Zell's buyout puts TV shows like 'Train' in limbo

One of the first casualties of the Tribune Co. buyout by the Chicago billionaire Sam Zell is the Tribune Entertainment division, which will soon be shuttered.

Tribune Entertainment clears TV stations and sells advertising time for such syndicated TV series as “American Idol Rewind,” “Soul Train” and “Ag Day.” As the unit winds down, these shows will seek new distributors; early this year Tribune made a deal to shift Fremantle’s syndicated firstrun series “Family Feud” from Tribune to Debmar-Mercury.

A Tribune Co. spokesman said Tribune Entertainment has gone out of the firstrun-production business, and the company has laid off three distribution executives based in Chicago.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised” by the shutdown, said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV. He said Tribune had already “scaled back” its operation, a downsizing that continued with the relinquishing of “Feud.”

Tribune was most visible in firstrun syndication from 2000-03 when it successfully produced and distributed such sci-fi hours as “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda” and “Mutant X.” The international marketplace for these shows kept Tribune Entertainment in profits. But when foreign broadcasters stopped buying the shows, Tribune couldn’t continue to justify their production.

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