For a fee, Howard Stern invites cable viewers to his not-so-private party

December 31, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

This probably says something about us that we don't want to know, but Howard Stern is one of the hottest New Year's Eve tickets in Baltimore and the rest of the country.

That's the advance word on the "Miss Howard Stern New Year's Eve Pageant," a pay-per-view event airing live at 11 tonight and repeating at 2 a.m. on area cable systems. The cost is $39.95.

"Advance sales for our three systems in the Baltimore area are really extraordinary," David Nevins, a spokesman for Comcast, said this week. Comcast has systems in Baltimore, Howard and Harford County with 235,000 subscribers.

The three systems had about 3,000 advance orders as of Thursday afternoon, according to Nevins.

"Based on that, we think this will be our biggest non-sporting event of the year," said Nevins. He said advance sales for pay-per-view events like this are a rarity.

"With the big prize fights, 90 percent of subscribers order on the day of event. This rivals the major heavyweight prize fights in advance sales. For Howard Stern, this is truly remarkable."

The show was reported to be doing even better elsewhere.

"The Baltimore numbers sound OK, but there are even bigger advance sales in some other parts of the country," said Kathy Duva, marketing director for Main Event, which is co-producing the program.

Duva said the hottest markets are in the 16 cities where Stern's radio show airs, with northern New Jersey leading in advance sales. The renowned shock disc jockey is also author of the best seller "Private Parts."

She declined to release specific figures, saying Main Event's contract with its 3,500 member cable systems doesn't allow it. However, she said many systems at the 100,000-subscriber-level New Jersey and New York were reporting advance sales of up to 4,000 each.

"Not surprisingly, we're doing best in those markets where Howard is on the radio every day telling people to order now," Duva said. "And that's great, because we don't have that kind of promotional push with our boxing matches.

"But it also destroys all patterns of prediction," she added. "We don't know if there will be a geometric increase on Friday night, or if more ordering is being done early because of Howard's radio efforts."

Main Event's biggest gate for an entertainment event was 270,000 subscribers, for "The New Kids on the Block" in 1990, said Duva. The biggest pay-per-view event ever was the Evander Holyfield-George Foreman boxing match, which was ordered by 1.4 million subscribers.

BAs to what viewers will be getting for their $39.95, Stern puts it this way: "It will be the ultimate Howard Stern experience -- unlike anything that anyone has ever seen before."

Continuing the hype, Stern adds, "New Year's Eve has traditionally been a dead time. People host parties and turn on the television around midnight, and everything is lame . . .. This will change this year. I guarantee that I will host the wildest New Year's Eve party of all time."

Maureen Simon, a spokesman for Main Event, was a little bit more specific. The show will be "a total send-up of beauty pageants, including big production numbers involving the 40 contestants," she said.

There will be an opening song-and-dance as well as pre-taped segments featuring Stern. In one, he plays Michael Jackson as a baby sitter of a young boy, Simon said.

"You can pretty much take it from there where this is going to go," she said. "Most of the stuff you can't even describe in your newspaper. You couldn't see this anywhere else on TV."

It appears Stern hasn't run into any problems with cable systems refusing to carry the show, according to the National Cable Television Association in Washington.

"We haven't heard of anything like that," said Lisa T. Meredith, a spokeswoman for the association. "And, frankly, I'd be surprised if there were any problems, since viewers have to actively request pay-per-view to get it to come into their homes,"

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