Syndie fare draws mixed reviews

Judging from all the hype that comes out of the National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab each January, one would expect that nearly every prospective syndicated show is a sure bet for the fall.

Well, fall’s almost here, and the TV landscape doesn’t look that much different than it did a year ago.

Sure, stations have picked up a number of programs to use as filler on the weekends but, as usual, only a handful of major weekday and weekend entries have made it onto fall schedules.

The new season will bring four new talkshows (one of which premiered early to less-than-glowing numbers), two news magazines (one daily, one weekly), three new off-net sitcoms, an off-net reality show, a major live-action kids strip hosted by a Brazilian superstar, two new weekly action hours and a country music countdown show.

Now, after investing all that time and money in development, station sales, promotion and production, the hyperbole ends and the shows will have to stand on their own.

Although some syndicators are reluctant to admit it, the fate of the new fall programs — and in some instances the careers of the people who are behind them — will have been sealed by the end of September.

As the new syndie season gets underway, the general consensus among station programming reps interviewed for this story is that the two biggest new talkshows, Twentieth TV’s “Bertice Berry” and King World’s “Les Brown,” will succeed.

The reps are a little more reserved in declaring outright success for Columbia Pictures Television Distribution’s new talker “Ricki Lake,” preferring instead to take more of a wait-and-see attitude. And they’re not very high on Rysher’s young-adult slanted talkshow on wheels, “Wavelength,” which came out of the gate slow following its August premiere and is now attempting to broaden its demo appeal. In the newsmag genre, the reps express favorable opinions about King World’s new strip, “American Journal.”

While they seem to like the concept behind Buena Vista Television’s newsmag “The Crusaders,” there’s mixed opinion about whether the weekly hour advocacy series will be able to make its way to a strip version the following season.

The two new action hours for fall, Cannell Distribution’s “Cobra” and All American TV’s “Acapulco Heat,” received the thumbs up sign based on the track record of their predecessors.

And BVTV’s weekly hour series “Countdown at the Neon Armadillo,” a country music version of “Solid Gold,” got a big yippee-ai-ae from reps and stations (it has a whopping 98% coverage level for its launch).

On the kiddie front, there are doubts about whether MTM’s “Xuxa,” a high-stakes English-language version of the Brazilian hit, will translate well in this country.

Most of the attention, of course, is focused on the new talkshows — the latest additions to an ever-growing pack that one rep describes as a fast-spreading cancer that is knocking out every other form of programming from early morning to early evening.

Clutter busters

Bill Carroll, VP-director of programming for Katz, cautions that all the new shows, including the high-visibility talkers, may have a difficult time “trying to break through all the clutter.”

“It will be a challenge in terms of letting the public know who they are,” Carroll says.

Jack Fentress, VP-director of television for Petry National Television, lumps the “Bertice” and “Brown” shows together, saying both are cut “roughly out of the same cookie cutter.”

If Barry sticks to light comedy and the occasional serious interview, and Brown, a motivational speaker, focuses on more human interest topics, Fentress suspects there will be enough room for both to survive.

The “Brown” project has been haunted from the beginning by rumors of production problems, but most reps say they are satisfied with what they have seen from the test shows.

John Rohr, VP-director of programming for Blair Television, says the rep firm has been “high on Les and Bertice” from the beginning.

While some competitors have tried to paint Brown as too preachy, Rohr insists his positive, uplifting messages and “extremely strong personality” are among his strengths.

“Bertice,” he says, “looks encouraging from everything I’ve seen.” She is”reassuring, magnetic and vivacious.”

A few reps expressed sketpticism about “Ricki,” with Rohr noting that since Columbia came out with its sales presentation for the show “there has been very little to see in terms of a presentation tape.” That contrasts with both Fox and KW, which have shown reps works in progress of their talkshows.

“Anything that is too quiet before hand makes me worry,” Rohr says.

Col insists that all is well with “Ricki!” and the program will appeal to all key women demos, even though reps were initially under the impression that it would be targeted toward a younger demo.

Fentress and the others insist that it is unfair to judge “Wavelength” too harshly before October, when the first demographic information will be available. Although it is getting less than desirable household ratings in the metered markets, the program is geared toward the 18-24 age group.

Carroll notes that Rysher took a gamble by premiering the show early. The tactic can allow a program to make a bigger impact since there is less competition during the summer, but with a program like “Wavelength” that is seeking a younger audience, a summer launch may not have been such a good idea.

“The audience they are targeting may not be around to watch it,” Carroll says.

In the magazine area, the biggest question surrounding KW’s “American Journal ,” a spinoff of KW’s “Inside Edition,” is how it will differentiate itself from its predecessor.

Going undercover

The program will reportedly concentrate on breaking news, with field reporting and undercover assignments part of the norm.

Turning to “The Crusaders,” Fentress says he hopes “stations put it in time periods where people can sit down and watch it.” The program has a mixture of access, primetime, early and late fringe slots.

Rohr concurs, noting that “Crusaders’ ” chances of succeeding as a strip will be “strictly dependenton the kind of numbers it delivers” and the time periods it gets.

One of the problems with a weekly show is that stations run it

across the board in a variety of time periods, he says.

Much will also depend on whether “American Journal” succeeds this fall. That show is believed to have obtained a mixture of time periods, including about 20% in access, 40% in early fringe and 40% in late fringe.

Should it survive, the other newsmag candidates could have a difficult time finding time periods given the scarcity of slots.

Of the new off-net sitcoms — MCA TV’s “Coach,” Buena Vista Television’s “Empty Nest” and Warner Bros.’ “Family Matters”– Fentress sees “Coach” and possibly “Nest” as breakthroughs because both are strong in almost every demo “that makes an off-network show successful.”

Hedges bet

Fentress thinks it’s possible that “Family Matters” can replicate the success of the young-skewing “Full House,” but hedges his bet by acknowledging that it is a “one-note show.”

Carroll is high on “Family Matters,” however. He says it is the sitcom “that has independent stations the most anxious,” especially after the success of “Full House.”

With “Coach,” a number of stations intend to trigger it a year ahead of the fall ’94 start date. It is considered a strong adult ensemble sitcom, which can work well for both affiliates and indies, he says.

WB is hoping for success with “Family Matters” following last season’s disappointment with the launch of the off-net sitcom “Murphy Brown.”

Like many successful network series that play off of current social topics like “All in the Family” and “Mary Tyler Moore,” the comedy failed to work in many markets and was consideredthe biggest syndie failure of the year.

MTM’s off-net version of “Rescue 911” is also making its debut this fall. It premiered in several markets this summer with mixed results, doing okay in New York but getting clobbered in Los Angeles.

Most reps think its chances will depend to a great degree on its time periods and lead-ins.

Reps are also high on BVTV’s country music show, noting that with broad demos ranging from 18 to fiftysomething, and the hottest music format, it will have a pretty good chance if it lands in decent time periods.

For “Xuxa,” Fentress says time periods will be “absolutely crucial” in each of the markets. He wonders whether kids in the U.S. will be willing to watch the entertainer, whose Brazilian shows are full of happy, singing, dancing children.

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