With few openings on schedule, who will get the big payoff?

The firstrun syndication biz may be slowed at NATPE, but it isn’t stalled. Big syndicators will jostle for several soon-to-be vacated slots, including those held by the soon-to-be-axed “Megan Mullally Show” and “Geraldo at Large.”

Will, for example, NBC U slip in one of its own off-cable shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” or “Starting Over” into the “Megan Mullally” slots, or will stations opt for Fox’s “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet” for that time period?

And will some stations be inclined to take a chance on shows they’d never have considered in more fruitful firstrun seasons?

The folks at Katz, the advertising rep firm that also advises stations on their programming choices, are talking up some of these possibilities as at least short-term solutions. They point to alternative programming that they think could work on local stations.

Says Katz TV Group VP/director of programming Bill Carroll: “There may be fewer pure firstrun offerings, but there are some quite interesting hybrid projects out there from boutique suppliers, which are based on new economic models and which tap new sources of creativity.”

Content from cable, Canada and the Internet is quietly seeping into the broadcast syndication marketplace, and, per Carroll and his team, likely to play a significant role.

“U.S. distribution companies are now able to make a business of repurposing content that doesn’t originate on broadcast,” opines Anthony Spirito, director of programs at Katz. “These are economic models of scale that never presented themselves before the era of media consolidation.”

Spirito points to Fox’s “The Morning Show” (repurposed from Fox News Channel), Debmar’s “House of Payne,” created by film talent Tyler Perry, and Program Partners’ “DeGrassi: The Next Generation,” a Canuck import, as emblematic of this more cost-effective creativity.

The relatively small number of firstrun “go” projects is also due to the unprecedented consolidation in the market. There are now four gatekeepers in the syndie biz — King World, which creates for sibling CBS and longtime partner ABC; Disney, which relates to sibling ABC; Twentieth TV, which is linked to Fox; and Universal, which largely develops programming for the Peacock O&Os.

And with longer-term programming deals — two, three and even four years — the norm, there are fewer time slots opening up for syndies to pitch to. Coupled with the fact that so many strips are still performing well after 10 or 20 years, there’s not a lot of upside to pitching projects willy-nilly to see what will stick.

“It is indeed a more contracted market,” says Sony syndie prexy John Weiser.On the other hand, Weiser says, his Sony team managed to clear 60% of the country with “Judge David Young” on various CBS, Fox and Sinclair stations, including 17 of the top 20 markets, by mid-December.

The Sony syndie topper adds that court shows have one of the highest success rates in firstrun, and he is convinced that this latest entry will work well in various court show blocks.

Twentieth TV prexy-COO Bob Cook’s team has also picked up a gameshow format from FremantleMedia called “Temptation,” which will launch on the ten Fox-owned stations that are part of MyNetworkTV.

On the off-net side, most of the rerun action in the coming year will likely be on the drama rather than the sitcom front.

Katz programming reps believe that “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” which will be stripped in syndication this year, will be a bellwether for other procedurals coming to market.

Other series recommended by Katz for a look-see by stations include HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for 2008 and Disney’s “Grey’s Anatomy” for 2009.

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