Here come the judges

NATPE finding gavelers dominating dockets

NEW ORLEANS — Syndicators are rolling up their sleeves for a hectic selling bazaar this week in New Orleans. With few outright firstrun hits this season, impatient station buyers will be looking to fill the ratings void.

The answer, by all accounts, lies in the courtroom.

As many as seven firstrun gavelers will be vying for station clearances during the four-day sales bazaar.

“We will definitely be busier than ever before,” Columbia TriStar TV prexy Barry Thurston said.

The Hollywood studio is bringing three firstrun contenders — gaveler “Judge Hatchett,” action hour “Sheena,” and gabber “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” to the market.

“For us, we probably have more stars and product this year than ever before,” Thurston said. “Between renewals and selling our new shows, we anticipate filling the gaps left open in the schedules.”

Mounting interest

Sensing still-mounting interest in courtshows, Columbia unveiled “Judge Hatchett” only last week but has already cleared 40% of the country. Key Fox affiliates in New York and Los Angeles are among those bringing the show to the docket.

Twentieth has already cleared “Power of Attorney” throughout the country as a companion to this season’s rookie phenom “Divorce Court.”

Studios USA has its own take on the genre, offering dramatic reality series “Arrest and Trial” from producer Dick Wolf.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. has sold “Moral Court” to more than 60% of the country, with radio talkster Larry Elder deciding cases of right and wrong.

“There is no question that the court genre continues to excel in syndication,” Warners’ Dick Robertson opined. “With the audience appeal of a traditional courtshow plus the added moral element, we think ‘Moral Court’ will attract a younger demo than most of the other traditional courtshows and potentially be the biggest new courtshow of the next season.”

King World has other ideas, however, as it prepares another late entry, “Curtis Court,” which features a former California prosecutor. The strip is already generating strong buzz from rep firm programming experts.

“I anticipate heavy business at the market,” said Roger King, chairman and CEO of the newly formed CBS Enterprises (including King World), which is now selling both “Curtis Court” and “The Cindy Margolis Show.””With a bigger library than ever, we will be going over these programs one at a time and make sure that every one of them gets taken care of,” King said.

Life’s tough

As these syndie powerhouses continue to accumulate more program shelf space and more timeslots, life for the little guys is becoming more and more a scramble.

“The face of the NATPE floor has completely changed,” Katz rep firm programming maven Bill Carroll said. “Middle-sized companies are basically gone, as the studios have swallowed the competition. Because of this, the odds on the smaller guys are long at best.”

Not everyone is dismayed, however.

“Consolidation presents a challenge for program distributors,” MGM distribution prexy Jim Griffiths said. His company is returning to the market after a four-year hiatus and is offering two new firstrun strips, “Sex Wars” and “Chat Room America.”

“We’re careful and opportunistic with regard to our programming,” Griffiths said. “And we see a particular niche in late fringe where we can create shows.”

Wacky and weird

Although courtshows are indisputably the hot genre of the season, smaller players are trying to weave and bob with alternatives, including some wacky, weird or off-the-wall product.

Take Steve Mruvka of Filmtown Entertainment. His company made a splash last week when he tied up former NBA star Dennis Rodman to action hour “The Consultants.” Rodman will join former WWF ladies wrestling champ Rena Mero in the show.

“As far as our position in the syndication ranks, every time all the companies merge, there’s a wave of smaller companies that come along and fills in the gaps. It happens in every business,” Mruvka said.

As for those gameshows we’ve all been reading about — or watching — on network TV: Don’t expect to see this NATPE floor overwhelmed with clones until next year.

“Watch out for games,” said Blair rep firm’s programmer Garnett Losak. “They’ve been slow to materialize, but expect to have many choices in mid-season and at this time next year. It takes about 18 months for success to breed followers.”

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