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Martha Stewart inks TV deal
MSO stock jumps on plans for a daytime home entertainment talk show, due next fall.
December 8, 2004: 8:59 PM EST
By Krysten Crawford, CNN/Money staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Three months ago Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia hired star TV producer Mark Burnett and charged him with two tasks: to revive a homemaking show featuring Stewart that had been canceled, and to develop a prime time program starring the queen of domesticity.

Burnett, the brains behind recent hits like "The Apprentice" and "Survivor," came through with half his mandate Wednesday.

Martha Stewart Living announced that a one-hour daily syndicated TV show will be broadcast on NBC starting next fall. The show will be taped live with a studio audience and will focus on consumer lifestyles.

In hosting a daytime talk show, Stewart will enter a market that's tough to crack. Just ask Jane Pauley, whose nascent show is struggling to gain viewers.

There was no word on the status of Burnett's efforts to bring Stewart to prime time, a taller order given the far-bigger audiences that evening television draws.

Investors nonetheless cheered the news of a daytime show.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (up $1.55 to $24.43, Research) stock jumped in New York Stock Exchange trading Wednesday, adding nearly 7 percent from the prior day's close.

"I've always been fascinated by Martha Stewart," said Burnett, who said he first worked with her on the "Today" show 15 years ago. "She has great style, great substance and she is actually very, very funny."

Burnett promised a show that is "vibrant, engaging, entertaining."

Celebrity guests will help Stewart discuss new cooking and entertaining ideas. The format is similar to the "Martha Stewart Living" daily syndicated show that went on hiatus earlier this year, with a key exception: Stewart will interact with the audience.

Noticeably absent from the news conference held at MSO's contemporary Manhattan digs was the lifestyle maven herself.

Stewart, 63, is locked up in a minimum-security prison in West Virginia, serving a five-month sentence for lying and obstructing a government investigation into some 2001 personal stock sales.

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Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group, comments on TV opportunities with Martha Stewart.

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Susan Lyne, president and CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, talks about TV role in the growth of the company.

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Mark Burnett talks about the show and how it all began.

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The only visible sign of Stewart at the news conference was a giant backdrop featuring a photo of a smiling Stewart doing what she does so well: cooking.

Susan Lyne, the 25-year television industry veteran who just took over as CEO of Martha Stewart Living, said Stewart was aware of the TV deal and "very pleased."

Both Lyne and Burnett, however, took pains to emphasize that Stewart has not been involved in the show's development while in prison.

Stewart is forbidden from working on company business while she is behind bars and could be disciplined if she does. (Separately, Stewart is in trouble with tax authorities in Connecticut for missing a property tax payment; for more on that, click here).

At Wednesday's news conference, Burnett said he began talking with Stewart about reviving her TV show in May, about the same time that "Martha Stewart Living" was put on hiatus because of her conviction.

In September, MSO announced that it had hired Burnett. Burnett said he has since visited Stewart at her Alderson, W. Va., prison, also known as "Camp Cupcake."

"This deal was done by the company," said Lyne. "She is aware of it now and I think she is very pleased, but she had nothing to do with" the NBC deal.

Because the show is live, taping will not start until next September, Lyne said. Stewart, however, will be able to work on it once she is released from prison in March. While Stewart must then spend five months in home detention, she is allowed to spend a limited amount of time working during her confinement.

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Turning a daytime talk show into a ratings bonanza will be difficult. The history of daytime talk shows is riddled with failed launches and she'll face some stiff competition from those who have not only survived, but also thrived.

Rivals include Oprah Winfrey, Ellen Degeneres, and Dr. Phil McGraw.

But Burnett said he is confident that Stewart will be a huge success, not just because of her personality but also because her story is one of redemption.

"America loves comeback stories," he said.  Top of page

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