With 'Direct Access,' Big Tigger pounces on chance to put D.C. in cool spotlight

UP IN THE AIR: In addition to his new TV show on WDCW, Big Tigger is WPGC's new morning-drive host.
UP IN THE AIR: In addition to his new TV show on WDCW, Big Tigger is WPGC's new morning-drive host. (Bill O'leary - Washington Post)
By Emily Yahr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 2010

Ask anyone who has a television: There's no shortage of celebrity-obsessed, "Entertainment Tonight"-style shows out there. But according to the higher-ups at WDCW (Channel 50), Washington's CW affiliate, there's still something missing in the infotainment genre. And they want to be the ones to fill the gap.

So starting Saturday night, WDCW hopes to capture the young local market with "Direct Access With Big Tigger," a new D.C.-themed, urban entertainment show hosted by a Washington radio personality and former BET host.

"We took a look at the broadcast landscape in Washington, and there's really no show that is a: local, and b: centered around hip-hop," explains Eric Meyrowitz, WDCW's general manager. "Judging by the large audience that comes to see the hip-hop shows, and also by Tigger's popularity on the radio, we know there's an audience for it. And we want to serve that audience."

"Direct Access," which will air for a half-hour on Saturday nights at 9 and repeat at 2 a.m., in hopes of catching the crowd preparing to go out for the night, and then coming back home. It will feature the same types of hip-hop videos, celebrity interviews and gossip segments that might appear on BET or TV One, but with a super-local spin, featuring landmarks and stars who come to town.

For the premiere, Tigger and his producer, Janelle Morris -- also WDCW's publicist -- have taped segments with Russell Simmons, singer Trey Songz and R&B artist Melanie Fiona, whom Tigger interviewed backstage at Verizon Center at the Alicia Keys concert on March 25.

The station is relying heavily on the appeal of Tigger, who, in a nice coincidence, just replaced longtime personality Donnie Simpson as morning-drive host on WPGC (99.5 FM), after hosting the afternoon-drive program for three years. Tigger started in radio as an intern at WPCG in 1993, while a student at the University of Maryland, and worked at BET as host of the hip-hop program "Rap City," as well as "BET Style" and "106 & Park."

After living in New York City while with BET, Tigger moved back to the D.C. area in 2007 and wants to showcase the inherent "sexiness" of the city.

"Yes, D.C.'s the nation's capital and home of Obama, and very political. But it's kind of sexy," Tigger said, while waiting to interview Fiona (one of Keys's opening acts) at Verizon Center. "D.C.'s sexy, it's ethnically diverse, and just about every night of the week, something's going on."

WDCW bosses are banking on the connections Tigger has racked up during his many years in radio and TV -- as exemplified at the Keys concert. While walking her entourage to the stage, Keys, dressed in a sparkly black cat-suit-type costume and long red jacket, did a double take when she saw him. "Big Tigger?!" she exclaimed. The two shared a hug and chatted for a minute, before she suddenly remembered she had to perform in front of thousands of people.

Tigger is aware that the success of an all-things-local show will primarily hinge on the target audience being excited about a city in which they already live. But Tigger, who's lined up celebrity interviews for the show at WPGC, DAR Constitution Hall, Lincoln Theatre and nightclub Policy, is confident he can bring a new perspective.

"I let the viewer hang out with me in all kinds of places," he says. "Like parties, backstage . . . it's kind of just what the show's called: direct access. You're allowed to go and see the places you might not normally be. Not only are you getting access that you don't in some other shows, but it's in your own back yard."

Though the show has a hip-hop, urban entertainment focus, with everything from videos to the stars in town who will appear as guests, Tigger is quick to point out that he's aiming the show at "anyone who has a TV." Both he and WDCW execs hope future guests -- such as Doug E. Fresh, Salt-n-Pepa, Biz Markie and local talents including Wale and Raheem DeVaughn -- will have wide appeal.

Although "Direct Access With Big Tigger" is unabashedly Washington-centric, those behind it see an eventual rollout to the national market. On some level, "Direct Access" can be seen as a retro throwback -- WDCW Creative Services Director Jim Byrne compares the show to "Solid Gold," the syndicated music variety series in the 1980s, the type of program people watched to get pumped for the surely legendary night ahead before they hit the town.

But can such a format can work during a time when the television audience is more splintered than ever? And broadcast television's recent struggle for viewership has hit CW perhaps the hardest; the network is sometimes lucky if it can crack 1 million viewers during a prime-time program (most notably during recent unfortunate flops in reality TV, "High Society" and "Fly Girls").

"Our goal is to make the show successful instead of beating someone specifically," Byrne says. "We want to create some big, strong ratings and go from there."

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