Reality skein surrounded by syndie buzz

Producer FremantleMedia and distrib Tribune took the wraps off their plans for “American Idol” in syndication Thursday on the eve of the NATPE confab in Las Vegas.

It’s rare that syndicators wait until the last minute to finalize plans, but apparently there were a lot of moving parts that had to come together in this instance.

Even so, Tribune may benefit from the late start with buzz on the NATPE floor, given that “Idol’s” primetime launch on Fox early this week drew record numbers of 18- to 49-year-olds.

The launch group for the show will be the Tribune stations, though the Fox O&O’s as well as one other unspecified group showed strong interest in acquiring the revamped reruns. The official announcement of the syndie version was made Thursday by Dick Askin, president and CEO of Tribune Entertainment, and Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia North America and exec producer of “American Idol.”

The one-hour, weekend series will be renamed “American Idol Rewind” and will premiere with the first season of “American Idol” episodes in September.

They just won’t look the same. The 26 episodes being refashioned for the first year in syndication will include never-before-seen footage shot during that first season — including winner Kelly Clarkson’s audition — and new footage that focuses on how key contestants lived through their ordeals.

Subsequent years in syndication will involve more than 26 episodes, since the subsequent seasons on Fox involved 30 and even as many as 45 episodes. There is also a lot of unaired footage that FremantleMedia will make available.

The series is being sold on an all-barter, double-run basis with a fall availability. Tribune is representing station and ad sales; FremantleMedia North America and the original “Pop Idol” creator Simon Fuller’s 19 TV are producing the series. Tribune is likely to rack up two-year deals from some of its cleared stations.

Askin told Daily Variety that “American Idol Rewind” has already been cleared on Tribune and Sinclair stations representing 55% of the country and nine of the top 10 markets.

He said reaction so far to the series is “unbelievably strong,” and that had the deal come together three months ago, they’d be 90% cleared by now. NATPE should see other deals for “Idol” come together. (A lawsuit between Fuller and the sharp-tongued competition judge Simon Cowell had to be resolved before FremantleMedia could focus on the syndie possibilities.)

Despite an unusually rich landscape of high-profile off-net dramas vying for weekend slots this fall, Askin is banking on stations managing to double run the “Idol” hybrid. His ideal timeslot for the first run of the show would be the early fringe period on Saturdays between 4 and 7 p.m.

“American Idol” was a smash hit in primetime for the past two years, earning the No. 1 ratings spot on Tuesday nights across the board in households and adult 18-49 demos. In its just-begun current season, Fox is paying a whopping license fee of $95.5 million for the next four years to FremantleMedia and CKX. The CEO of CKX is Robert Sillerman, who bought Fuller’s 19 TV last year.

The “Idol” series has grown each of its four seasons on Fox — which means, per Askin, that a substantial number of current fans never saw seasons one, two or three.

Asked if knowing the winners from each season would dampen enthusiasm for the syndie version, Askin put the accent on the entertainment components of the show and the compelling journeys that contestants made.

” ‘American Idol Rewind’ will combine characteristics of elite off-net weekend successes — including being a smash hit in primetime, having both female and male appeal and enjoying substantial momentum going into syndication,” Askin added.

FremantleMedia’s Frot-Coutaz said: “Our weekend series will complement the primetime airing of ‘American Idol’ on Fox stations and will enable more stations to capitalize on the ‘Idol’ phenomenon.”

“This is the first time the country can now track each winner throughout the season — from beginning to final performance,” the show’s creator Fuller said.

FremantleMedia co-developed, co-owns and co-produced “Pop Idol” in the U.K. and has produced the format in more than 30 countries worldwide. Company is the production arm of the RTL Group, Europe’s largest TV and radio player, which itself is a unit of the German conglom Bertelsmann.

In 2001, Fuller’s 19 TV created and produced Britain’s “Pop Idol” and, in 2002, “American Idol.” Winners on the latter U.S. show — Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken — are managed by Fuller’s 19 Management.

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