And Now, The Bill Clinton Show?

THe copy goes here. AP

There are disputes about how serious the talks are, but associates of former President Bill Clinton say CBS is talking to his people about a daily afternoon talk show, according to published reports.

According to The New York Times, his friends on the West Coast believe a deal is possible. Friends on the East Coast say it's unlikely Mr. Clinton would commit himself to a daily show.

The Times story cited unnamed CBS executives as saying the talks are preliminary and that a number of hurdles remain, including money. However, those same executives, plus others at NBC, say he has said that under the right circumstances, he would be interested in hosting such a show.

A CBS spokesman had no comment on the matter.

NBC's talks collapsed in May, leading to the talks with CBS, the newspaper said.

During the flurry of similar rumors in May, the former president said that he did not think he would ever host his own show. And an East Coast friend says Mr. Clinton has a habit of saying something sounds interesting without really committing himself.

The salary, if the deal happens, is reported to be between $30 million and $50 million a year, the highest fee ever paid to a first-time talk show host.

Another report, in Variety, said that syndication powerhouse King World is also talking to Mr. Clinton about a talk show. CBS' owned-and-operated stations would air the daytime strip, while King World would syndicate the project in other markets.

"We have no immediate plans to make any media deals," said Mr. Clinton's Washington attorney, Robert Barnett.

However, in order for the show to be ready for launch in the fall of 2003, Mr. Clinton would have to make a final decision within the next month.

However, one NBC negotiator said he believed the ex-president's interest was sincere.

The network impetus for a Clinton talk show seems to rest with Dennis Swanson, until this summer head of NBC's flagship television station in New York, WNBC. In July, he left NBC to head CBS' television station group, and is now championing the idea there.

As head of ABC's Chicago outlet WLS in the mid-1980s, Swanson gave Oprah Winfrey her talk show break. Winfrey's show is syndicated by King World.

Another stumbling block, however, would be what type of show Mr. Clinton would host: Public affairs or lighter topics, such as celebrity interviews and other daytime-television fare.

"What they were talking about was a talk show but a weird talk show," said an NBC executive involved in the talks earlier this year. "They wanted a public affairs show, but there might be a band."

But the executives agree Mr. Clinton might make an intriguing, perhaps extraordinary, talk show host.

During his presidency and afterwards, Mr. Clinton would sometimes hold town hall meetings, including several on MTV (like CBS and CBSNews.com, owned by Viacom), where he would move around the audience with a hand-held microphone, similar to the patriarch of daytime talk shows, Phil Donahue.

"In between playing the sax or singing with Carly Simon or whatever he's going to do, maybe he could do some great things."

The biggest question NBC executives had was whether a show with such a high salary for its host would ever recoup its costs. At the time, the Clinton side was demanding a guarantee of $100 million for two years.
  • Lloyd Vries

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