20th TV pushes sexy soaper into summer

'Desire' to preem in June

LAS VEGAS — Twentieth TV has become convinced that summer is the best time of the year for sexy, steamy programming.

In a surprise move engineered on the day before the Natpe convention gets officially under way here today, 20th has pushed up the start date of “Desire,” its five-hours-a-week syndicated English-language version of the popular Latino telenovela format, from September to June.

Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of 20th TV, said production will get under way immediately on “Table for Three,” the first of the 13-week “Desire” soaps, to meet the tighter deadlines.

Twentieth also came up with a new wrinkle, offering a weekend hourlong recap for people who missed any of the previous week’s episodes.

“Desire” is one of the riskiest programming ventures undertaken by a major distributor because, among other reasons, no firstrun soap opera has ever worked in firstrun syndication before, and TV stations will be playing “Desire” in various time periods through the day and night, making it hard for 20th to focus its marketing on a set time period, the way the broadcast networks can.

But 20th is committed to making it work, figuring that the summer schedule gives “Desire” a chance at capturing a bigger audience up against the summer reruns of most of the other syndicated strips. If that audience becomes addicted, 20th will get a leg up on the six other rookie firstrun strips, which won’t kick off until September.

But despite the rarity of such a program offering, 20th said that TV stations reaching 65% of the U.S. are already on board, led by the Fox O&Os, plus stations owned by such groups as Tribune, Cox and Sinclair. The most recent buyers include KICU San Francisco, WRBU St. Louis and WTTV Indianapolis.

TV stations are ponying up cash license fees for the show, and giving 20th seven 30-second sports in each run to sell to national advertisers. Stations keep the remaining 21 spots.

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