Courting gavelers

Five courtshows emerge from confab as ready

FROM NATPE

NEW ORLEANS — Five courtshow pilots are emerging as firm goes from the NATPE convention, leading a surprising number of firstrun strips that appear certain of getting on the air in September.

Three of the courtshows, King World’s “Curtis Court,” Pearson’s “Judgment Day” and Columbia’s “Judge Hatchett,” racked up a number of station deals at the convention, using NATPE as a slingshot to propel themselves into a full season’s worth of production.

The other two courtshows, Studios USA’s “Arrest & Trial” and Twentieth TV’s “Power of Attorney,” came to the Crescent City stuffed with solid clearance totals, but engineered mop-up deals to widen their station coverage.

Gameshows have fallen on hard times in recent years, generating very few syndicated pilots.

But the phenomenal success of the ABC primetime series “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” spawned a batch of syndie hopefuls, at least three of which have locked up enough station deals to ignite optimism that they’ll be in production this summer for a fall start.

Pearson’s “To Tell the Truth,” the strongest of the three, Telepictures’ latenight “Street Smarts” and MGM’s “Sex Wars” are getting pickups.

If proof were needed that talkshows are in eclipse, only two pilots are certain to make it to stations next fall: Paramount’s “Dr. Laura” and Columbia’s “Men Are from Mars…Women Are from Venus.”

“Mars/Venus” could boast the best bounce of the convention, transforming itself from iffy to go by landing a deal with the NBC-owned TV stations.

A late convention entry, Buena Vista’s “House Calls,” in which a psychiatrist visits the homes of troubled families and tries to help them, began collecting good reviews from rep firms and pulled in some deals to go along with Chris-Craft stations WWOR New York and KCOP Los Angeles.

As the convention winds down Thursday, stations will have a sizable number of new shows to shoehorn into their program schedules. But a batch of others are headed for cancellation by the end of the season, even if their syndicators have still not signed the official death notices.

These include three from King World — “Roseanne,” “Dr. Joy Browne” and “The Martin Short Show” — and Paramount’s “Leeza.” All would need a minor miracle to make it back in the fall.

Once-a-week series are never high on stations’ shopping lists because the programs almost never require an outlay of cash (stations give up commercial spots in the show to compensate the distributor).

But at least five harvested enough deals at NATPE to be up and running come September: Tribune’s “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda,” Columbia’s “Sheena,” Paramount’s “Queen of Swords,” King World’s “Cindy Margolis” and New Line’s “Matthew Blackheart: Monster Smasher.”

Even though a fair number of firstrun syndie deals got signed, most NATPE-goers spent their time goggle-eyed at the high-tech displays that dotted the floor.

Almost all of the panel sessions threaded throughout NATPE focused on, or at least touched on, digital TV, Web sites, e-commerce and the convergence of the TV set and the personal computer.

And the numbers of international buyers and sellers of TV shows continued to escalate.

“NATPE has become more and more important to us,” said Mike Morris, an exec at Brit distribber Itel.

Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV, concurred: “The convention floor has become transformed into a true global exhibition, unlike a few years ago when international distributors at NATPE were ghetto-ized into a small pavilion area.”

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