New Shows Playing Confab In Lower Key

There will be the usual hype and hoopla at NATPE, but in a lower key this year. That’s because so many of last year’s firstrun newcomers failed to unseat or emulate the performance of established hits, and because the worsening economy is making everyone – syndicators and stations alike – lower their expectations and go for low-risk options.

Nonetheless, no one in syndication, barring bankruptcy, ever really gives up the good fight. Talkshows are back with a vengeance; animation is thriving despite ever-rising production costs; and both hard-edged and soft-in-the-center magazine shows are targeting dayparts which supposedly have holes.

That’s not all. Old-fashioned slapstick comedy returns with King World’s “Candid Camera.” Romance makes a comeback of sorts in Warners’ “Love Stories,” and even new age science makes its debut in MCA’s “Report From The Unknown.”

Smaller syndicators are banking on a number of offbeat weekly projects to tide them over, and off-network sitcoms, buoyed by the unexpected success of “Golden Girls” this season, are banking on their tried-and-true track records.

Most stations, still smarting from firstrun fiascoes with games and magazines this past fall and cutting costs as a precaution against a long recession, have already put out the word: no unwarranted risks. That’s partly why several talk and magazine shows are being offered as all-barter vehicles.

While some stations and syndicators argue that barter rather than cash is the wisest strategy in a depressed market, others say the mathematics just won’t work. They claim that the shortfall in advertising dollars will not cover production and marketing costs and thus could tempt producers to skimp on the shows’ budgets.

Rep firms, which will be holding their annual presentations to client stations at NATPE, are expected to blast so-called “advertiser-friendly, viewer-dull” programming on offer this time around.

Even King World CEO Roger King went out on a public limb at the INTV convention 10 days ago, when he predicted another first-run debacle: “What happened to the new game shows this year will happen to the talk shows proposed for next season,” he warned. (His company has nixed plans to launch a new talk vehicle with Tim and Daphne Reid into syndication and will take it to cable.)

So far in fact there’s been more talk about the so-called creative dealmaking going on to get an edge over competitors in ’91 than about any really creative productions. Stations lament that there hasn’t been a real breakout hit in syndication since “Current Affair” three years ago; many say they await the next “Star Trek” but see nothing on the horizon remotely like it.

For their part, syndicators emphasize that it takes increasing time and marketing to build a hit these days, but that in any case they are coming up with new and different ideas.

No ‘nuts and sluts’

In the talkshow genre, changes are evident. Gone is the “nuts and sluts” approach of seasons past. Several of the newcomers, particularly Warner Bros.’ Jenny Jones and Orion’s Chuck Woolery shows, are billed as frothy. Jones, a stand-up comedienne with a feminist sensibility, will target young to middle-aged women and will be topic-oriented and audience-friendly. Woolery will also be lighthearted and celebrity-driven; he’ll even cook and have animals on the show.

Other entrants are being billed as feisty rather than frothy. Paramount’s new Maury Povich show has steadily locked up 60% of the country on the promise of offering hot topics, gossip and controversy. MCA TV is entering the fray with a late-fringe vehicle for Ron Reagan, who will explore subjects like fatherhood and the censorship of rap music. Even more irreverent is the once-a-week show being prepped by radio shock jock Howard Stern for All American TV.

Also in the wings as a potential talkshow host (for Tribune) is Sarah Purcell, whose highest profile to date was anchoring the early ’80s network fluff magazine “Real People.” Meanwhile, Multimedia Entertainment will be testing the waters after NATPE with a local talkshow host from San Diego, Paul Bloom.

In addition to the talkshow offerings, there are five news/reality-based magazine shows which will be vying to flank the seven currently on air: Viacom’s “Realities with David Hartman,” Warner’s “Getting Even,” Tribune’s Geraldo vehicle, “Now It Can Be Told,” Zodiac’s tv version of the National Enquirer, called “The Gossip And Fame Show,” and Group W’s strip version of its weekly reality show “On Scene Emergency,” with host Steve (“The Reporters”) Dunlop.

Most of these entries are being pitched as late-fringe vehicles/news adjacencies or morning shows. Most rep firms are expected to advise clients to stick with strong performers like “E.T.,” “Current Affair,” “Inside Edition,” and “Hard Copy” and only use the newcomers in less risky slots.

Finally, Warner Bros. looks like it may have a strong afternoon candidate in “Love Stories,” announced at the INTV Convention in L.A. It is being billed as a bittersweet examination of how couples fall in and out of love and will be pitched as a lead-out from soaps.

Sources say the show – which reportedly will be hosted by the suds star Emma Samms – might also be paired with Warner’s established dating gameshow “Love Connection.” Like several other syndicators with shows utilizing game elements, Warners is toying with using interactive 900 numbers, allowing viewers to guess which couple gets back together.

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