Universal Worldwide plans to stay the syndie course

UWT stops shopping 'Date,' 'Fifth' skeins

HOLLYWOOD — Universal Worldwide Television is staying put, its head of sales says — despite the fact that the company has met with competitors in recent months about offloading syndicated strips “Blind Date” and “Fifth Wheel.”

If UWT did sell off the properties, insiders speculated the division’s days would have been numbered (Daily Variety, Aug. 5).

UWT, which bowed in 1998 when Universal took over Polygram, also co-produces and distributes such European talkers as “Trisha” and “Vera am Mittag.”

UWT senior VP of domestic distribution Matt Cooperstein told Daily Variety that UWT owner Vivendi Universal is behind the company’s two shows long-term and also supports UWT’s continued program development efforts.

He added that the company will be shopping at NATPE both a feature film package and a new firstrun project.

“Senior management of Vivendi Universal and of Universal Studios is very appreciative of the success of ‘Blind Date’ and is very optimistic about the progress of ‘Fifth Wheel’ to date,” Cooperstein said. “We’re committed to these shows.”

Cooperstein’s statements come as Columbia TriStar TV’s and FremantleMedia’s North American TV operations — which, like UWT, are not aligned with stations or networks — have said that they must reorganize to stay alive.

Entertaining ideas

When asked whether UWT may ultimately entertain the idea of an alliance such as the one Fremantle forged with Tribune Entertainment this week, or other alliances, Cooperstein said he “would not rule anything out –but we are more interested in creating content and working with a partner to make sure that that content gets the proper platform.” Doing so may simply mean making co-production pacts on individual projects.

Industry insiders speculated that Vivendi U stopped shopping the syndie strips in part because the bids received in this tough economic climate did not meet expectations.

Cooperstein said the process of meeting with other studios was a matter of the natural course of business.

“People covet hit shows; they’re hard to find. Our studio was in a transition to a new owner in the last year, and maybe people thought there were opportunities,” Cooperstein said.

“Our studio, in every division, is always talking to other studios. We do many movies with other companies, like ‘Gladiator’ with DreamWorks,” he added. “We’re always talking to other studios, always listening to others because we have a fiduciary responsibility to hear out opportunities.”

“Fifth Wheel” debuted in broadcast syndication this season, and “Blind Date” is in its third season.

A few weeks into “Fifth Wheel’s” debut season, Cooperstein and his crew have locked up a handful of upgrades and/or additional runs for the show. Changes either have become effective in recent days or will do so this week.

Among the clearance news:

  • WTTA Tampa is moving the show from 1:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. and moving the second run from 2:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. The station also airs a weekend run Saturdays at 10:30 p.m.

  • In Orlando, WKCF is moving the show from 1:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., and moved up a Saturday run from 4:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. A second daily run airs at 3:30 a.m.

  • WCWB Pittsburgh is moving the show from 12 a.m. to 11 p.m.

  • KSAT San Antonio is moving the show from 12:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

  • In New Orleans, WNOL airs the show at 11:30 p.m., and WNOL’s sister station WGNO picked up a second run in the market to air at 2:30 a.m.

“Blind Date” earned a 1.6 national household rating for the week ended Oct. 14, according to Nielsen. “Fifth Wheel” earned a 1.0.