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Merv Griffin lives on in syndication

'Crosswords' launches on NBC-owned stations

While Merv Griffin’s legacy has been summed up in myriad obituaries since his death last month, the final chapter has yet to play out.

That process began Monday when “Merv Griffin’s Crosswords” made its firstrun syndie bow, launching on NBC owned-and-operated stations in afternoon time periods in the major markets.

Griffin, of course, created two of the more profitable assets in television history in “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” All the same, his final effort will face stiff competition in daytime syndication in key markets — in Los Angeles, for example, it will be stripped with double runs starting at 3 p.m. on KNBC against “Oprah Winfrey” on KABC and “Judge Judy” on KCBS.

“Any time you go against ‘Oprah,’ it’s tough, and (the competition) is compounded by shows like ‘Judge Judy’ and ‘People’s Court,’ ” says Bill Carroll, a programming consultant for station rep firm Katz Television.

“Then again, you can never bet against Merv — it would be foolish to do so, especially since he was intimately involved with the development of the show even though he was in failing health.”

According to Josh Raphaelson, who heads “Crosswords” distributor Program Partners, the ailing game-show taskmaster was “tweaking things right up to the last minute and was down to the lesser substantive changes,” such as host Ty Treadway’s hairstyle.

“We also have a promotional campaign worth in excess of $10 million that’s backing this up,” Raphaelson says.

Monday’s other big firstrun launch was Telepictures’ “TMZ,” which is attempting to funnel the gossip-fueled heat of TMZ.com into a newsmagazine strip running in early fringe on Fox stations. TMZ mastermind Harvey Levin hosts and exec produces the skein.

“If they’re able to translate the tongue-in-cheek approach from the website to the TV show, that will be very much in line with the Fox sensibility,” Carroll notes.

Two new court shows were also offered up to the syndie gods starting Monday: Radar Distribution’s “Jury Duty,” featuring panels of well-knowns and formerly well-knowns — everyone from Todd Bridges to Ed Begley Jr. to Phyllis Diller — judging daytime’s usual litany of petty grievances, and “Judge David Young” from Sony Pictures Television, offering an openly gay Miami jurist.

The talk format is also getting fresh entries, with Steve Wilkos — best known as the big, bald security guard who has broken up many an on-air fight on “The Jerry Springer Show” over the years — getting spun into his own NBC-Universal strip that will run primarily on Tribune outlets in daytime. (Wilkos will differentiate himself from Springer, Carroll says, by taking a more “hands-on” approach when dealing with the hooligans who appear as guests on his show.)

Twentieth, meanwhile, is expanding its rollout of “The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet,” putting it on Fox O&Os in major markets. Carroll says the show is “well-produced but faces difficulty going against ‘Live With Regis & Kelly’ and the third hour of ‘Today.’ ”

This fall season also brings several notable off-net premieres. Tribune stations are fusing “Two and a Half Men” from Warner Bros. and “Family Guy” from Twentieth into a venerable but aging comedy lineup that includes “Friends” and Everybody Loves Raymond.”

“Men,” Carroll notes, could be the last major sitcom to run exclusively in broadcast syndication for several years before migrating to cable. In July, NBC Universal and TBS broke with that tradition, with the former selling the latter rights to “The Office” ($650,000 an episode) and “My Name Is Earl” ($625,000) without the usual syndie-first exclusivity.

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