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Hollywood Analysis: Industry mumbo jumbo?

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES, April 15 (UPI) -- Current trends in the entertainment business provide evidence to support the notion that everything old is new again.

TV programming executives have been hanging their hat on something called "repurposing" -- rerunning programs on other outlets after they have had their first run on the network. The technique is intended to squeeze properties for maximum profit, but it is having an uneven success rate.

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NBC has used repurposing to come up with hundreds of hours of programming for its cable news operations by repackaging interviews from "The Today Show," for example, and running them in extended form as the centerpieces of hour-long shows that provide "in-depth" reports on celebrities.

But repurposing does not always meet the fondest expectations of the TV brass.

Viacom recently had an unpleasant experience with the repurposing of "Amazing Race," a reality-based game show in which teams of contestants chase around the world after a big cash prize. After its first run on Viacom's premier TV network, CBS, the show was presented again on the company's smaller network, UPN.

Programmers pulled the plug on the project after they noticed that hardly anybody was watching the show on UPN. Besides that, network analysts concluded that repurposing was harmful to the show's first-run performance, because viewers felt free to miss the show on CBS, knowing they could catch it later on UPN.

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Not everyone in Hollywood is sold on the notion that repurposing represents some big step forward in programming history.

"I call it rerunning," said former "Happy Days" star Henry Winkler. "What a bunch of ... that's funny. Well, you know, they have so many mouths to feed. The network, and a second channel. It's an inexpensive way to create programming."

Kelsey Grammer, the Emmy-winning star of "Frasier" and "Cheers," has a similar take on repurposing.

"It's industry mumbo jumbo," said Grammer. "The purpose of anything in TV is to make money."

Linda Hope -- the daughter of legendary comedian Bob Hope -- is an expert on repurposing, having overseen the production of TV specials based on reworking her dad's best-known TV appearances. She said the term "repurposing" is just "a temporary rephrasing" for an idea that's been around for a long time.

"When I was a kid I got a new car and I was thrilled with it," said Hope. "Now my son has a 'previously owned vehicle.' So there's a lot of creation of new words to cover old ideas."

Hope and Grammer are working together on a special for NBC, featuring funny outtakes from past Bob Hope TV projects. The show will run during April as part of the network's 75th anniversary celebration -- which will also feature reunion shows from such past NBC hits as "L.A. Law" and "The Bill Cosby Show."

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Networks are discovering that there is gold in their vaults. For now, at least, they seem to be giving a rest to the long-dominant theory that youth above all must be served in all programming decisions -- even when it comes to news programming.

Ted Koppel, Louis Rukeyser and Phil Donahue seem to be benefiting from television's newfound regard for elders.

Koppel has a new deal at "Nightline" after ABC mangled its attempt to replace him with comedian David Letterman.

Rukeyser has a new home at CNBC, landing in clover after PBS's decision to put him out to pasture after 32 years as host of "Wall Street Week" and retool the show to appeal to younger investors.

Donahue is bringing his gray head back to TV with a new show on MSNBC. Of course, Donahue's hair was already gray back when he was pioneering the daytime TV talk-show format that still serves as the model for most of the successful shows that followed.

The new reliance on old programming seems to be related to, as much as anything else, the increasing tendency of networks to give the quick hook to new shows that fail to become instant hits. Winkler said that if networks would give new shows more time to "find the best parts of themselves" they wouldn't have to create so many new shows to replace the ones they cancel.

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"A show needs to be massaged," said Winkler. "It needs to find what works and what doesn't, and you can't know that in two episodes.

"'Family Ties,' 'Cheers,' 'Happy Days' -- none of them would have made the cut in the current climate."

Even halfway decent ratings were not enough to save the critically acclaimed "Once and Again" from getting the ax at ABC, but some new series are finding their footing and seem headed for decent runs. "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Gilmore Girls" come to mind.

Whether repurposing is a new idea, or just a new word for an old practice, there is no doubt that TV has thrived on recycling old material since its earliest days. Most of the medium's greatest pioneers came to TV with prior experience in movies, radio, theater and vaudeville.

Even "I Love Lucy" -- one of the greatest shows in the history of the medium -- was a TV version of Lucille Ball's radio show, "My Favorite Wife." To this day, viewers around the world still enjoy the show -- more than 40 years after it concluded its first run on CBS.

That's some serious repurposing.

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