Last-minute gyrations perk up NATPE

Tough 11th-hour negotiations between Warner Bros. and the Fox TV stations over the sale of the studio’s new talkshow, “Dr. Keith Ablow,” and the renewal of “The Tyra Banks Show” are keeping the industry abuzz on the eve of the annual NATPE convention. So too are last-minute tweaks to two late, and unusual, entries into the syndie fray — Tribune’s “American Idol” and Twentieth’s trio of sudsers branded as “Desire.”

Station buyers attending the trade show, which unspools in Las Vegas Jan. 24-26, are going to hear for the first time the details of Tribune’s plan for “Idol” in rerun syndication.

These last-minute gyrations mean the confab won’t be quite as predictable as most of these TV showcases have become.

On Warners’ “Ablow” and “Tyra,” the industry fully expects the Fox stations to make deals for both shows. But even though talks between syndicator and stations began before Christmas, the two sides are now threatening to let things spill over into the week of the convention.

That could be problematic because such confabs are not conducive to complicated haggling over fine deal points.

Warner Bros. is confident that both its strips will be on the air in September because it has already signed dozens of deals in markets throughout the country.

But the Fox stations are vital: They include New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the three biggest markets.

On “Idol,” Tribune was still dickering with details for the show, but some elements did leak out.

The syndicator is likely to try to position “Idol” not so much as an off-net property but as a hybrid, with original material mixed in with rerun highlights from the original episodes. And “Idol” producer and international distributor of the global format rights, FremantleMedia, will be actively involved in the rejig of these reruns. The new title is “American Idol Rewind.”

Bill Butler, head of programming for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 62 stations, says “Idol” is getting an extensive makeover.

“Tribune will produce new segments and draw on lots of footage that was shot but never used on the Fox network show,” Butler says.

Another station exec says Tribune will de-emphasize the competition among the performers because everyone knows who came in numero uno during the show’s first four years in primetime on Fox.

Or, as Butler puts it, “The countdown to the winner will be extracted” from the syndicated version.

Tribune, which is likely to publicly expound on its creative plans at NATPE, apparently will substitute behind-the-scenes material showing the interaction between the contestants and the judges, this exec says. And there’ll be more comic scenes from the auditions, which feature performers who give new meaning to the adjective “untalented.”

Butler says he has already made offers to Tribune for “Idol,” particularly in markets where Sinclair owns stations affiliated with the Fox network.

Fox stations may jump at the chance to get a weekend “Idol” because they can package the ad time with the local spots they get from the network for the Tuesday and Wednesday primetime “Idol” telecasts.

That’s why Tribune the syndicator may stiff Tribune the station-group owner and instead make a deal for “Idol” with many Fox-owned stations if they’re willing to give Tribune high-visibility time periods, say 7 p.m. Saturday.

Of course, that strategy will not pay off for Fox affils if the syndie “Idol” fails to make a dent in the Nielsens.

After all, this is a first-of-its-kind undertaking, with the success of reruns of nonfiction programming still a question mark: Buena Vista TV’s “Millionaire” has done well in syndication because it’s all new production, with a new host in Meredith Vieira; NBC U’s repeats of “Fear Factor” were a modest success before it became played out through overexposure.

The other rookie firstrun strips that have engineered enough clearances to guarantee their berths on the 2006-07 lineup come to market with fewer question marks. They are King World’s “The Rachael Ray Show,” NBC U’s “The Megan Mullally Show,” 20th TV’s “Cristina’s Court,” Sony’s “Greg Behrendt” and “Maria Lopez” — and 20th’s “Desire.”

This last is a series of three Americanized Latin telenovelas. Twentieth is lining up deals for “Desire” in markets outside of its Fox station-group sibling, despite the fact that no previous attempt at a syndicated soap has ever found an audience.

Late last week, Butler was negotiating with 20th to buy “Desire” for dozens of Sinclair’s markets.

“I’m a big believer in the concept of an Anglo telenovela,” Butler says.

Sinclair’s stations will pay cash and give up 3½ minutes within each hour to 20th for sale to national advertisers. (The stations get 10½ commercial minutes per episode.)

Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for the Katz TV rep firm, says the three 13-week soaps under the umbrella title “Desire” will end up playing in various time periods, from daytime to latenight.

As a result, they may not be quite as steamy as the broadcast-network daytime soaps, which get away with pretty raunchy stuff because housewives have long been accustomed to watching such fare while vacuuming or ironing.

“The boundaries for ‘Desire’ will probably be ABC’s primetime ‘Desperate Housewives,’ ” Carroll opines.

“But that should still give ‘Desire’ plenty of leeway.”

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