Trio tapped as syndie saviors

Biz buzzes over rookies 'Pauley,' 'Danza,' 'Insider'

One is a celebrity-driven news magazine, one is a talkshow hosted by Jane Pauley and the third is a talk/variety hour starring Tony Danza, but the three series have one thing in common: They’re entering the 2004-05 syndication marketplace as rookie projects that could stick around awhile in the Big Leagues.

Considering the 80% or so failure rate of firstrun syndicated five-a-weekers, “it’s noteworthy that there are as many as three highly anticipated series in one season that have a real shot at making it,” says Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV, who advises hundreds of station clients about which shows to buy.

In the last dozen years, only two strips have broken through to become big hits in firstrun syndication, Warner Bros.’ “Rosie,” which premiered in the summer of 1996 and left the air two years ago, and King World’s “Dr. Phil,” now in its second year.

To be sure, no one is using the noun “breakthrough” just yet to describe “The Insider,” “The Jane Pauley Show” and “The Tony Danza Show.” In fact, the exact content of the Pauley and Danza talkshows are still going through all sorts of fine tuning before their September debuts.

But one of the reasons Pauley and Danza are so highly touted this early on, says Chuck Larsen, president of October Moon, is that “they’re cleared in better time periods” than most first-year shows. (October Moon is the syndicator of another September 2004 fledgling, Vin DiBona’s “That’s Funny” video-clip series.)

Timeslots are the be-all-and-end-all for the Pauley show, for example. Bypassing weaker daytime shots in most markets, Pauley is harvesting a large number of early-fringe clearances (3-6 p.m. everywhere but the midwest).

The Pauley show is benefitting from NBC Universal Domestic’s aggressive research-heavy pitch, which proclaims that her series will be a compatible lead-in to late-afternoon newscasts.

The Pauley show ignited the biggest behind-the-scenes controversy of the season earlier this year when many NBC-owned stations, siblings of NBC U Domestic, slotted the program in early fringe rather than giving a time-period upgrade to Warner Bros. TV’s “Ellen.”

Even objective observers say “Ellen,” the first-year talkshow hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, earned the right to the time period by delivering solid ratings in most of the big markets.

But, although “Ellen” will be stuck in many lower-visibility daytime slots for another season, Warner Bros. could take comfort from the much weaker competition in daytime.

By contrast, Pauley is facing powerhouse rivals in early fringe such as “Oprah,” “Dr. Phil” and “Judge Judy.” Getting audience sampling against such juggernauts may prove to be a nightmare, even for a well-known personality like Pauley.

Danza won’t have that problem because the show’s distributor, Buena Vista TV, is marketing it mostly for daytime. But Carroll says Danza’s show has a leg-up because in most of the ABC-owned markets it’s getting paired with the long-running Buena Vista hit “Live with Regis & Kelly.”

“Two of the most coveted timeslots in syndicated television are WABC at 10 a.m. and WPVI at 10 a.m.,” Carroll says.

WABC is the ABC O&O in New York and WPVI is the ABC O&O in Philadelphia, both high-rated stations, and, according to Carroll, Danza is following in the time-period footsteps of such venerable programs as “Oprah” and “Sally Jesse Raphael.”

As for Paramount Domestic’s “The Insider,” a number of commentators point to the show’s gestating process, comparing it to that of “Dr. Phil.” Both shows have had the luxury of incubating as regular segments of existing hits: “The Insider” within “Entertainment Tonight” and “Dr. Phil” as a weekly guest on “Oprah.”

Paramount is playing up the umbilical cord of “E.T.” by clearing “Insider” in more than 50% of the country as a companion piece to “E.T.” in the prime-access time slot (7 to 8 p.m.).

New shows like “Insider,” Pauley and Danza are also grabbing the attention of Madison Avenue, prompting the SNTA (Syndicated Network TV Assn.) to predict that the upfront marketplace in syndication will shoot up by a couple of hundred million dollars.

For the full 2004-05 season, the association — the sales arm of the industry — says advertising revenues generated by national time in syndicated TV shows could rise by a strapping $300 million, from $3.5 billion to $3.8 billion.

Mitch Burg, head of the SNTA, cites Deutschmedia as a major ad buyer that plans to move 20% of the budgets of clients like Bank of America, Expedia and Revlon from broadcast to alternatives like TV syndication.

Many advertisers, Burg says, are fed up with the demands by broadcast networks for sizable increases in the face of declining viewership. TV syndication offers these clients competitive Nielsen ratings among 18- to 49- year olds at much cheaper prices.

More money is rolling into the syndication marketplace just as more time periods are opening up for new shows.

Larsen cites such casualties of the 2003-04 season as Warner Bros.’ “Sharon Osbourne,” King World’s “Living It Up with Ali & Jack,” NBC U’s “John Walsh Show,” Buena Vista’s “Wayne Brady Show,” Sony Pictures TV’s “Ricki Lake” and Universal’s “Crossing Over with John Edward.”

In addition to “Insider,” Pauley and Danza, replacement shows include NBC U’s “Home Delivery,” Warner Bros.’ “Larry Elder Show,” Twentieth TV’s “Ambush Makeover,” October Moon’s “That’s Funny,” and two from Sony Pictures TV: “Pat Croce cq Moving In” and “Life & Style.”

The one off-net series that could make a Nielsen impact this fall is Twentieth TV’s “Malcolm in the Middle,” which the Fox-owned TV stations have taken the lead in buying.

But with the ratings of “Malcolm” beginning to decline on the Fox Network, the show won’t likely reach the syndication ratings of the Big Four of sitcom reruns: “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Simpsons.”