As the NATPE convention wound down late last week, an informal consensus began to emerge that only seven firstrun adult strips would make it to air for the 1991-92 season.
That’s close to a record low number of series launches, according to an informal survey of tv-station rep programmers. But they added that the low number of starters was not surprising, since the pilot crop pitched to the stations (about 15 new shows) was sparser than at any other time in decades.
Ten firstrun strips launched this season from a field of pilots about twice as large; none of those launched has been successful in the ratings. The seven expected to clear for next fall are: Paramount TV’s “The Maury Povich Show,” Warner Bros. TV’s “The Jenny Jones Show,” King World’s “Candid Camera,” Orion TV’s “The Chuck Woolery Show,” MCA TV’s “Up Late With Ron Reagan,” Tribune Entertainment’s “Now It Can Be Told” and Warner Bros. TV’s “Love Stories.”
The two most visible pilots which rep programmers said would not make it to air next September were Warner Bros.’ “Getting Even” and Viacom’s “Realities With David Hartman.”
Neither syndicator had officially withdrawn his show from the market by week’s end, but, summarizing rep sentiment, Dick Kurlander, v.p./programming Petry TV, dismissed “Getting Even” with the comment, “It ain’t gonna make it.” He said that Warners salespeople had shifted their sales emphasis toward “Love Stories,” which, as Kurlander put it, would “go in over the dead body of Getting Even.'”
All Scott Carlin, head of firstrun syndication at Warners, would say is that it’s a tough haul and that the company has a fallback plan.
Although two NBC O&O’s (WNBC and WTVJ) have agreed to take the Hartman show, many stations said on the floor that their reps were not recommending it.
Over at the Viacom booth various execs appeared to have shifted their sales momentum toward a just announced half-hour strip called “Johnny B,” featuring toprated Chicago radio d.j. Jonathon Brandmeier.
Even about the shows which do seem to be greenlighted for fall ’91, there was no buzz, no sense that stations could go home convinced that another longterm access player was in the making on the floor at NATPE.
Many station execs and various panelists during the convention wondered aloud what had happened to firstrun syndication, and why risk-taking and innovative programming concepts no longer made it to the floor.
Said Larry Cazavan, operations director for WATE Knoxville: “I don’t see one strip that’s that different from anything else on the air right now.” Added producer Stu (“People’s Court”) Billett: “Syndication used to be the place where you could do things and take risks; all you saw last year were five clones of ‘Jeopardy’ and all we see this year are a cluster of lookalike talk shows.”
To be fair to the new contenders, however, some observers say each of them may be different enough enough to offer viable counter programing for current shows. The most original of the crop has to be “Love Stories,” in which two couples who have separated will discuss their differences with a host. At the end of the show, the audience will learn which of the couples has reconciled.
The fact that five of the new firstrun shows will begin the season in less competitive time slots, either between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. or in late fringe, means they don’t have to go up against such powerhouses as “Oprah” in early fringe or “Wheel” and “Jeopardy” in access. That way they don’t risk being shot down in the first few weeks of the season.
The exceptions are “Now It Can Be Told” and “Candid Camera.” Because they’ll cost upwards of $400,000 a week, the high end for syndicated strips, the two shows will need time periods that generate higher license fees. That’s one of the reasons why the equally expensive “Getting Even” and “Realities” will not make it: Stations weren’t offering them high-profile time slots.
According to Katz v.p. programming Mitchell Praver, the savvy syndicators know that their shows have a better chance to build by starting off in less competitive time periods where the viewers are not wedded to the competition.
Whatever the energies devoted to handicapping these new shows, most station execs were even busier at the convention chalking up renewals of existing strips, consulting with reps about longterm strategies, sifting through the 30-odd once-a-week pilots offered for weekend airing and checking with their offices about how spot sales are trending.
“Stations are being properly cautious about the new shows,” says Mike Levington, v.p./programming Blair TV. “Many of them are taking the safe route for next season.”
If many attendees noted a lack of general enthusiasm on the floor, others pointed out that activity seemed generally more concentrated along the corners of the convention floor; i.e., at the stands of the major syndicators. No one could help but notice that there were fewer U.S. distributors on the floor, with the slack taken up by the record influx of foreign exhibitors.