Syndie fever at MCA, Col

Lured by the initial success of both Paramount and Warner Bros. with their firstrun action series, MCA TV and Columbia Pictures TV Distribution are both reportedly planning major syndicated offerings for the same market.

MCA insiders confirmed that the company is planning to launch a monthly firstrun action movie in syndication, aimed at independent stations, with a total of 24 movies to be produced over two years featuring network-level budgets and some cases motion picture talent. The hope is that some of those projects might then generate series spin-offs, with the movies as a back-door pilot.

Columbia, meanwhile, is expected to announce shortly a one-hour action series for syndication, “High Tide,” starring Rick Springfield (who starred recently in the ABC series “Human Target”) and George Segal, shot under the production auspices of Franklin-Waterman Entertainment.

Word of these projects follows an extremely high-profile National Assn. of Television Program Executives convention for Paramount firstrun fare and Warner Bros.’ Prime Time Entertainment Network, buoyed by strong premiere numbers for Par’s “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “The Untouchables” and WB’s “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.”

MCA and Columbia jumping into the fray would only continue efforts by studios to have an avenue in which they circumvent the more conventional broadcast network distribution system for such programs, in the process creating pressure on the webs as the studios court affiliate clearances–and prime time preemptions–for their one-hour shows.

MCA has tried previously to get into the firstrun prime time business in a significant way, initially exploring the concept as a partnership with Paramount , only to have those efforts blunted by Fox Broadcasting.

The studio subsequently launched some firstrun hours on its own, including the series “Shades of L.A.” and “She-Wolf of London,” but went back to the drawing board after those failed.

Columbia is part of the Sony Pictures Entertainment TV Group, which is headed by Mel Harris, who held a similar position at Par when that studio introduced “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Distribution arm CPTD syndicates a monthly original movie from sister division TriStar TV, billed as the TriStar Movie Network.

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