Talk not cheap in new crop of syndication projects

In what’s shaping up to be an unusually active period for firstrun development, as many as a dozen pilots are appearing on the syndication horizon. And among the new-show wannabes, talk is the dominant format, with at least seven gabfests on the drawing boards.

The main reasons for all the wheeling and dealing are:

  • More holes will be cropping up on station skeds because several marginal talk shows are almost certainly headed for cancellation.

  • Stations will be getting more daytime slots to program locally as the Big Three cancel network shows and give the time back to their affils.

  • The spot marketplace is healthier than it’s been in the last few years, giving stations more money to spend on programs.

“The only real trend in all the development I’m seeing so far is the talkshow ,” says Jack Fentress, VP of programming for the Petry National rep firm. “A talkshow is easy to market, easy to put together and you don’t have to lay out a million bucks to get it sold.”

Four of the proposed talkshows turning up on all of the reps’ advance lists are King World’s “Les Brown” (a motivational speaker who has done radio shows and PBS specials), Tribune Entertainment’s “Faye Wattleton ” (the former head of Planned Parenthood), 20th TV’s “Bertice Berry” (a Chicago-based Ph.D. psychologist who’s also a stand-up comic) and Paramount TV’s untitled hour presided over by “Entertainment Tonight’s” John Tesh and Leeza Gibbons.

Other talk entries waiting in the wings include Multimedia’s “Dana Fleming” (a former co-host of the ABC network daytime “Home” show) and two from Chris Craft/United: “Ricki Lake” (the offbeat actress from John Waters movies who’d focus on teens); and “Richard Bey” (a retitling of the WWOR, New York, morning show “Nine Broadcast Plaza”). John Rohr, VP of programming for the Blair TV rep firm, says all of the new talkshow projects are targeting such vulnerable fare as Warner Bros. TV’s “Jenny Jones,” Tribune Entertainment’s “Joan Rivers Show,” Multimedia’s “Jerry Springer Show” and Group W’s “Vicki.”

“Every distributor thinks his new show can knock off one of these marginal performers, that his new host will prove more appealing than someone already on the air,” Rohr says.

Janeen Bjork, VP of programming at Seltel, says, “Talk is so prevalent because there are lots of success stories in the genre.” Magazine shows also have worked well in recent years, she continues, but, at an average production cost of about $ 400,000 a week, they’re at least twice as expensive to mount.

The third major syndication genre, the gameshow, hasn’t had a hit in the last few years, “so distributors don’t seem to be eager to road-test any new ones,” Bjork says.

Another reason for the glut of talk, Rohr says, is the aggressiveness of the Big Three affiliates. Because they’re chalking up fatter revenues as the advertising-spot marketplace starts to come back, they’re in a better position to preempt network daytime programming with syndicated series.

These preemptions are forcing the networks to throw in the towel on certain time periods. NBC has just canceled “Dr. Dean,” its 11-a.m. strip, giving the time period back to the affiliates, and Rohr says CBS may hand over to its stations the one-hour time period at 10 a.m. (now occupied by two separate half-hours of “Family Feud”).

Some reps are putting advisory labels on the new talkshow hosts. What strikes Petry’s Fentress is that “many of (the hosts) are non-broadcast people.” He contrasts them with such veteran talkers as Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey, who “paid their dues” by hosting local talk shows–Donahue in Dayton, Winfrey in Baltimore–before they vaulted into national TV syndication.

Another “potentially troublesome” factor that stations will be concerned about, Fentress says, is the partisan background of some of the new hosts, which suggests that they might try to use their shows “as a soapbox for some hidden political agenda.”

But, in the next breath, he adds that the producers/distributors probably would quickly stuff a gag in the hosts’ mouths if they tried “to sway audiences to a particular point of view. TV syndicators are not crazy; they’re not about to let TV hosts espouse political opinions that will piss off half of their audience,” he says.

Mag shows have chance

If there’s a mini-trend in syndie development for next fall, says Jim Curtin, VP of programming for the HRP rep firm, it’s the fact that two new magazine strips–King World’s “American Journal” and Buena Vista TV’s “Crusaders”–have a real shot at getting launched, despite the huge expense of producing them.

In a company statement, Roger King, chairman of King World, cites the TV viewers’ “insatiable appetite for newsmagazines,” both in network prime time and in first-run syndication, as one reason for the quick liftoff “American Journal” is getting. Already signed for next fall are KCAL, Los Angeles; WFAA, Dallas; KHOU, Houston; KXTV, Sacramento; WVEC, Norfolk; and WPRI, Providence.

The gimmick of “American Journal” will be to get mobile units into areas where major stories are breaking and do timely on-location reports. The host, Nancy Glass (who’s senior correspondent and weekend anchor of King World’s “Inside Edition” magazine), will also journey out of her anchor booth for on-the-road stories, the company says.

‘Crusaders’ mission

Buena Vista hasn’t begun its sales pitches yet on “Crusaders,” but rep sources say investigative pieces will be its stock-in-trade, with an emphasis on exposing institutions that are ripping off the public.

Gameshow development for 1993-94, which was thin to begin with, may have gotten even thinner with the question marks thrown up around Carsey-Werner TV’s new edition of “I’ve Got a Secret.””The only chance ‘Secret’ has of getting on the air next fall is if ‘You Bet Your Life’ (Carsey-Werner’s rookie strip hosted by Bill Cosby) is a hit,” says one rep source, who requested anonymity. “But ‘You Bet Your Life’ is off to a sluggish start,” and is now up against such heavy hitters as “Roseanne” in some markets.

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