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Howard Stern, CBS Team Up to Challenge 'SNL' in August

April 02, 1998|JANE HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — In a sign of the changing times in broadcast television, "shock jock" Howard Stern confirmed Wednesday that he is expanding his act on television with a show for CBS-owned stations that will challenge NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

The weekly 11:30 p.m. series, billed as a TV version of his raunchy, highly rated radio show, will premiere in August on KCBS-TV Channel 2 in Los Angeles and at least 11 other stations. Other outlets may be added.

"The standards in television have gone to an all-time low, and I'm here to represent the change," Stern joked at a press conference that was carried on his radio show.

Asked how CBS, once known as the "Tiffany network," could put him on the air, Stern laughed and said, "I thought about that, but 'Tiffany' is also the name of a hooker."

Lorne Michaels, executive producer of "Saturday Night Live," could not be reached for comment. But one NBC executive said, "Our attitude is, 'Come on down.' There have been a lot of people who've tried unsuccessfully to compete with us."

Stern, whose radio show is one of the most profitable programs on the air, starred in a syndicated TV series in the early 1990s and currently has a show on cable's E! Entertainment Television. He has had discussions in the past with executives at NBC, Fox and CBS, according to his longtime agent, Don Buchwald. But always before, executives shied away from the potential controversy of putting Stern on national television.

What changed the equation this time, sources said, was the involvement of CBS executive Mel Karmazin. Karmazin--Stern's longtime boss as head of the Infinity Broadcasting radio group--sold the company to CBS last year and became not only its largest stockholder but also chairman of the CBS radio and TV stations group.

The show will be produced by Stern's production company in association with the CBS station group. It will be offered to other CBS affiliates and to affiliates of other networks.

Stern said the TV show "will include the same disgusting stuff" he puts on his radio program.

The program will be taped in Stern's New York radio studio, with some additional animated spots and other comedy bits. He will continue a similar show that is shown six nights a week on the E! cable channel.

Ben Zurier, programming vice president for the CBS stations, said that some CBS owned-and-operated outlets initially had misgivings about the series. "New York and L.A. said, 'Sign us up right away,' " he said. "Some other stations were hesitant, until they saw how well Howard's previous syndicated show had done in the ratings."

That previous late-night show ran for two years and was on 56 stations when it ended. It sometimes beat "Saturday Night Live" in some markets but reportedly had difficulty attracting advertisers because of the ribald content.

KCBS-TV Channel 2 broadcast part of Stern's news conference live on Wednesday morning, during which he promised to stock the TV program with lesbians, drunken dwarfs and "wackos from every part of life." The broadcast also included one of the comedian's fans telling him, "You are the absolute [expletive] best."

John Culliton, vice president and general manager of KCBS, said later that he had not seen the bawdy presentation but was not concerned about the adult nature of Stern's show.

"I believe there is a parallel with 'Saturday Night Live,' " Culliton said. "Both shows have adult humor. There are parts of 'Saturday Night Live' that walk a fine line. It's the type of humor that would not air at other parts of the day. That time of day allows for a wider range of topics."

Times staff writer Greg Braxton contributed to this report.

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