Sin and syndie

New skeins at NATPE are sex-crazed

FROM NATPE

NEW ORLEANS — “Wed at First Sight” features a female contestant interviewing three strangers, with the agreement that she will marry the winner. “Cheaters” will hire private investigators with cameras to follow a husband or wife suspected of infidelity. Even a revived “To Tell the Truth” is embracing sex.

At the annual National Assn. of TV Program Executives here, it’s clear that syndication is changing the boundaries of content more than at any other time in recent years.

“There’s so much clutter among all of the shows on network TV, cable TV and syndication that sometimes the only way to cut through the clutter is to push the envelope,” says Bob Friedman, president of New Line TV.

New Line is distributing “First Date,” which features boys and girls as young as 13 grilling each other about some very intimate sexual matters before they decide to commit to a date.

Friedman says New Line will let station buyers set the bar on how frank the discussions will turn out. If stations pick up the show for late night, he said, “First Date” will be a lot more unbuttoned than if the stations opt to play it in early fringe (3 to 7 p.m.) or daytime.

NATPE is the annual gathering of syndication program suppliers and TV station execs, with a recent influx of foreign companies and dot-coms this year.

Competition is fierce to make a sale. “It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that the boundaries are being pushed at NATPE,” says Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV, which represents close to 200 TV-station clients. “Syndicators are competing with pay-cable, which has almost no boundaries. Pressing the envelope is one way to get those audiences back from cable.”

Western Intl. Syndication is touting “Cheaters” as a weekly reality hour that will spotlight women who want a chance at payback for their straying mates.

The eye-catching ad features a well-endowed woman clad in a dress that barely covers her breasts, a strand of blonde hair falling over her face as she sits pensively, clutching a handkerchief in her right hand. In stark white letters over a black background read the words “When the vow breaks.”

But the most obvious example of stretching the boundaries is King World’s “The Cindy Margolis Show,” featuring the buxom blonde known as “the most downloaded woman on the Internet.” King World has set the weekly talk/variety hour in what it calls Miami’s “sizzling” South Beach.

According to the King World strategy, the most logical buyers of “Margolis” are TV stations that carry “The Howard Stern Show” in weekend latenight timeslots, which would use “Margolis” as a companion piece.

Even that venerable talkshow “To Tell the Truth” is getting a makeover that will ramp up the naughtiness. Joe Scotti, executive VP of domestic distribution and marketing, said there’d be no point in making one of the contestants, say, the first man to climb Everest because that person would be interviewed and profiled by all the national and local news shows.

Instead, a contestant on the pilot is a beautiful woman who has created her own R-rated Web site, prodding the celebrity panelists to indulge in a festival of double entendres.

Other pilots that fit the let-it-all-hang-out category include:

  • Universal TV’s “Wed at First Sight,” a five-a-weeker in which a woman will end up married to someone she hadn’t met before the producers of the show introduced the two. The show will pay for the honeymoon, and the couple will return with a videotape of the event.

  • MGM TV’s “Sex Wars,” a quiz competition between men and woman highlighting their differences. MGM is pitching the show for latenight time periods.

  • The Beverly Hills-based Perfect 10 company has ventured to NATPE to try to launch a TV-series version of the Perfect 10 Web site, which wallows in stills of beautiful women wearing as few clothes as possible.

And it’s not just the pilots. Many of the booths at the Ernest Morial Convention Center here resemble the dressing rooms of Las Vegas girlie shows, crowded with dozens of young women sporting bikinis and other revealing apparel.

Al Buch, g.m. of KSNW Wichita, says he’s put off by “blatant programming that pushes the envelope for its own sake.” Having just come from a screening of the “Sex Wars” pilot, Buch said that the show was milder than the title, which is the most exploitative thing about it.

With HBO’s “The Sopranos” and “Sex and the City” winning Golden Globes this week for best drama and comedy series, Chris Lancey, chief operating officer of Western Intl. Syndication, says he’s performing a service with his show “Cheaters.”

Once the investigators get the proof, the episode ends in a public confrontation between the wronged spouse and the cheater, recorded by the cameras for the edification of the viewing audience.

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