'We needed this strong partner,' Cohen sez

There will be one fewer domestic TV distributor as of Nov. 1. That’s when Tribune Entertainment takes over distribution of all syndie product from FremantleMedia in the U.S. No financial stakes in either company are being swapped in the deal.

Under the three-year deal, Tribune will not only handle domestic distribution, but also barter ad sales and marketing activities for Fremantle’s firstrun programming, including syndie gamers “Family Feud,” “To Tell the Truth” and “Card Sharks.”

As a result, 40-50 Fremantle staffers are being laid off. Among the execs who will exit is Fremantle domestic distribution and marketing prexy Joe Scotti, whose team launched three original syndie strips — “Feud,” “Truth” and “Sharks” — in the three most recent TV seasons.

Launching three strips in three seasons was an uphill battle for Scotti and his staff, as Fremantle has never been aligned with a domestic TV station group. Survival in the syndication biz without a station group has become nearly impossible in recent years.

Tribune, on the other hand, works very closely with co-owned Tribune Broadcasting, one of the largest TV station groups not owned by a network.

“It’s not that they haven’t done a fantastic job, they have,” Tony Cohen, chief exec of FremantleMedia, told Daily Variety. “I would be hard pressed to come up with people who have launched three daily shows like this, especially with no station group. The business has just changed, and we needed this strong partner.”

Searching for U.S. partner

It’s been long speculated that Fremantle, formerly Pearson, was seeking a domestic partner with a station group. The company is the content division of RTL Group, Europe’s largest TV and radio company, but has yet to create the kind of splash in the U.S. that it has in many other international territories, despite owning an extensive library.

While the deal does not lay down specifics for Tribune and Fremantle to work together internationally, it does position the companies as potential partners on future endeavors in both the U.S. and abroad.

Fremantle’s West Coast-based programming operation headed by David Lyle will continue to produce the three domestic syndie gamers as well as the long-running “The Price Is Right,” which airs on CBS.

Going forward, Fremantle will concentrate on further expanding its broadcast and cable network biz. The division already has projects in the works for the Food Network, Pax, VH1, the Game Show Network and Court TV.

Among Fremantle’s development slate is a deal with chef Jamie Oliver, whose skein “The Naked Chef” appears on the Food Network, Cohen said. The company also is looking at a rock and roll version of “Family Feud.”

Throughout the life of the deal, Fremantle and Tribune will present to each other potential syndie projects for collaboration. However, the arrangement is not exclusive, Cohen said. Room remains for Tribune and Fremantle to work independently outside of domestic syndication.

“This arrangement is consistent with our ongoing mission to continue to build our portfolio, which has significantly grown over the past five years by virtue of our inhouse productions as well as acquired titles,” Tribune Entertainment prexy-CEO Dick Askin said in a statement.

“It also affords us the opportunity to work with a strong company with substantial assets across the globe to develop new properties and avail ourselves of each other’s resources in the future.”

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