Syndies seek a slam but is it just talk?

TV station programming buyers who attend January’s NATPE conference looking to find the next 20 “Ricki Lake” ripoffs may be out of luck. The developers of firstrun programming have set their sights on more highbrow fare for the 1996-97 TV season: “Jenny Jones” and “Jerry Springer” ripoffs.

But this development season could be different from last year’s. Most people in the syndication industry think the annual rite of spring will result in a slightly more diverse field of new shows than just talk. Syndie execs say there will be plenty of soaps, MTV-style magazine shows and relationship series in the “Studs” vein – the latter because reruns of “Love Connection” are earning a 2 rating in latenight, higher than any of the new programs that appeared in the daypart this past season.

That might explain rumors that Columbia TriStar Television Distribution is once again kicking around a revival of “The Dating Game” for latenight.

And reality is coming back strong. Just about every studio and station group has projects with “real people” involved in some sort of court, mediation or divorce proceeding.

But, naturally, most of the talk still centers on talk.

Despite the apparent glut of young adult relationship shows appealing to the dysfunctional trailer park crowd, there appear to be more on the way for daytime and latenight.

To make their imitations a little easier on the palate, producers have added a new wrinkle: A portion of their programs will be taped outside the studio.

In the mornings, meanwhile, there are younger-skewing “advertiser-friendly” versions of “Live with Regis & Kathie Lee” on the drawing boards.

Trial run-around

And programmers are hoping that network daytime soap watchers who’ve become addicted to O.J. Simpson will abandon serials for talkshows when the trial ends. They theorize it might be difficult for returning viewers to follow the storylines of soaps. But others contend the trial could have just the opposite impact, creating a whole new generation of “All My Children” fans.

Because “Ricki” performs better in early fringe than latenight, most of the development is targeted toward creating titillating and sexy shows closer in similarity to “Jenny” and “Jerry,” both of which skew toward the 18-49 audience and are working exceptionally well against latenight network affiliate newscasts, Jay Leno and David Letterman.

“We don’t want shows anymore (that target) the 12-24 age range,” says Buena Vista TV president Mort Marcus, whose company is looking at all dayparts. “We need to program for the 18-49 (audience).”

Warner Bros., for instance, has completed a presentation tape for a chatshow with Maureen O’Boyle, the former “A Current Affair” anchor who is now handling weekend chores on “Extra.”

And MCA TV is making a big push to get “Rant and Rave” with radio shrink Dr. Laura Schlesinger ready for the sales wars.

But Group W Prods, believes there is still some potential for the younger-leaning talkshows. It has been trying out the latenight waters in San Francisco with a twentysomething talkshow hosted by relative unknown Paget Brewster. The syndicator is so impressed by her that it intends to try out the program in a number of time periods as part of a slow roll out this September.

The pilots and presentation tapes that will be shot between April and July encompass most of these concepts, according to development execs. If this past year is any indication, however, new ideas and pilots could emerge as late as NATPE.

Many are watching to see what King World has planned. The sleeping giant has long-term commitments for its shows stretching until the end of the decade, which lessens its clout in launching new series.

The syndicator has scheduled a development meeting in a couple of weeks. Although it owns the rights to “Hollywood Squares,” sources say that it has put out the word that it is not looking for any gameshows.

And fall ’96 will present the first opportunity for DreamWorks to show what it has to offer in syndication. With Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg supplying the ideas, people will be watching to see if the new Goliath breaks the firstrun mold or jumps on the tried-and-true bandwagon.

Developing new shows, a programming exec for a syndicator says, is “almost like the Supreme Court’s definition on pornography: We’ll know a good idea when we see it.” Other than a 6 rating, most syndicators don’t have the slightest idea of what they are looking for this early in the development process.

Of the program pitches they’ve heard for the ’96-97 firstrun season, most studio and station group execs say they have yet to be bowled over by any stellar new five-day-a-week strip concepts.

“There’s nothing different that I’ve seen yet,” says a leading station group exec. “It’s scary out there when there are so very few ideas.”

“It looks like there will be a couple more years of people throwing mud against wall to see what sticks,” a veteran of the syndication wars groans.

Most of the debris will likely land in the mornings, daytime and latenight slots, since that is the territory where many new shows will strike out this fall.

Talk dominant

Early fringe news lead-ins are not a big priority since the daypart has basically turned into a graduate school for successful daytime talkshows.

The only big project for the daypart known to be in development is at Paramount, which is looking at a TV magazine version of Newsweek in association with the Post-Newsweek station group.

And the access hour leading into primetime appears to be off limits. That daypart, which is already crowded with firstrun and off-net powerhouses, would require a huge investment on the order of Warner Bros.’ $40 million-plus investment this past season in “Extra – The Entertainment Magazine.” Most syndicators are unwilling to make that commitment.

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