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Martha Stewart sticks to kinder, gentler TV image

(Posted September 28, 2005 by Leah Yoakum)

Martha Stewart won't bare her claws and play the demanding diva on her prime-time reality show, even if ratings disappoint, as the ex-convict and lifestyle guru focuses on a benevolent image make-over to revive her company, the firm's chief executive said Wednesday.

Stewart's spin-off version of NBC reality hit "The Apprentice" premiered last week, drawing lower-than-expected ratings and criticism that Stewart should bare some claws in the on-screen boardroom.

"That would not serve the long-term interests of the company or her," Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia chief executive Susan Lyne said on Wednesday. "She's not going to play a role that doesn't fit."

Real estate mogul Donald Trump boosted his image, and NBC's advertising, with a high-handed demeanor in the original "Apprentice" contest between corporate wannabes. Stewart took a kinder approach on her show, writing a personal consolation note to the first contestant to be eliminated from her show.

Lyne said securing television appearances for Stewart in the 2005-2006 broadcast season was key to MSO's recovery, as Wall Street would not wait long for the company to regain momentum after her jail term ended in March.

"We know being on television really has an enormous halo effect on everything we do," Lyne said during an Advertising Week event in New York City. Lyne, the former head of entertainment for the ABC network, said she had hoped Stewart's reality show would expose her to a new and younger audience.

"My needs were different from NBC's needs," Lyne said. "They were disappointed by 7-plus million viewers. I think that was 7 million more viewers that were exposed to us."

Shares in MSO fell nearly 2 percent on Wednesday to $24.52 after a surge to nearly $34 in August.

Stewart agreed to the "Apprentice" spin-off in a deal that did not directly involve her company. She also appears in MSO's daily how-to show "Martha" that plays up her connection with the millions of Americans who adore her cookie baking and house-painting advice.

Stewart served a five-month federal prison term for lying about a stock trade. Advertisers had fled her television program and magazine after her legal woes came to light in 2001 and many media observers all but buried her brand.

While still in jail, Stewart cultivated a softer image than her past reputation as a harsh taskmaster, befriending inmates and dispensing tips for better prison food. Brand experts said a show of humility was key to any Stewart comeback.

The company's losses widened last quarter, but it expects an improved second half of 2005 as advertising and circulation pick up.

Lyne said MSO will sell a DVD series of Stewart's how-to advice starting in October, with the first four titles dedicated to holiday season entertaining.

The company seeks to expand its merchandising, overhaul its Internet platform and tap into new markets such as young women and men who take an interest in cooking and design. Lyne did not rule out a Martha Stewart cable channel, not unlike E.W. Scripps Co.'s successful Home & Garden Television.

Creating a cable channel has "been mentioned to us a lot," she said. "There's always room if you deliver something different."

NBC is owned by General Electric Co and ABC is a part of Walt Disney Co.

Source: Yahoo! News

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