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Syndie’s talk soup cools off

Frosh shows struggle as producers pitch yakkers with new talent

TV stations are so busy these days renewing hit syndicated shows such as “Dr. Phil,” “Judge Judy” and “Ellen” through the end of the decade that none of the dozen or so rookie projects scratching around for clearances has landed any deals for next fall.

Syndie observers say that you have to go back more than a decade to come up with the last time stations had turned away from so many fledgling shows so close to the annual syndication-biz get-together, the NATPE convention. (Las Vegas is again the convention host, from January 25 to 28.)

Garnett Losak calls the coming syndication year the latest-breaking season within memory. Losak is VP and director of programming for Petry TV, which helps 240 TV station clients decide what syndicated shows to buy.

At this time last year, three shows had lined up deals in major markets and were certain bets to get on the air for 2004-05: Paramount TV’s “The Insider,” NBC-U’s “The Jane Pauley Show” and Buena Vista TV’s “The Tony Danza Show.”

Distributors armed with projects that are desperately seeking clearances for the fall of 2005 are putting on a full-court press, reminding stations that they’ve got to buy something to fill the time-period holes that are certain to crop up in the fall.

The marketplace is saturated with freshman makeover shows — both home renovations and human-body rejuvenations.

Syndicators are chasing after TV stations to buy talkshows hosted by such specialists as Tyra Banks, the supermodel (Telepictures); Steven Cojocaru, the fashion writer (Paramount); Vera Wang, the marriage-industry expert (Buena Vista), and Isaac Mizrahi, the women’s-clothes maven (NBC Universal).

Numerous additional projects are scouring the country for 2005-06 deals, among them “The Robin Quivers Show,” featuring Howard Stern’s female sidekick (Sony Pictures TV); “The Vanessa Williams Show,” hosted by the singer-actress (NBC Universal); “Real People,” an updating of the primetime reality-show hit that ran from 1979 to 1984 (Tribune Entertainment); and three from Twentieth TV: “Suze Orman,” starring the CNBC financial guru; “Judge Alex,” a courtshow presided over by Alex Ferrer, a Miami jurist; and “A Current Affair,” an updating of the granddaddy of the tabloid-magazine shows, which ran for a decade in first run syndication (1986-96).

That’s a lot of development, and syndie observers are asking: Where are all the deals?

Maybe TV stations are showing extra caution because they made some bad decisions last year at this time. Of the seven strips making their syndie debut two months ago, only one, “The Insider,” is doing well enough in the ratings to be a no-brainer for renewal next season.

The six others are question marks, at best.

In her analysis of the most recent monthly Nielsen ratings, Losak makes no bones about writing that “there is not any good news to report” about the Pauley show, making its return in 2005-06 a distinct long shot, even though NBC U engineered two-year deals in most markets.

And Losak calls Danza’s 31% average decline in the ratings from its lead-in “troublesome,” but adds that even though the numbers are hardly “setting the world on fire,” the show has not lost viewers over the last eight weeks.

With Pauley, don’t look for NBC U to announce the cancellation of her talkshow until the distributor has come up with a marketable inhouse replacement series that can get deals with stations beyond the ones owned by NBC, most of which bought Pauley.

Similarly, the CBS-owned stations that carry it are unlikely to formally cancel the underperforming “Larry Elder Show,” from Warner Bros. Domestic TV, which runs mostly between 9 a.m. and noon, until CBS’ sister company King World can whip up a potential substitute and keep the time periods inhouse. KW is expected to announce a new syndicated show the week after Thanksgiving.

So distribs are keeping the industry off guard about the fate of shows like Pauley, Danza and Elder. As a result, why should stations spring for new series when time periods may wind up getting filled by programs that don’t go away as expected, asks Bill Carroll. Carroll is VP and director of programming for Katz TV, which, like Petry, represents more than 200 TV stations.

TV stations are particularly nervous these days, says Losak, “because 2005 looks like an awful year” for the flow of advertising dollars in national spot and local spot, the stations’ only two sources of income. The year after a presidential election and a Summer Olympics usually suffers by comparison, and 2005 will be no different, she says.

Syndicators are not buying the bad-economy argument, calling it an excuse by the stations to play it safe.

“Look at the overall economy, which is growing nicely” says Roger King, chairman of King World. “I’m expecting 2005 to be a banner year for TV syndication.”

Spoken like a true salesman.

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