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TV Reps Cast A Wary Eye Over NATPE

In handicapping the new season in syndication, one of the leading rep firms is flashing its pre-NATPE caution light.

In forecasting a “tough, very competitive business year ahead,” New York-based Katz rep firm is warning tv stations to hold tight to established shows that still perform well and to be wary of the new.

In the only pre-NATPE rep report, Katz advised its 204 client stations to make moderate rather than radical changes.

Although they do make specific recommendations for new shows in all programming categories, Katz toppers caution stations for the most part to:

* Avoid new gameshows, even if they let viewers play by phone.

* Be selective when choosing off-net sitcoms; prices are high and a flood of new shows is in the pipeline.

* Stay with tried-and-true magazine shows and daytime talkshows.

* Go with animation, perhaps this season’s only bright light.

The advice was given in a videotape obtained by VARIETY, in which Katz programmers also discussed what went wrong with the 1990 fall season and, correspondingly, how to rectify the problems for fall ’91.

Several factors were cited for last season’s low advertising revenues and poor ratings, including continued cable growth and unexciting firstrun product. In terms of this coming season, Katz, as expected, took excessive barter to task.

“Barter is not a free ride,” said Katz execs, who urged their stations to draw the line on how much inventory they’re willing to give up. Not all stations, however, suffered equally during the lackluster fall season. Pete Goulazian, prexy of Katz TV Group, described the year as one of great sales disparities and contrasts. Indies and Fox affiliates enjoyed spectacular sales increases, for example, while stations in the northeast, especially affiliates, watched revenues dwindle with the economic downturn.

For the most part, affiliates that aired a mixture of new gameshows and magazines were down 6% in ratings over last year; indies that ran a mixture of new animation and off-network sitcoms registered a 10% gain in ratings.

Specifically, the following shows were discussed in the report:

* In terms of gameshows, only “Jeopardy!” and “Love Connection” showed growth this fall, per Mitchell Praver, Katz v.p., programming. Among newcomers, only “Challengers” delivered double-digit household shares.

“Game peddlers will find NATPE a very difficult convention,” says Praver, adding that shows featuring interactive elements probably will fare no better. “New interactive games ask viewers to run up their phone bills to win cash and prices . .. and there is no correlation between an increase in callers and ratings.”

Praver suggests either renewing “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel Of Fortune,” or dusting off stand-bys “Love Connection” and “Family Feud.”

* In terms of off-net, “Married… With Children” is the company’s hands-down favorite newcomer. The rep also gave high marks to “Roseanne,” “Dear John,” “Wonder Years,” “A Different World” and “Murphy Brown.”

As for hours, Katz says “Matlock” is a viable option.

* As such “softer” magazine shows as “Personalities” and “Instant Recall” failed to catch on this fall, Katz recommends the investigative “Now It Can Be Told,” the new Geraldo Rivera vehicle.

Katz also advises holding on to solid ratings incumbents “Entertainment Tonight,” “Current Affair,” “Inside Edition” and “Hard Copy.”

* When thinking talkshows, Katz says don’t mess with a good thing. “Sally Jessy Raphael,” “Donahue,” and “Live With Regis & Kathi Lee” are the solid one, two and three daytime talk options, respectively, while “Oprah” and “Donahue” remain the dominant forces in early fringe.

Of newcomers, Katz gives the nod to “The Chuck Woolery Show” and a thumbs up to Maury Povich – despite the lack of a pilot. However, Katz cautions stations about Paramount’s plans to extract an extra 30-second spot from the Povich show in ’92 and about promotional guarantees the syndicator is requesting for this September.

* Given their first-rate performance this fall, it’s not surprising that animation got mostly thumbs up from Katz execs. Von Soosten predicts continued success for the Disney Afternoon, and high marks also went to Warner Bros.’ “Tiny Toons” and Group W’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Claster’s “Romper Room” and “James Bond Jr.” also got the nod.

* Among miscellaneous niche programming, Katz singles out only King World’s “Candid Camera” as a good possibility for success.

No pilots were available for other “non-categorizable” shows, including MCA’s “Report From The Unknown,” Zodiac’s “The Gossip And Fame Show” (based on the National Enquirer) and ITC’s “Success Stories.” Some observers think one or two may end up on cable.

* With at least a dozen new entries in the works as weekly shows, Katz’ Bill Hall singled out five for special commendation: A one-year barter commitment to MTM’s “WKRP”; MCA’s Hollywood Premiere Network for indies; Viacom’s “Lightning Force” for action-adventure blocks; LBS’ “Baywatch”; and Genesis’ “Grudge Match” for weekend early-fringe sports adjacencies.

Five other major rep firms – Blair, Petry, Seltel, Telerep and H.R.P. – are staging client presentations at NATPE Jan. 14. Telerep is the only one closed to the press. MMT does not stage a presentation during the convention.

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