MGM-UA To Syndicate Off-Net Hours For Fall ’92

A revitalized syndication arm at MGM-UA is to launch two of its off-net properties next week.

“In the Heat of the Night,” now in its third year on NBC, and “Thirtysomething,” the ABC hour drama canceled last season, will be rolled out simultaneously by recently appointed syndie topper Sid Cohen and his four-man sales team.

The marketing plans for the two shows suggest just how closely strategies for off-net now resemble those for first-run product. (One reason being indies and affils increasingly are finding themselves going after the same product.) In response to the recession, syndicators are making all their deals short-term, flexible and less cash-dependent.

Both “Heat” and “Thirtysomething” will be one-year deals starting in fall ’92 and both will be offered as all-barter (seven minutes local, six national). MGMUA will eventually appoint an outside barter operation to sell the national time.

Cohen says he expects to pitch the shows, separately, to both indies and affiliates.

“We spoke to cable but we believe we can do real well in syndication with these shows,” Cohen told VARIETY. He pointed to the strong 18-49 demos for “Thirtysomething” as a major selling point. The show amassed 85 episodes before it was canceled last May.

“Heat,” he says, is the last action hour coming down the syndie pipeline for the next two or three years. There will be 96 episodes available to strip by next September.

Although the two shows are quite different, as hours they will have to fight a persistent perception in the industry that the genre doesn’t work well in syndication.

But others point out that some hours – notably Stephen Cannell’s “Hunter” and Viacom’s “Matlock” – are performing well on a number of key stations.

MGM-UA’s former domestic syndication topper Tony Lynn (who was doubling up on his international sales duties) tried to bring “Heat” into the market last winter, but got little response. “Thirtysomething” reportedly was pitched to Lifetime in the same period, but no deal was concluded.

Programming rep sources see more potential for “Heat” than for “Thirtysomething” in syndication.

“‘Heat’ could work quite well for some indies in, say, a 7 or 8 p.m. timeslot, and even on some affiliates in late fringe,” says Jack Fengress, VP, programming, for Petry. “‘Thirtysomething’ appeals to a much narrower audience.”

In gearing up for the two show’s launch, MGM-UA recently opened regional syndication sales offices in Chicago and Atlanta. Cohen says the company also plans to get its feet wet in first-run syndication for the ’93 season.

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