaction was far less. There was only one call, a secretary there said--from a viewer whose home suffered a power failure as the show began. He wanted a rerun.

Rivera's program had other problems--with NBC News. Seeking publicity for the show this week, Rivera's representatives tried to book him on the news division's "Today" show. They were turned down by executive producer Marty Ryan.

"We thought the subject was inappropriate for morning television," Ryan said Wednesday.

The news division had no involvement with the special; it was bought by NBC Entertainment. NBC's broadcast of both Rivera's program and a generally well-received documentary on breast cancer earlier this month has caused concern within NBC News over the entertainment division's purchase and airing of documentaries made by outsiders.

Such programs, while reviewed by officials at NBC's recently reduced standards and practices department, are not subject to the standards and guidelines of NBC News.

Although he said he didn't see Rivera's special, NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said Wednesday that the idea of outside documentaries bought by the network's entertainment side "troubles me greatly. . . ."

"We feel very strongly about the need to protect the integrity of our product and of this network," he said in an interview. "I think that opening that kind of door to quasi-news programs cheapens the genuine news product."

Brandon Tartikoff, president of NBC Entertainment, could not be reached for comment.

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