NBC stations to play ‘Crosswords’

Griffin show lands big syndication deal

“Let’s Play Crosswords,” Merv Griffin’s first major gameshow since “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy,” has landed a big syndication deal with five NBC-owned stations, including WNBC New York, KNBC Los Angeles and WMAQ Chicago.

Deal is a coup for the independent distributor Program Partners, run by Ritch Colbert and Josh Raphaelson, which is mainly known for distributing to U.S. TV stations the Canadian-made police shows “Da Vinci’s Inquest” and “Cold Squad.”

The NBC deal propels “Crosswords,” Raphaelson said, “right to the head of the class among all new firstrun strips” slated for 2007-08.

The NBC stations have signed a one-year contract with Program Partners, ponying up a cash license fee and allowing the distrib to hold back one minute within each half-hour run for sale to national advertisers.

“Crosswords” kicks off in the fall.

Most of the NBC stations will carry back-to-back half-hour runs of the gamer, scheduling them between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Colbert said the show’s production schedule will deliver all original episodes during the November sweeps, when the stations use Nielsen numbers to set their ad rates for a number of months.

The momentum from the NBC deal “should permit us to clear stations in 80%-90% of the U.S. by the time the show premieres,” Colbert said.

As part of the contract, NBC Universal’s ad-sales arm in New York will sell the daily minute on behalf of Program Partners, which owns “Crosswords” in association with Merv Griffin Entertainment and the William Morris Agency.

A deal is also in the works for “Crosswords” to take over one of the soundstages at WMAQ, the NBC O&O in Chicago, where the show would be taped in front of a live audience. The host is still to be announced.

NBC’s stations developed an urgent need for programming when NBC U canceled “The Megan Mullally Show” last month and had no original shows to replace it. Some NBC stations are playing reruns of “Queer Eye” as a temporary replacement.

Getting “Crosswords” also positions the NBC stations to welcome an NBC U syndicated version of the primetime gameshow hit “Deal or No Deal,” which could go together with “Crosswords” to fill a 60-minute time period in 2008.

The two other NBC-owned stations buying “Crosswords” are KNTV San Francisco and KXAS Dallas.