The Message

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 website, rather than one of its own. "We take advantage of the fact that 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.

In other words, Patrick is a proven sales machine. No wonder he fell in love with the Colorado & Co. concept after it was floated past his wife, KYGO radio personality Kelly Ford. "It's a great way to educate consumers," he maintains. In the end, Ford couldn't fit the show into her KYGO-dominated schedule, so Patrick teamed with Plante, a longtime local radio presence currently on KOSI. The perpetually exuberant Plante says she's devoted to helping clients "get their message out. With TIVO and things like that, people can zip right past commercials -- so this is a great way to get them to listen."

They'll do so, DeMack believes, because the program eschews the stylings associated with either infomercials or channels like the Home Shopping Network. "You're not going to see someone screaming at you as prices run across the screen," he says. "This isn't QVC." Instead, it more closely resembles portions of soft-news broadcasts such as Channel 9's four o'clock news. Consider that Tom Noel, a Colorado historian who's often appeared in news contexts over the years, is a Colorado & Co. regular, turning up once a week.

Amusingly enough, Noel isn't paid to be on the show -- not that he's complaining. "They've given me all kinds of leeway to pick my topics," he says. "I've been delighted with it."

Shortly after the September 13 debut of Colorado & Co., Steve Carter, Channel 9's director of marketing and promotion, who helped assemble the show, sent out a press release boasting that the show's ratings were higher than those earned by Montel, a syndicated effort that previously occupied its 10 a.m. Monday-through-Friday slot. The numbers have fluctuated since then, and are now close to the same as those Montel got, but Carter's thrilled anyhow. "Even if it's not winning its time slot, it will be the number-one most profitable show in that time period," he says, "because we're selling commercial time during the show, as well as for the segments."

Carter declines to reveal the average amount buyers pay per segment, but a knowledgeable source estimates that it's in the $2,000 range for a one-time appearance. While the September 27 show didn't sell out (a Hollywood One on One item about Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was used as filler), Plante says she's only spoken to satisfied customers. She mentions a man from a mortgage company "who got 48 calls after he was on."

Somehow, Plante resists throwing in a "YAAAY!"

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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