The inauguration of Bill Clinton and Al Gore is getting the presidential treatment on television.
In what is being called an unprecedented agreement, CBS, HBO and the Disney Channel are working directly with the Presidential Inaugural Committee to produce major entertainment events during the days leading up to the swearing in of the new President and vice president next Wednesday.
Disney is overseeing two youth-oriented specials, HBO has purchased the rights to broadcast a star-studded celebration and CBS has sold a two-hour block of time to the committee, which will in turn sell advertising time for the broadcast of the Presidential Gala on Tuesday.
The deal should turn out to be a "win-win" situation for the networks and the inaugural committee. The selling of the rights and the advertising time will help the committee defray the more-than-$20-million cost of the event, and the networks are hopeful that large audiences will tune in to see a who's who of the entertainment industry, many of whom do not ordinarily perform on television.
In addition, both Disney and HBO are seeking to expand their audiences. Disney has asked cable operators to unscramble the signal for the pay-TV channel's two specials, "The Presidential Inaugural Celebration for Children" and "The Presidential Inaugural Celebration for Youth," both airing Tuesday, which would make the programs available to 60 million households.
HBO also is in "serious discussions" about unscrambling its signal Sunday for "An American Reunion: The People's Inaugural Celebration" from the Lincoln Memorial.
The producing and broadcasting of the events, inaugural officials said, is in keeping with the Clinton philosophy of making the various celebrations as accessible and open to the general public as possible. Said one executive: "The public overwhelmingly brought in this Administration. Excluding them from this event and keeping it private would be a crime."
Richard Mintz, communications director for the committee, said that the telecasting of the events would make it "the most open, accessible and free inaugural in history. There's an unprecedented number of free and public events."
The committee contacted the Disney Channel about becoming involved in the event. "We didn't pay the committee anything; we're just overseeing the production," said Disney Channel President John Cooke, who declined to disclose the budgets for the two one-hour shows. They will originate from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington and will feature Clinton, Gore and other celebrities.
Betty Bitterman, vice president of original programming for HBO, said it was "very expensive" to purchase the rights for its special. The celebration is being co-produced by Quincy Jones, who contacted the pay-TV network about broadcasting the event.
"The idea is to have as many people see it as possible," Bitterman said about the HBO special, which will include performances by Ray Charles, Michael Bolton and Aretha Franklin.
Mintz said the inaugural committee paid CBS about $1 million for the two hours to broadcast the gala Tuesday, and noted that the advertising time "is almost all sold out." The show, originating from the Capital Centre, will feature Barbra Streisand, Fleetwood Mac and many others.