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Auld Lang sign-off? Mummers lack TV deal for New Year's Day

November 20, 2003

by Gail Shister

INQUIRER Television Columnist

With the clock ticking, it's looking less and less likely that the 2004 Mummers Parade will be televised on New Year's Day.

As of yesterday, the parade was without a contract. The Philadelphia Mummers Association met Tuesday with officials from public station WHYY (Channel 12), but odds are against finding an underwriter at this late date.

WHYY stepped in at the last moment to carry the 1992 event, with Suburban Cable and Comcast providing much of the crew and equipment. The 11-hour telecast was the highest-rated local production in WHYY history.

"It's a great broadcast for us," said Channel 12 spokesman Art Ellis. "We like to participate in events that show off the city, but we'd have to raise several hundred thousand dollars in a short time."

The station must make a decision in the next two weeks, he said.

WPHL (Channel 17), which carried the last nine parades, did not renew its deal after it expired in January.

The Mummers had several meetings with KYW (Channel 3), "but unfortunately, by the time we got down to the nitty-gritty with them, it was too difficult to do," said the station's Joanne Calabria.

Generally, stations like to plan such coverage a year ahead. KYW telecast the parade from 1987 though 1991 and from 1993 through 1994. It's open to discussing the 2005 event, Calabria said.

Historically, Mummers contracts have been difficult propositions for local stations. In the past, each of the four divisions negotiated deals separately. Also, production costs are high, particularly when the parade is postponed due to bad weather.

This time, Bill Patterson, president of the Mummers Association, represents 27 clubs in three divisions - comics, string bands and fancy clubs - that will march on Broad Street.

The Fancy Brigade Division is going after its own TV contract for its performances at the Convention Center. A representative for the division could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Ordinarily, stations sell parade commercial time to cover the estimated $200,000 production cost. Without a deal, Patterson said, the association has been trying to find sponsors itself.

That hasn't been easy.

"Most people are at the end of their budgets," he said. "They have to kick it up the corporate [chain]. It's a question of profitability for the commercial sponsors, whether they can sell enough ads to make it profitable."

The Mummers' last hope may be cable.

A parade telecast "would make sense for us," said Leslie Gross of Comcast's CN8 channel. "We're always looking for local and regional events. If the Mummers approach us, we would talk to them."