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Magic Will Host New Kind of Showtime

Television: Sources say the former Laker will also executive-produce the syndicated late-night talk-variety series, expected to arrive next year.

March 05, 1997|BRIAN LOWRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With his basketball career again behind him, Earvin "Magic" Johnson appears to be looking for a new title to win: king of late night.

Sources at Fox's TV syndication arm, Twentieth Television, have confirmed a report in Daily Variety that the former Los Angeles Lakers star has agreed to host and executive-produce a new late-night talk-variety series.

Details of the program remain sketchy, other than that Johnson will host the show and produce with his longtime agent, Lon Rosen. The program would not premiere before next January and possibly later in 1998.

Because terms are still being finalized, a formal announcement isn't expected until next week. Fox declined comment, and Rosen couldn't be reached.

Fox officials believe Johnson will have a unique ability to attract celebrities from various fields, including sports, film and music. The project underscores a desire to reach a younger urban audience that's largely been disenfranchised since Arsenio Hall's syndicated late-night show went off the air in 1994.

Two other syndicated projects aimed at that market are already in the works: "Vibe," an entertainment-talk show from producer Quincy Jones' company, hosted by comic Chris Spencer; and "The John Salley Show," featuring a lesser-known NBA alumnus, which will premiere as a weekly series in June.

The Salley show, from Disney's syndication division, will air on Fox-owned TV stations, clouding the studio's goal of expanding next year from once a week to Monday through Friday--seemingly in conflict with the Johnson project.

"We are moving ahead as planned," a Disney spokeswoman said.

"Vibe" will premiere this summer and has already been sold to stations reaching more than 80% of the United States, including KCOP-TV Channel 13 locally.

At this point Johnson's show would be syndicated--that is, sold directly to stations, as opposed to airing on the Fox network; however, Fox doesn't currently offer network programming in late night, having scrubbed plans to introduce a late-night soap opera in January.

The Fox-owned TV stations--including KTTV-TV Channel 11 in Los Angeles--blanket more than 35% of all U.S. homes, giving the Johnson project a leg up in reaching a national audience.

Perhaps foremost, a Johnson talk show would demonstrate the increasing flow between entertainment and sports, especially pro basketball. The Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan recently made his movie debut in "Space Jam," while teammate Dennis Rodman has his own MTV series. Laker Shaquille O'Neal's films include "Blue Chips," "Kazaam" and the upcoming "Steel."

The seeds of the Johnson talk show were apparently planted some time ago, when he hosted a prime-time interview special that aired on Fox in 1994. Recently, Johnson signed a deal to develop movies through Fox's family films division.

In between, however, Johnson has at various times played for, coached and retired from the Lakers. His business ventures include the Magic Johnson Theatres.

Johnson, who revealed that he is HIV-positive in 1991, ended his second comeback stint with the Lakers last May.

Late-night television is a crowded arena, with ABC recently adding "Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher," which is doing reasonably well in major cities following "Nightline." In addition, stations are often reluctant to schedule original programs because they can usually make more money by airing reruns of such shows as "Cheers" and "Seinfeld."

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