Co-production will recall old-fashioned gameshows

LAS VEGAS — Back in the TV syndication game, Merv Griffin returned to Vegas on Sunday night to pitch a new gameshow.

“Let’s Play Crosswords” echoes the style of Griffin’s long-running syndie hits “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy.”

The gameshow guru regaled some 50 station group execs and programming reps with his legendary charisma and charm, as he introduced his latest effort in a genre he’s dominated for 30 years.

Program Partners, the L.A.-based distributor owned by Ritch Colbert and Josh Raphaelson, set up the Griffin presentation and will be pitching the “Crosswords” deal over the next three days.

The series has three owners: Griffin’s company, Program Partners and the William Morris Agency.

The pitch to stations is that it’s an old-fashioned game that requires the three contestants in each half-hour to answer serious questions in a variety of areas of knowledge; the one who gets the most right answers has to go on to survive a rapid-fire bonus round of questions.

“A bald-headed bodyguard of Jerry Springer will never play in prime access,” said Colbert, alluding to NBC Universal’s latest strip entry. “But if the Griffin show is successful, it could graduate to prime access, just as his other big guns did.”

Program Partners is going out initially for early fringe (4-7 p.m.) and daytime (9 a.m.-4 p.m.) slots. It is asking for cash only in the first year, with no national-advertising spots.

By shunning national ads, the distributor removes the need to get “Crosswords” cleared in more than 80% of the country; series can still be a go even if it doesn’t pick up initial deals in New York, L.A. or Chicago. If the show turns out to be a hit, stations in the Big Three cities will be clamoring for it.

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