Big guns talk up strips

Syndies on a roll as NATPE looms

On the eve of NATPE, a number of syndie projects, including those from big guns Warners and Twentieth, touted their clearance momentum.

Warners, which rarely fails to launch a strip each January, said Monday that its new talk strip “Dr. Keith Ablow” has been sold to the Fox TV stations launch and officially declared a “firm go.”

The show has cleared 47 of the top 50 markets, bringing its clearance rate to 90% on the eve of NATPE. The convention will be used to mop up stations in the smaller markets around the country.

Ablow said his show would be younger-skewing than “Dr. Phil” and that his style would be “more contempo and empathetic.”

Warner Bros. Domestic TV prexy Dick Robertson pointed out that 71 talkshows had been launched into syndication in the past 10 years but only three or four had really hung in there as hits — “Dr. Phil,” “Rosie” and “Ellen” — the latter two from his own company.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel in the talk genre, but we believe we’ve found a unique, special guy in Keith Ablow,” Robertson told reporters Monday in Vegas.

The show will be launched in various time periods across the country, probably beginning in morning slots on Fox stations, said Fox station group senior VP Frank Cicha.

In addition the Fox station group has renewed Warners sophomore sensation “The Tyra Banks Show,” the highest ratings gabber in young women 18-34.

“Tyra has done exactly what we said she would do — create a fresh, advertiser-friendly format that would bring young women back to broadcast in daytime,” Warners exec VP Jim Paratore said.

Ablow is a psychiatrist, author and television personality but is not as well-known nationally as Dr. Phil, who got his launch on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Robertson said the new talker would get a big promotional push via national cable buys leading up to its September launch.

“Ablow” will not be double run by stations that are buying it, though “Tyra” will continue to get such double runs on some stations. While double runs can mean additional license fees and ad revs for syndicators, Robertson played down the practice, saying that it can dilute the strength of a station over time.

In another development Monday, Twentieth TV announced that its trio of English-language telenovelas would be launched this summer rather than in the fall. Idea is that the sudsers would get more notice during that rerun period on most stations. The syndicator will also put together a repackage of highlights for weekend run with the crucial scenes from the week’s episodes of the novela.

Also Monday, New Line Television said it had cleared “Masterminds,” a series from Court TV that chronicles classic heists, in 60% of the country, including 18 out of the top 20 markets and in all of the top 10 markets.

Clearances include 10 Fox-owned stations in the top markets including New York’s WNYW/WWOR, Chicago’s WFLD/WPWR, WTXF Philadelphia and WFXT Boston.

“Masterminds” is being offered on a straight barter basis for fall 2006.

There are also a plethora of oddball projects hoping to get launched at NATPE.

Among them: a show called “Heavy Petting,” which is being touted as a cross between “Dr Doolittle” and “Dr. Phil.”

Show features pet therapist and syndicated radio show host Warren Eckstein, who will take viewers into the psyche of their pets. It’s being offered by the recently revamped Culver Studios and marks the first time that the new ownership of the studios will venture into TV production.

The leap into production is a radical departure for the studio’s management, which owns and operates the historic studios, home to classic movies like “Gone With the Wind” and the original “King Kong.” “Heavy Petting” will shoot at Culver Studios.

“While studio management will remain the focus of our core business,” said Lee Tomlinson, principal in Culver Studios, “the opportunity to help a proven media star to bring his talents to television was too good to for us to pass up. We believe this show will be a doggone good one — and will build an audience immediately driven by its appeal and Warren’s ability to convert his radio show listeners to viewers.”

Also on Monday NATPE Mobile++ unspooled with some 350 attendees flocking to hear the latest new-media initiatives from mobisode producers, the Hollywood studios, assorted aggregators of content for these new platforms and phone operators.

NATPE co-chair Stephen Davis pointed out that this new-media business was currently worth an estimated $1.9 billion but is projected to grow to an astonishing $19 billion in just the next two years.

Keynoter Ross Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media, told the assembled that his company is now wholeheartedly thinking about “content and community differently.”

All this in just the last “transformational” year, on the heels of News Corp.’s purchase of MySpace and other Web sites.

“Millennials (those under 30) simply use media differently,” Levinsohn said, suggesting that his company intended to be in the forefront of those designing and repurposing content for this age group.

Already since the MySpace acquisition six months ago, he pointed out, unique users to that site had risen from 22 million to 62 million.

He also said that the biggest change coming would be how video gets deployed on these platforms, since broadband and wireless penetration have now reached critical mass.

On the eve of NATPE on Monday night, producer Steven Bochco, “Desperate Housewives” creator Marc Cherry and outgoing PBS prexy-CEO Pat Mitchell received the 2006 Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award. Honorees were selected by NATPE’s executive committee and the editors of Broadcasting & Cable, Multichannel News and Variety from a pool of candidates nominated online.

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