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CBS, Lifetime bet on Whitney Houston specials

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By Lisa De Moraes
Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 9:18 p.m.

It's raining Whitney Houston memorials!

Two days after Lifetime announced that it bought a one-hour Houston special “Remembering Whitney” — and about seven months after Houston's death — CBS announced that it will air a one-hour Houston special, “We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute to Whitney Houston,” during the November sweeps.

Lifetime's special boasts never-before-seen family photos and “candid insights” from Houston family members; those same relatives are starring in Lifetime's new family reality series “The Houstons: On Our Own,” debuting days later.

Meanwhile, CBS' Houston special will feature performances by Celine Dion, Jennifer Hudson and Usher, with more names to come.

Put your money on those names belonging to music stars who have albums to sell during the holiday season.

CBS' special is being done with the Recording Academy, which owns not only the Grammy Awards, but also, arguably, the Houston “death story” — what with her having died on the eve of the Grammy Awards, while getting ready to attend the Grammys' biggest pre-ceremony bash, put on every year by record-industry mogul Clive Davis.

Houston's death, hours before the live Grammycast, turned that trophy show into a weep-fest for the pop star. Almost 40 million people tuned in to watch the music industry lay its heart at the feet of its fallen heroine — the Grammys' biggest audience in nearly three decades.

CBS' newly announced Houston special will include highlights from her career and never-before-seen footage and interviews, as well as artists sharing their memories of her.

CBS' special may look like a throwback to the days when musical specials during sweeps were standard — who can forget CBS' Jackson Five reunion special that aired during the November '01 sweeps period and that copped almost 30 million viewers?

But it's part of a trend in which networks — as they try to hang on to hot trophy shows — wind up agreeing also to buy a couple of Shoulder Shows from the academy that owns the trophy show.

The academy winds up collecting even more cash for owning a hot trophy show, and the network gets to file the expense under TV Special, instead of Trophy Show Stupid Money.

ABC, for instance, is on the hook to air “CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock” — and did so again earlier this month — as a sort of early reminder to viewers that the CMA Awards will take place during the November sweeps period. And, that you can catch it on ABC.

That network is also on the hook for a CMA Christmas special. It's all part of ABC's 10-year deal to air the Country Music Association's CMA Awards, signed last year.

CBS, for its part, has aired a Grammy nomination announcement special since 2008 as part of its arrangement to hang on to the Grammy Awards.

Shoulder Shows tend to be cooperative efforts between the network and the academy in question, and they're scheduled at a time that meets both parties' needs.

CBS' new Houston special helps the Recording Academy get into the Christmas album-plugging TV-special business.

CBS, in return, gets a November sweeps special — although it has scheduled the Houston tribute on a Friday night, suggesting that CBS does not necessarily think this one's going to be a ratings barnburner.

Lisa de Moraes is a staff writer for The Washington Post.

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