The most apt description for many of the new action-hour shows unveiled at NATPE will again be “It’s like ‘ Baywatch’ only with….” But many suppliers are seeking to avoid deja vu, since few shows were able to capitalize on the success of All American Television’s “Baywatch.” Rysher Entertainment’s “Thunder in Paradise” and All American’s “Acapulco H.E.A.T.” are among the failures.
“There are an inordinate amount of entries that are copies,” says Ira Bernstein, president of Rysher Entertainment. Rysher acknowledges that “Thunder in Paradise” falls into that category.
Right now, about a dozen new action shows are on the market, fewer than have been launched in years past.
The decline is attributable to a number of factors. For starters, the networks being launched by Paramount and Warner Bros, are eating into potential time periods for firstrun syndicators.
The broadcast networks have rediscovered the hour drama with such hits as NBC’s “ER” and ABC’s “NYPD Blue,” which raises the risk of over-saturation in the hourlong market.
The international marketplace is also getting tighter, making it harder for syndicators to take chances on anything less than a sure-fire hit. Once a guaranteed supply of strong revenue, the market abroad is getting more competitive and more regulatory, which is hurting U.S. distributors.
Still, many of the syndicators sticking with or entering the action-hour market are confident they will survive a shakeout.
“There are 11 or 12 new hours all chasing the same time periods,” says Larry Lamattina, president and CEO, All American Television Inc. “We happen to be blessed with one of the few hits.”
But, Lamattina warns, “there will be a fallout this year. A lot of shows won’t be back, and time periods are getting tougher to come by.”
And those time periods are not primetime. “The primetime period for hours is not 8 to 10 p.m., it’s 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends,” explains George Back, president, U.S. syndication sales, All American.
But the new networks are also eyeballing those time periods that could force many action hours into either late afternoon or late fringe.
“If you produce these shows at the level they need to be produced, as time periods go away there will be less of a chance of recouping your investment,” says Scott Carlin, senior vice president, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.
Key to success
Unlike All American, Warner Bros, has relied on primetime as its key to success. Its syndicated Prime Time Entertainment Network continues to thrive with “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues,” “Babylon 5” and the latest entry, “Pointman.”
This year, Buena Vista is launching “Land’s End,” starring Fred Dryer. The show, described by Buena Vista Television president Mort Marcus as” ‘Hunter’ meets ‘ Baywatch’,” is expected to do well at the National Assn. of Television Programming Executives market.
But the hottest action hour at this year’s convention is All American’s “Baywatch Nights,” a spinoff of “Baywatch” that will also star David Hasselhoff.
“‘ Baywatch Nights’ looks like a slam dunk,” says Jack Fentress, vice president and programming director at Petry Television.
Also expected are “Crofoot” from Paramount, a TV version of the movie “F/X” from Rysher and “Outer Limits” from MGM Television.
“Outer Limits” is more of a science fiction show that, next to beach adventures, is the hottest genre, according to Petry’s Fentress.
Also getting strong reviews from reps are D.L. Taffner’s “The Wanderer,” starring Bryan Brown, and the Samuel Goldwyn Co.’s “Flipper.”
MCA is also having success with its action pack of “Legendary Journeys of Hercules” and “Vanishing Son.”
“We went into the marketplace because we saw a niche opportunity,” says Shelly Schwab, president of MCA TV. “The definition of action has changed over the years, and station managers were telling us there is no real action out there.” That, he says, is the void he hopes MCA can fill.
Besides anticipating less action at this year’s NATPE, the syndicators are also becoming more station-friendly in their selling.
Last year, many syndicators offered their shows on a barter basis, with the distributor keeping nine minutes of ad time and the stations getting five. This year, a majority of the splits are either seven minutes each or eight minutes for the syndicator.
The tighter competition for time periods also means that there will be fewer double runs of shows. Double runs are often used to boost a show’s cumulative rating and its advertising value. “That,” Rysher’s Bernstein says, “is not going to be happening very much.”
Then again, the launching of two new networks is not necessarily detrimental. “The new networks will become the next customers for action hours,” predicts All American’s Back, who adds that stations should remember that historically, they’ve made more money with syndicated shows than with network fare.
Another factor is the longterm affiliation agreements that many TV stations are signing with the Big Three networks. As part of those agreements, stations are expected to reduce preemptions of weekend programming, making clearances for action hours even tougher to come by.