If you like "Entertainment Tonight," you should love "Preview." Indeed, the program, airing at noon weekdays and at 2 Saturdays on WRC, could be called "Entertainment This Afternoon."
There are differences between the shows, of course, though not many. But for the moment, the big difference in the programs, which are the brainchild of the same man, are the ratings: "ET's" are good, "Preview's" are not.
"It's off to a slow start across the country," said Allan Horlick, WRC vice president and general manager. "But I believe in Al Masini and those people. They put a lot of money into it and it's looking better every week."
The show, subtitled "The Best of the New," aims to give viewers a look ahead at what's new -- everything from the next Madonna outing to breakthroughs in consumer-oriented technology.
"We're much broader in appeal than 'ET,'" said Masini. "They deal with entertainment. We deal with fashion, medical breakthroughs. We are only talking about new things coming out in the future. Our overlap is probably no more than 20 percent."
Masini, the show's executive producer, is also president and chief executive officer of TeleRep, Inc., and has been responsible for syndicated hits from "Solid Gold" to "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," "Star Search" and "ET."
That program, now a decade old, was the first to use satellite delivery, producing a show as up to date as the evening news. "We put in 100 earth stations at the time for that show," Masini recalled. "Network affiliates were connected to their networks by land lines at the time, and no one had earth stations. We ended up financing 100 of those things. That was a great decision, looking back. At the time, we said if the show didn't work, we'd go down in history as fostering the earth station."
The same technology is used in producing and distributing "Preview." But here the guiding idea, Masini said, is to sift through the multitude of choices presented to an audience of entertainment and information consumers confronted by a zillion channels on cable television and a dozen screens down at the movieplex.
"The one thing that struck me was that fractionalization was all around us," he said. "What was missing was a guide to all the alternatives. Things are hitting us from all directions. Is there one place you can go for 30 minutes and find all the things that will affect my life? That's the premise. We do it in movies, TV, music, living, fashion, breakthroughs, plus celebrity news."
So, a typical recent show fills us in on the latest on Janet Jackson -- she's on a vegetarian diet that's caused her to lose 20 pounds and collapse on stage twice; the exchange of comments between Marge Simpson and Barbara Bush; Tim Robbins' movie, "Jacob's Ladder"; Anne Klein's spring line; magazines being launched into the headwinds of a sagging economy; a Michael Jordan Nintendo-based game; and a piece on Digital Cable Radio, which brings digital sound to homes via cable.
All of this information is doled out by "Preview's" host, Chuck Henry, who also deals with the show's Breakthrus and Fast Facts departments. Robin Leach handles the Living features; Dana Hersey handles movies; Grammy-winner Marilyn McCoo, of course, handles music; Paula McClure deals with television; Rona Elliot, former celeb correspondent for "Today," handles celebs for "Preview"; Bobbie Brown, herself a model, handles fashion.
The show's medical-technical breakthroughs tend to be on the light side -- you won't see promising AIDS cures reported here. But, said Masini, there are some funny things happening out there: "There are 88,000 new inventions every year. We don't want to deal with every obscure little thing, but we want to deal with those things that will effect your life in coming months. For instance, there's a Lawn Ranger, a completely automated machine that cuts the grass by itself."
And while you're waiting for that to show up at Hechinger's, you can enjoy news of the Avon lady going to China and MacDonalds testing pizza.
"Preview" was launched on about 90 stations. Masini prefers prime-time access -- just before prime time -- but the show can be found at all times of day and night over 75 percent of the country.
His dream would be to have it paired with "ET" between 7 and 8 p.m. "But I think 'Preview' is broad enough to work in any day part," he said. "It's so competitive today that if you can't work in all day parts, you can't get in. I prefer to get on and then upgrade to the best alternatives, access being the ultimate goal."
In the long run, he feels the appeal of the show will be universal. "When you go to a cocktail party, what do you say? 'What's new?' ... Give me 30 minutes a day and I can show you the future."