Talk ain’t cheap

Studios pay top coin to give syndie strips a proper sendoff

A year after “Iyanla,” “Ananda,” “Talk or Walk” and a number of other conservatively budgeted daytime talkshows hosted by little-known relationships experts and self-help authors tanked, syndicators are launching more ambitious programming.

Indeed, a number of studios are expected to pony up than than $20 million this year to get new hourlong daytime projects off the ground. Then again, nobody said getting those lost female viewers and ad dollars back from cable would be cheap.

According to Ed Wilson, president of NBC Enterprises, the first-season costs of “The John Walsh Show” will be twice that of a standard single-topic talkshow. “We’re spending the money to be one of the best shows on television.”

Meanwhile, in response to what’s perceived to be an altered post-Sept. 11 daytime audience taste, and advertising support that collapsed last season, at least partially because sponsors grew weary of “Jerry Springer”-esque environments, syndicators this year are focusing on substantive storytelling and discussion, or lighter variety entertainment.

“We got premium (ad rates) because advertisers don’t have to live in fear that we’re going to have a paternity show where everyone argues about who the kids belong to,” says Paramount domestic television programming president Greg Meidel about the new “Life Moments.”

Cleared primarily on NBC-owned stations with a secondary run on the Hallmark Channel, and produced by Pie Town Prods., “Life Moments” will tell short, inspirational stories. Asha Blake hosts.

Meanwhile, several other new programs claim to subscribe to the high-minded virtues of Phil Donahue –despite Donahue himself struggling mightily of late in his comeback bid on MSNBC.

Executive produced by former “Donahue” staffer Alexandra Jewitt, “John Walsh” is one of them. Twentieth Television’s “The Rob Nelson Show,” hosted by the former Fox News Channel personality, also has been called “Donahue”-esque by its handlers.

Playing harder

All that aside, “Oprah” spinoff and Newsweek cover boy Dr. Phil McGraw will host the most anticipated new program in syndication this season.

Trying to find room in “Dr. Phil’s” enormous shadow, there are a number of other syndicators pushing hard to produce the first hourlong daytime hit since Warner Bros.’ “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” launched in 1996.

“The Caroline Rhea Show,” also from Warner Bros., isn’t inheriting “Rosie’s” choice afternoon periods, which were on ABC-owned stations in the big markets outside Los Angeles and Chicago. “Caroline” is starting out at 12:35 a.m. on WABC in New York, for example.

Warner Bros. has offered ABC-owned stations a 50% stake in “Caroline” if they upgrade it by January. But even so, it could be difficult to overcome Buena Vista Television’s “The Wayne Brady Show,” which has already filled “Rosie’s” ABC slots.

“Wayne Brady” was cleared under a slow rollout strategy (50% of the country), and sold on all-license-fee terms. ABC actually approached Buena Vista, its Disney sibling, and sold it on producing a “Rosie” replacement — a comedy-variety hour starring the versatile Brady and executive produced by former David Letterman right-hand man Robert Morton.

“It’s the first time since Disney bought ABC that we’ve had a real opportunity to synergize with our own stations,” says Buena Vista president Janice Marinelli. “We landed the best time periods in the marketplace this year.”

In a deal that was announced over a year ago, Marinelli and her sales team also landed pretty good time periods for the syndicated version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” on CBS-owned stations.

While critics have charged ABC with overexposing the brand, the syndie “Millionaire” does have upsides, access time periods in Los Angeles and Chicago being one of them. Former “The View” co-host Meredith Vieira and some format tweaks benefiting female players should help it appeal more to women.

Columbia TriStar’s Donny Osmond-hosted “Pyramid” is this fall’s other new gamer. Renowned gameshow producer Harry Friedman will consult for “Pyramid’s” production team.

Celeb viewing

While the idea of tracking the legal system travails of the well known isn’t new, Warner Bros.’ “Celebrity Justice” is the first skein to dedicate a half-hour to the premise. According to Jim Paratore, exec VP at Warner Bros., it’s all a matter of having enough celebrity cases to feed a five-day-a-week show.

“It goes back to O.J.,” he explains. “Publicists and managers now realize that if their client gets involved in a conflict, they can’t hide.”

Of course, if “Celebrity Justice” succeeds, plan on imitators next season.

Such is the case with Universal domestic television’s psychic-themed “Crossing Over With John Edward,” one of the few freshman strips to survive last year’s carnage. “John Edward” will be joined by the clairvoyantly minded strip “Beyond With James Von Praagh,” from Tribune Entertainment.

While Tribune has struggled to launch a strip in recent years, its recent success with Fireworks Entertainment-produced weekly action hours on its own station group is unrivaled. After the successful back-to-back launches of “Andromeda” and “Mutant X,” Tribune premieres the Indiana Jones-ish “Adventure Inc.,” starring Michael Biehn, on Oct. 5.

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