Indie distribs on the move after WB-UPN announcement

It was the day of the Blackberry in Vegas on Tuesday as 8,000 stunned delegates awoke to discover that the station biz had been thrown a massive monkey wrench.

More than 100 local stations across the country found out Tuesday that they would have to completely reprogram their primetime schedules come September when they lose either their WB or UPN affiliation.

Execs from indie distributors — a breed up until today thought to be facing extinction — were suddenly filling their appointment books and preparing to make programming deals they couldn’t have dreamed of just a week ago.

Not that deals will actually be signed during the three-day NATPE extravaganza, which wraps Thursday. Stations still need to digest the news and figure out how to reposition and rebrand themselves as neo-indies.

“Station execs will lie back on their chaises lounges and not buy peanuts until the smoke clears,” Amity Entertainment exec Bob Peyton said. A veteran of the biz, Peyton now reps movies and thinks the shakeup could be a boon to little sellers like himself.

Aside from movies, other programming that could get a new lease on life includes firstrun action hours, catalog material from the vaults of the majors and, of all things, telenovelas, which have the advantage of eating up a lot of time periods.

The Fox station group has just lost nine duopoly UPN affils in top markets, including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, and as it just so happens, Twentieth TV (Fox’s syndie arm) has brought to Vegas a ready-made trio of English-language telenovelas under the banner “Desire.”

The disenfranchised Fox O&Os in those duopoly markets could conceivably strip those sudsers in primetime at 8 p.m. — an opportunity inconceivable as recently as Monday.

How Fox reacts to the newly created CW tie-up and what other product it buys for its newly unaffiliated stations will, say NATPE vets, influence what other suddenly bereft stations eventually do about their programming.

“What the biz really needs is another NATPE, say, in March, when stations execs will have found time to decide what kind of outlet they want to be going forward — and what their specific programming needs are,” said one syndie vet on the floor Tuesday.

Still, some folks wasted no time in figuring out what initial pitches to make to the newly independent stations.

Paramount — which, though CBS’ sibling, had no advance knowledge of the CW plan — was nonetheless quick on the draw.

The company’s top syndie exec, Par Domestic Television prexy John Nogawski, had already identified the markets in which Fox stations were left without a network affiliation and that also carry two of his key shows. His pitch: Don’t just run “Judge Judy” and “Judge Joe Brown” in the afternoon but take another run of each in primetime — for a modest increase in license fee.

Sitcoms, too, could get a new lease on life.

King World execs are already pondering how to encourage these stations to upgrade “Everybody Loves Raymond,” which went into syndication several years ago. They’ll urge moving it into primetime, citing the success cabler TBS has had with laffers like “Seinfeld” and “Sex and the City.”

Meanwhile, the celebs who had been cajoled into coming to NATPE and glad-handing — strip hopefuls like Rachael Ray, Megan Mullally and Maria Lopez — suddenly found themselves without a lot of glad hands. Folks were simply too busy buzzing about the WB-UPN developments.

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