‘Real’ loss perils Trib exex

Corona, Fuller, Cevallos among departing employees

The withdrawal of “Real People” as a planned syndicated series for the 2005-06 season and the unlikely greenlight for a weekly hour version of “Legally Blonde” has pushed Tribune Entertainment to lay off at least four of its executives, with more potentially on the way.

A Tribune spokesman would say only, “Company policy is not to comment on personnel matters,” but the executives who have departed, or are about to, include Rob Corona, New York-based VP of cable and ancillary sales; Sam Fuller, head of the Atlanta sales office, which Tribune plans to shut down; and Adriana Cevallos, a sales exec in Los Angeles.

Despite owning a major group of TV stations, led by WPIX New York, KTLA Los Angeles and WGN Chicago, Tribune Entertainment hasn’t developed a five-a-week syndicated hit series since “Geraldo” in the early ’90s. Its string of flops includes “The Dennis Miller Show” (1992); “Can We Shop” with Joan Rivers (1994); “Charles Perez” (1994-95); “Dreammaker,” with Richard Simmons (1999); “Talk or Walk” (2001); and “Beyond With James Van Praagh” (2002).

“Home Delivery,” Tribune’s venture with NBC Universal, was the first frosh casualty of the 2004-05 season when NBC U canceled the hourlong strip last month.

Until a year ago, Tribune did well by commissioning once-a-week action hours such as “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda,” “Mutant X” and “Beastmaster: The Legend Continues.” TV stations wouldn’t pay cash for them, but Tribune would hold back seven minutes in each hour for sale to national advertisers.

But when the European marketplace plunged into deep recession, and foreign buyers stopped ponying up for these shows, producers stopped accepting Tribune’s commissions, reluctant to shoulder the huge deficits without any clear possibility of return.

Earlier this year, Tribune shifted from sci-fi action to comedy by joining with MGM TV to develop a syndicated/cable series adaptation of the hit “Legally Blonde” theatrical. But that project is threatened by Sony Pictures’ takeover of MGM.

While Tribune Entertainment is not expected to bring any major inhouse shows of its own to next month’s National Assn. of TV Program Executives convention in Las Vegas, the company is actively clearing TV stations and selling advertising time for a number of outside suppliers.

These include Fremantle’s “Family Feud” strip, Hearst Entertainment’s weekly half-hour series “Famous Homes & Hideaways” and “Ron Hazleton’s House Calls” and a syndicated theatrical movie package from DreamWorks.

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