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Everything coming up roses in Pasadena

Rose Parade ready for its close up after a major makeover
/ Source: The Associated Press

In the land of perennial youth and movie star beauty, most centenarians just can't compete.

That's why the Rose Parade is getting a major makeover — for the first time in 117 years.

With CBS having quietly decided after 45 years to drop its coverage, parade organizers, hoping to keep TV viewers and the remaining broadcasting outlets happy, have ratcheted up the rolling flowerfest's entertainment quotient.

So, the annual Tournament of Roses on Monday — a day later than usual because of a "never on Sunday" policy — will kick off with a splashy performance by Grammy-winning singer LeAnn Rimes — complete with dancers and aerial performers.

The extravaganza will be jazzed up further by mid-parade performances — yes, the whole parade will roll to a pause — by singer Toni Braxton and magician Lance Burton.

The fans along the parade route, however, aren't likely to see the entertaining new additions, which have been designed primarily for the TV audience.

"We look at it as we're putting on a parade for television," said Caryn Eaves, spokeswoman for the Tournament of Roses Association. "There are a million people on the parade route every year. Really, we don't need any more."

Rose Parade needs TV
What the parade does need is television exposure. Broadcast coverage is a longtime tradition and a means of massive international outreach, said Bill Flinn, chief operating officer of the Tournament of Roses Association.

"TV is the way of taking this small-town festival in California and sharing it with the world," he said, noting the "tremendous marketing opportunities" associated with the parade, which, even without CBS' participation, will be broadcast to 120 countries. In the U.S., where it will be seen on ABC, NBC and a slew of other outlets, it is expected to be viewed in some part by about 50 million viewers.

"These are all audiences that companies want to reach (by joining the parade), and reach in a festive manner like this," Flinn said.

When companies such as Ivory and American Honda pay $6,250 to enter their flower-covered creations in the annual procession, they're guaranteed worldwide exposure.

Not that CBS' absence won't be felt.

Wayne Curley, a technician who has coordinated television transmission of the Rose Parade for 25 years, said the CBS pullout is the "biggest change" he's seen in his time with the parade.

As other outlets came and went, "you could just about count on CBS" to provide coverage, he said.

Declining viewership"This was strictly a business decision," said CBS spokesman Chris Ender. "With so many outlets covering it, we weren't giving the viewers anything unique."

The network's ratings for Rose Parade programming have steadily declined since 1988. Instead of showing the parade on Jan. 2, CBS will air its regular morning news program, "The Early Show," followed by "a soap opera or 'The Price is Right,' depending on the market," Ender said.

Still, there'll be no shortage of cameras along the parade route. Despite the declining ratings, nine cable and network channels will offer live parade coverage, starting at 11 a.m. EST.

"The (ratings) numbers have gone down, primarily because the number of outlets covering it have increased," said Curt Sharp, NBC's vice president of alternative programs and specials. "It will be interesting to see if having fewer broadcasters in the space increases our rating." NBC has televised the parade annually since 1954.

The tournament does not charge TV outlets for the right to televise the event, but each pays a fee to a local property owner for camera positions.

Tournament of Roses president Libby Evans Wright insists that plans to include entertainment elements in the 2006 parade were in place before CBS opted out. The additions were based on years of market research that found viewers wanting more entertainment from the petal-pumped procession, Wright said.

"When you're looking at yourself as a brand or a product or a business, you always want to keep renewing yourself," she said. "You want to keep yourself vibrant and interesting to your market."

Spectators don't care about celebrities
The parade's new opening and other featured performances will be held at the intersection of Orange Grove and Colorado boulevards, known as "TV corner," Wright said. Fans situated there can behold the performances live. Others will have to catch them on TV.

Parade regulars don't seem to mind. Star power isn't what brings them to the event.

"People come to see it live so they can smell the flowers," said annual attendee Harvey Carey, 56. "It's the sense of being here; that's the attraction of the Rose Parade."

Albert Lee, who works at a restaurant along the parade route, said sidewalk watchers are "hardcore fans" who focus on the floats.

"I don't think they care if they see celebrities," he said. "They're here for the free show."

It's still smart for the Tournament of Roses to freshen up the festivities with made-for-TV elements, said NBC's Sharp.

"They need to continue to make it entertaining and relevant to today's audiences," he said.

The Tournament plans to explore Internet and telephone broadcast opportunities in the future, Flinn said.

Cheryl Cecchetto, producer of this year’s Academy Awards Governors Ball and other Hollywood events, is behind the two-and-a-half minute opening. She was invited to “give the parade a kick-start and take it to a new level,” she said.

"The parade is always fantastic," she said. "But jewels on any outfit always add."

The jewels might need an umbrella, however. On Wednesday, weather forecasters predicted a 50 percent chance of precipitation Monday. If they’re correct, it could mean the first rain on the parade in 51 years. No matter: Rain or shine, the parade will go on, Tournament of Roses officials said.