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Martha, From Slammer to Syndication

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page C01

Jeff Zucker, president of NBC Universal Television Group, announced yesterday that reality TV impresario Mark Burnett will create for the company "the most exciting offering to come along in daytime television" -- development of which will get underway just as soon as the star gets out of the slammer.

Jailed nesting diva Martha Stewart will host a one-hour daily syndicated daytime show for the General Electric division, debuting next fall and featuring a live studio audience and celebrity guests.

Jeff Zucker, left, Susan Lyne and producer Mark Burnett are happy to bring you Martha Stewart's reality show -- after she serves out her sentence. (Frank Franklin Ii -- AP)

_____Martha Stewart Coverage_____
Domestic Diva to Spend Thanksgiving Inside (The Washington Post, Nov 24, 2004)
Stewart Wants Firm to Help Pay Lawyers (The Washington Post, Nov 10, 2004)
Stewart Adjusts With Chef's Touch (The Washington Post, Oct 22, 2004)
Complete Trial Background

"Millions of people feel Martha got a raw deal," Burnett said at a news conference at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's Manhattan headquarters.

"I cannot wait until she comes out of jail and we can work together," added Burnett, who is best known for his Thursday reality series "Survivor" on CBS and NBC's "The Apprentice."

Stewart, founder and former CEO and chairman of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, began serving a five-month term at a federal prison in October, after being convicted of lying to government investigators about her 2001 sale of ImClone Systems Inc. stock. She is scheduled to be released from "Camp Cupcake" in Alderson, W.Va., in March.

Stewart is not allowed to do business while doing time; executives onstage at yesterday's news conference, including Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's new CEO, Susan Lyne, stressed that the deal was sealed without Stewart's involvement. Burnett said he and Zucker met with Stewart last spring about working together.

"Before Martha left for West Virginia, we promised her we would find the parties who would accomplish this," Lyne said, adding that Stewart is "very pleased."

Lyne said she has no reservations about making the announcement with Stewart still in the pokey. "This is a forgiving country; people love redemption stories," she said. Stewart went to jail vowing to learn something new every day she was there, Lyne said, and "knowing her, I am convinced that much of it will end up in the show."

The still-untitled show won't begin taping until September because after her release Stewart still has to serve five months' house confinement with an ankle bracelet, and the show will be shot in front of a live studio audience.

The 14 NBC-owned TV stations, including Washington's WRC, have signed on to air the program.

Stewart's previous syndicated daytime show, "Martha Stewart Living," was yanked off Viacom-owned CBS and UPN stations when she was convicted in March; not long thereafter, production stopped on the 11-year-old show, which now runs on the Style Network.

Last May, when Burnett met with Stewart, they also discussed developing a prime-time series, according to trade paper accounts at that time. But yesterday Burnett and Zucker dodged questions as to whether they are discussing a prime-time role on NBC for Stewart, including the possibility that she would replace Donald Trump on NBC's Thursday tent-pole, "The Apprentice," the Associated Press reported.

Ironically, CBS -- which used to feature Stewart on "The Early Show" until that one fabulous broadcast in June '02 when anchor Jane Clayson grilled Martha about her legal problems while Martha hacked a cabbage to shreds with a large kitchen knife -- announced this week that when it rests "Survivor" on Thursday nights in January, it will fill the slot with a new reality series in which a dozen Martha Stewart wannabes compete to become "the country's new authority on at-home living." The name of the show is "Wickedly Perfect."

ABC's plan to have Dick Clark headline its New Year's Eve programming for the 33rd consecutive year may be subject to change after Clark suffered a stroke.

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