The Message

Company Way

Scott Patrick and Denise Plante, who co-host Colorado & Co., a daily talk program recently launched by Channel 9, were awfully upbeat about the lineup on tap for the September 27 edition.

"Direct from New York City, the editor-in-chief of every girl's bridal bible, Modern Bride magazine, is here," Plante enthused, punctuating her introduction with a "YAAAY!" that would have done Mary Tyler Moore proud.

"I like the pictures, too," Patrick noted before turning more serious. "If you rent instead of own, be warned," he said. "You could be hit with a huge bill if you don't have renters' insurance."

"And there are three little initials that will make all the difference to your kitchen-renovation project: CKD," Plante chirruped in reference to "certified kitchen designers."

Shortly thereafter, Patrick and Plante yakked with Modern Bride's Antonia van der Meer, who split her time between touting her publication and showing off pricey rings provided by Hyde Park Jewelers. Next, during an interview featuring Allstate's Michelle McRae, Plante told about how an insurance policy had come to the rescue during her high school years after an acquaintance's dog somehow "attached itself to my rear end." Then it was off to an adjacent kitchen set, where Meredith O'Connor of Kitchens at the Denver revealed that the spatial relationship between the refrigerator, the sink and the stove is known as "the triangle," and pointed out that many people now keep two trash cans in their cooking area. "That's wonderful," Plante declared.

Just as fabulous was the exposure van der Meer, McRae and O'Connor received -- but it didn't come for free. All of them paid for the privilege of appearing on Colorado & Co., a hybrid of advertising outreach and community-affairs programming that may soon spread across the country. Dreux DeMack, the show's executive producer, says Gannett Broadcasting, Channel 9's corporate parent, sees the project as "a model for other stations it owns."

The concept isn't original, and variations of it have stirred controversy. In late 2003, Editor & Publisher, a journalism trade magazine, catalogued criticism heaped upon Tampa's WFLA-TV, which charged some folks four-figure sums to appear on its morning-news show, Daytime. Likewise, E&P reported, Jackson, Mississippi's WLBT-TV took heat for inserting "paid-for informational segments" into a news program called Midday Mississippi.

With the likes of Arizona senator John McCain raising questions about this strange brew, stations interested in expanding their revenue began creating advertorial productions outside news-department parameters. That's the approach taken by Channel 9, where, DeMack stresses, "we're basically an independent show that's totally autonomous from news. We hired an entirely new staff, and we have our own office area within the station." Other than employing editing facilities that are also used by newsies, "there are no news personalities or staff involved with our show. There aren't even any news cut-ins."

The distance between Colorado & Co. and Channel 9's news wing isn't as great on the Internet; the show appears on the 9news.com website, rather than one of its own. "We take advantage of the fact that 9news.com is generally in the top five in unique hits in the country," DeMack says. "It's hard to imagine letting go of that identification. But we don't anticipate any confusion."

Maybe not -- but there are plenty of other opportunities for perplexity. At each program's conclusion, taped bits reveal the identity of firms that, for example, put clothes on the backs of Plante and Patrick, but there's no graphic divulging who paid for what during the show itself -- and not everyone is ponying up. Also spotlighted on September 27 were representatives of the Denver Dumb Friends League, the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association and a group sponsoring "The Walk to D'Feet ALS," and DeMack confirms that none of them exchanged cash for airtime. In contrast, both Modern Bride and Hyde Park Jewelers put lucre toward their part of the episode in what DeMack characterizes as "a co-op deal." Yet no graphic defining the difference between such arrangements appears on Colorado & Co., and DeMack doesn't think one is necessary.

"A news show would have to do something like that if they had a paying client on, but we're not news," he says. "We're an independently produced show within the station, and it's up to the viewer to interpret what kind of magazine show it is, based on how we're producing it."

Figuring out these distinctions requires some sophistication, because Colorado & Co. is as slickly presented as it is subtly insidious. The topics may be a little more mundane than those on, say, Live With Regis and Kelly, but both shows are populated by people pimping themselves or their products with the assistance of hosts whose sole mission is to make the pitch seem diverting.

Patrick has all the skills needed to achieve this goal. He was trained as a hard-news reporter, but after covering a triple hatchet murder in Kentucky, he decided to change his focus to lighter fare. During the late '80s and early '90s, he worked as an entertainment reporter at Channel 9, where he created Hollywood One on One, a promotional vehicle for major-studio films. He subsequently began syndicating the show himself, and although he's just ended a decade-long association with STARZ!, One on One is still being screened in 118 countries.

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