Tribune touts pilots, growing blurb market

5 weekly hours, 2 daytime strips get greenlight

This article was corrected on Aug. 1, 2001.

In his first press conference in five years, Tribune Entertainment prexy-CEO Dick Askin discussed on Tuesday several new development and production strategies, progress on Tribune Studios’ digital conversion and the company’s growing barter ad sales biz.

Tribune Entertainment, the L.A.-based entertainment subsidiary of Tribune Broadcasting, has given the greenlight to pilots for five weekly hours and two daytime strips, Askin said. The hours include collaborations with such high-profile creatives as Roland Joffe, Lawrence Bender, Gale Anne Hurd and Steven De Souza.

Askin added that he hopes to launch at least one hour, possibly two, on Trib stations in 2002, as well as one daytime strip.

The company also will expand its development and production aims to include original programming for cable and broadcast networks. This reps a departure in strategy of the company, which until now has focused on supplying content to Trib stations.

While the company’s main priority remains Tribune Broadcasting’s station needs, Trib Ent.’s addition in April of Donna Harrison as senior VP of unscripted and reality programming and in November of Philip Segal as senior VP of scripted programming and development has enabled the company to plan on redeveloping projects for various outlets, Askin said.

The five hourlong pilots are:

  • “SPQR,” a show from Roland Joffe set in a world in which an elite guard must protect the Emperor of Rome from forces threatening the Emperor’s reign. Russ Kagan and Lorenzo Minoli are producing;

  • “MechWarriors,” a futuristic skein based on Microsoft’s game “Battletech” from producers Paul Bryant and Michael Wahl of Foundation Imaging;

  • “Pendragon,” which revisits the time when King Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere and Merlin establish the Kingdom of Camelot. Project comes from producers Lawrence Bender and Kevin Brown, and head writer Jonathan Hale;

  • “The Ultimate Adventure Company,” inspired by the real-life adventures of explorer Barry Clifford, from Gale Anne Hurd and writer Steven De Souza;

  • “Trade Winds,” a high seas adventure from “Baywatch” exec producer Greg Bonnan.

“Beyond with James Van Praagh,” is one of two daytime series getting a pilot order. The company declined to elaborate on the second. “Beyond” is an hour-long reality show hosted by psychic Van Praagh. Kari Sagin will exec produce (Daily Variety, June 12).

Digital domain

Askin also announced that the $10-million-$15 million digital conversion at Tribune Studios, a subsid of Trib Entertainment, will be completed by November (Daily Variety, Feb. 21).

“Judge Judy” and “Judge Joe Brown,” a pair of syndie skeins produced by Paramount’s Big Ticket Television, already are shot at the facility, which was converted to digital in 1995.

“Candid Camera” also is shot there, and currently shooting is Bregman IAC Prods.’ feature “Carolina,” distributed by Miramax and starring Julia Stiles and Shirley MacLaine.

Ad arena

Askin said that Tribune Entertainment’s barter ad sales business, run by Clark Morehouse, has quadrupled in five years, and is expected to ring up some $150 million-$200 million in upfront sales by the time the market closes in the coming weeks.

The company now sells barter ad time for 23 projects. Included among the roster are shows from Tribune, as well as from Hearst Entertainment, Universal and NBC, with which Trib has forged alliances in recent years and months.

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