Team launches highest-rated firstrun weekly dramas last two seasons

HOLLYWOOD — In syndication, the collaboration between Tribune Entertainment and Canada’s Fireworks Entertainment is as close to a sure thing you can get in these difficult times.

For the last two seasons, they’ve teamed to launch the highest-rated firstrun weekly dramas (“action hours”) in syndication. In fact, they’ve been the top-rated new firstrun programs of any kind.

In October 2000, Tribune teamed with the Toronto-based producer to cast former “Hercules” star Kevin Sorbo in “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda,” a series that premiered with an impressive 4.3 average audience household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That success was followed by last fall’s launch of the Marvel Comics-inspired “Mutant X,” which has earned a 3.0 rating, making it this season’s highest-rated firstrunner. And almost forgotten, Fireworks and Tribune teamed to launch “Beastmaster” in October 1999, which premiered with a 2.7 rating.

With the recent decline in domestic advertising and the collapse of the foreign television market, the action hour business has fallen on hard times.

“Tribune is the only one making money at it right now,” says Chuck Larsen, an independent distribution consultant.

Rival syndicators attribute much of this success to Tribune’s ability to position their weekly dramas in well-watched time periods on Tribune stations. For example, on WPIX-TV in megamarket New York, “Andromeda” airs at 6 p.m., followed by “Mutant X” at 7.

And while Tribune has an effective means of distributing domestically, Fireworks has the foreign production and distribution channels necessary to make shows such as “Andromeda” and “Mutant X” possible. The duo plans to produce more hours.

“We try to make them aware of all our activities so that if there’s anything they want to participate in, they can,” explains Dick Askin, president-CEO, Tribune Entertainment.

The film and television production division of Canadian media conglomerate CanWest Entertainment, Fireworks was a go-to production company for syndicators and cable networks even before the success of “Andromeda” and “Mutant X.”

In recent years, the company has produced such well-known dramas as “Le Femme Nikita,” for USA Networks, and “Relic Hunter,” for Paramount, to name two.

As the international production and distribution partner on these shows, Fireworks understands the need to produce programming that’s appealing in multiple time periods domestically and to multiple countries abroad. In other words, the typical Fireworks drama isn’t dialogue-driven.

“Translating a guy kicking a bad guy out a window is a lot easier than having two cops discuss poverty,” explains Jay Firestone, chairman and CEO of Fireworks parent CanWest Entertainment.

Firestone adds that Fireworks is able to integrate higher production values than are typical with other syndie or cable action hour fare because the company enjoys production subsidies in places like Canada, Australia, Britain and Germany.

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