Telepictures, WBDTD plug in actress/comedienne for 2002-03 season

Caroline Rhea is back on track to star in a syndicated TV talkshow.

The actress/comedienne, whose Paramount talker got yanked from the syndie marketplace earlier this year before it debuted, has signed on with Telepictures and Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution to develop a syndie talker aimed at the 2002-03 TV season.

Telepictures produces and WBDTD distributes “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” and will carry the same duties on Rhea’s show. The idea is for the companies to have a product similar to “Rosie” to offer as a “Rosie” replacement once O’Donnell signs off at the conclusion of the 2001-02 TV season.

O’Donnell will be an executive consultant on the Rhea series, which will feature the same format as “Rosie.” While new components will be designed for Rhea, the show will — like “Rosie” — originate from Gotham, and several key “Rosie” staffers already are on board the new skein.

No title has been assigned to the Rhea skein.

Although “Rosie,” which preemed in 1996, has seen declines in its ratings this season, it reps the latest big hit to come out of firstrun daytime syndication. The time periods the show occupies tend to be strong slots on strong stations, and it’s in Telepictures’ and WBDTD’s interest to hang on to the real estate.

Warners’ sales staff began preliminary talks with stations about the Rhea show last week.

In fact, the company needs to hit the street with the show soon, as other syndicators have begun snatching up “Rosie’s” time periods in some markets with upcoming competing projects.

Columbia has been out making deals to get its new syndie “Pyramid” in “Rosie” timeslots, as has Buena Vista with its high-profile syndie version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Stations also are being wooed by NBC’s “Weakest Link” and King World’s “Dr. Phil” for 2002 starts.

In addition, NBC is developing a talk/entertainment show with producer Lorne Michaels that could compete in 2002 in the talk-entertainment genre.

In an effort to introduce the idea of Rhea, “Rosie” producers have her slated to appear regularly on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” in a variety of capacities.

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