Sony's off-net arm explores fresh markets

With TV projects cooking with Michael Moore, Ed Lover, the House of Blues and romance novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford, Columbia TriStar Television Distribution is expanding its production purview beyond firstrun syndication.

So as the Sony Pictures Entertainment unit heads into its seventh year, CTTD is looking to become a major program supplier to cable nets and foreign markets, as well as to the major broadcast networks for non-primetime slots.

CTTD’s push reflects a growing trend of studio syndie wings looking beyond the broadcast TV station community for money-making opportunities.

Disney’s Buena Vista TV, for example, is producing several original series for basic cable, including the Lifetime gameshow “Debt” and Comedy Central’s “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” Warner Bros.’ syndie arm recently revived the reality show “How’d They Do That?” for cable’s Learning Channel.

Over the past month, CTTD has beefed up its development and production staff, creating separate exec teams to nurture reality-based programming and scripted comedies and dramas under the leadership of Russ Krasnoff, CTTD’s executive VP of programming, who took over earlier this year.

Paul Frank has been named veepee of comedy and drama development. Melanie Chilek, formerly CTTD’s VP of development, is now VP of reality programming. Zackary Van Amburg has been appointed director of development.

“When we brought Russ in from the network side (of Col TriStar TV), his marching orders were to broaden the amount of programming we bring to the TV marketplace,” said Barry Thurston, president of CTTD.

CTTD found success early on with talker “Ricki Lake” and more recently launched the ambitious latenight urban talker “Vibe.” Much of the division’s momentum has been driven by the strength of off-network properties supplied by Col TriStar’s network arm: “Seinfeld,” “Mad About You” and “Married … with Children.”

Now the company is ready to go after even more.

“We saw opportunities for us beyond syndication in a lot of different marketplaces around the world,” Thurston said. “Russ has become a bridge between us and the network side, and since then we’ve made better use of the studio’s resources in terms of our planning and in terms of the talent we work with.”

To wit, Moore, of “Roger & Me” and “TV Nation” fame, has an overall deal with Columbia TriStar TV, but his latest endeavor is falling under Krasnoff’s supervision at CTTD.

Fox has ordered a pilot of “The Michael Moore Show” — described as a cross between the field reporting of “TV Nation” and celeb chat a la “The Tonight Show” — possibly for latenight. Veteran producer Don Mischer is attached as exec producer.

Also on the network side, CTTD is developing a soap opera with romance scribe Bradford, who has 14 bestsellers to her credit.

CTTD recently signed a development pact with the House of Blues for a wide range of projects, including a variety program the HOB has been working on with the Larry Thompson Organization.

Firstrun syndie strip

Back in the firstrun syndie arena, CTTD is bullish on a talk-variety strip fronted by Gotham radio personality Ed Lover, former host of MTV’s hip-hop showcase “Yo! MTV Raps.”

George Jackson, the newly installed president of Motown Records, Doug McHenry and Lover manager Charlie Stettler are exec producing. Jackson and McHenry’s TV credits include the UPN sitcom “Malcolm & Eddie.” Kim Swann (“Fox After Breakfast”) also is on board as showrunner of the New York-based project.

With an eye toward feeding Sony’s growing roster of international TV channels, CTTD is developing a reality strip dubbed “AXN” in partnership with GRB Entertainment. The series would showcase action-packed, “caught on tape” footage of everything from natural disasters to movie stunts gone awry. AXN also is the name of an action-adventure themed channel Sony recently launched in Asia.

Krasnoff said the studio’s plan is to tape the show in English, for the domestic syndie market, as well as in Spanish and Mandarin at the same time to speed up the export process.

On the cable side, Krasnoff said CTTD has scripted comedies and dramas in the works with HBO, Showtime, MTV and USA Network.

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