Syndie Biz Deals With New Deck

The TV industry converges on America’s glitter capital next week to scout the next Ricki Lake, party at the Liberace villa, rub elbows with David Hasselhoff and – oh yeah – take stock after a year of unprecedented tumult in the television world.

In other words, it’s time for the National Assn. of Television Program Executives confab in Las Vegas.

The annual program buying convention at the Sands Expo Center Jan. 23-26, which will set attendance and exhibition records, is being billed as a watershed event.

It comes in the wake of massive affiliation switches and newly forged strategic alliances brought about by Fox’s $500 million affiliation and production deal with New World Communications.

The deal – which guarantees Fox- and New World-owned shows the best time periods on their two station groups – has forced syndicators to alter the type of programs they bring to the market, with fewer strong slots available.

Another consequence: “If you are sitting in a New World, Fox, CBS or Group W market (the latter two also have formed an alliance), those shows are now off-limits,” says Lou Dennig, VP and director of programming for the Blair TV rep firm.

On the positive side, however, the non-aligned stations will at least know what they’re up against, and can buy accordingly, Dennig says.

NATPE also comes in the midst of one of the worst firstrun syndicated seasons in history.

None of this year’s new shows is a breakout hit, and only a few stand a chance of returning next fall. Even those winning renewal may not be able to hold on to their time periods.

Because daytime and late fringe slots are the most available in this new broadcasting landscape, syndicators will be concentrating heavily on talk.

Ten new daytime and late fringe chatshows – the same number as debuted at last year’s NATPE – will be on tap. This time, however, the yak pack will have a decidedly younger feel.

Six of the seven shows earmarked for daytime are hosted by people under the age of 35 – the one exception being Rysher’s strong seller “George & Alana,” the hourlong strip hosted by George Hamilton and his ex-wife Alana Stewart.

No wonder. The four programs in the genre that showed the most year-to-year growth during the November sweeps – Columbia TriStar’s “Ricki Lake,” Warner Bros.’ “Jenny Jones,” Paramount’s “Montel Williams” and Multimedia’s “Jerry Springer” – all had audiences that were more than 35% women age 18-34. The others all reached less than 25% of that demo group.

More importantly, the big four talkshows – which already have proved to be a force in daytime and early fringe – are beginning to dominate late fringe slots as well. Because of their strength in a variety of dayparts and their ability to hold on to older viewers, a number of stations have begun double-running the shows – a move that could hinder the chances of some new latenight aspirants.

A substantial number of stations in the top 50 markets have begun double-running “Ricki,” “Jenny ” “Jerry” and “Montel” this season. A year ago, Dennig notes, those talkshows ran only once a day in the top markets.

Because of the need for talk in daytime, most of the new hopefuls will get launched this fall – and those from suppliers with special clout in the market will undoubtedly obtain good time periods and promotional support from stations.

With “Ricki” as its wild card, Columbia is out pitching “Tempestt,” a talker with “Cosby” kid Tempestt Bledsoe, which at last report has been cleared in Chicago and Seattle. It should have no trouble getting launched.

Warner Bros., riding on the success of “Jenny,” has quickly wrapped up big-bucks deals for singer Carnie Wilson in more than 75% of the U.S.

Twentieth TV and New World syndie arm Genesis Entertainment immediately notched 45% of the country between their two station groups with their respective talkers, “Gabrielle Carteris” and “Mark Walberg.” Both already have more than half the country under their belts.

Rysher at last report was nearing 60% coverage with Hamilton and Stewart.

Mouse House syndie arm Buena Vista TV is enjoying widespread clearances for its entry, talkradio funnywoman Stephanie Miller, who will appear in a more traditional latenight talkshow.

“Richard Bey,” which has been performing well on the Chris-Craft stations for the past few seasons, could have appeal to indies. It is being rolled out by All American TV and looks to be ensured another year.

“The biggest question is what won’t go ahead,” says Bill Carroll, VP/director of programming for the Katz rep firm.

Lumped in that group are Turner’s latenight effort “Lauren Hutton and …” (station rep firm Petry labeled the pilot “pretentious and boring”); Western Intl.’s Morton Downey Jr.; and Ray Combs, from Henry and Paul Siegel’s recently launched SeaGull Entertainment.

Tribune just announced that it is slowly rolling out “Charles Perez” beginning in March. The show has enjoyed success on some of its stations over the past month, but Carroll notes that “a slow rollout is just that.”

Cannell is out with a latenight talkshow hosted by Armstrong Williams, a conservative black columnist, that the company hopes will attract the “Rush Limbaugh” crowd.

Rumors persist that Cannell’s company is being pursued by New World. If the deal happens and the project survives, it could enjoy a wide launch base.

Paramount is out to save “Jon Stewart,” with many of the Par and Chris-Craft stations – the latter its partner in the United Paramount weblet – upgrading the latenight talker to better time periods. MCA TV is trying to revive “Last Call,” while Columbia is hanging in with “The Newz.”

With none of the latenight entries working well, however, most expect the established syndicators to make a big play for those slots, using the double runs of the successful talkshows as bait.

In the hybrid talk/magazine category, Group W-CBS’ new series “Day & Date” – described as “Today” in the afternoons – is rolling along, but questions persist about whether it will receive afternoon clearances on the CBS O&Os in New York and L.A. Both have renewed “Geraldo” for another year in the early fringe slots.

Worldvision is launching an aggressive campaign for “Detour,” the new magazine project from former “Hard Copy” and “A Current Affair” exec producer Peter Brennan.

Carroll says there “hasn’t been a groundswell” of support for the show among stations, although the syndicator has launched a major trade ad blitz.

Twentieth is expected to achieve a fair share of access clearances for its syndicated version of “America’s Most Wanted,” which will have the “Final Justice” tag in the title. The updated version of the show has gone over well with stations and is a sure bet to get launched.

And MGM has declared its firstrun strip “LAPD” a “firm go” – as opposed to the soft, flabby kind – after it secured coverage in 68% of the country.

Among the other shows being pitched, New Line is seeking to turn the weekly “Court TV: Inside America’s Courts” into a strip. The program has not done very well in the weekly national barter rankings this season, however, and Carroll says he has not yet seen a substantial clearance list.

However, he says if any other projects fall by the wayside, “Court TV” could be used “as a fall-back provision.”

The small syndicator Active Media is pitching “Enquiring Minds,” based on the tabloid National Enquirer and targeted toward daytime.

Since that daypart is usually the last consideration for most stations, Carroll gives it an outside chance.

“There is always a possibility that slots may open up around NATPE,” he says.

All American is shooting high with “Thanks a Million,” a 30-minute strip based on a syndicated newspaper column that is seeking early fringe and daytime slots. It could have a tough time cracking early fringe, but, Carroll notes, “As happened last year, there always seems to be some room for a half-hour there.”

Genesis Entertainment will launch the reality strip “Juvenile Justice” this spring.

On the hour front, fewer than 10 projects will be competing for attention – some trying to cash in on the success of “Baywatch,” including the All American spinoff “Baywatch Nights,” Samuel Goldwyn’s “Flipper,” and BVTV’s new Fred Dryer series “Land’s End.”

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