Little Litton serves up movies

Independent wields 'Animal Adventure'

Independent distributors have begun rising from the dead in TV syndication: The NBC O&Os pulled a major surprise in February by picking up the “Crosswords” gameshow from Program Partners, and last year, Debmar-Mercury presold the “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” sitcom to TBS and to TV stations owned by Fox, Tribune and other groups.

But a third indie, Litton Entertainment, is also starting to grab the attention of the industry after two decades of beating the bushes to scare up sales of the latest weekly fang-and-claw half-hour hosted by Jack Hanna.

“Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures” is still a mainstay of Litton’s portfolio, along with another nature half-hour, “Exploration with Jarod Miller,” complemented by “Baywatch” reruns, the reality shows “Home Team” and “Nascar Angels,” and the financial-news half-hour “Business Week Weekend.”

A privately held company, Litton, based in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., racked up $30 million or so in revenues in the last year, according to various estimates.

Litton touched off some trade ripples last week by engineering a deal with the Peace Arch Entertainment Group to buy U.S.-syndication rights to 85 low-budget movies from the Castle Hill library bundled into four separate packages.

The Castle Hill package is Litton’s first foray into syndicated movies, and experts like Garnett Losak, VP of programming for Petry TV, the rep firm, say Litton may be in for a rude awakening.

“Movies are a tough sell,” Losak says, pointing to the drastic cutback in the number of timeslots for movies on TV stations beginning in the late ’80s, when new networks started cropping up like Fox, followed by CW (a merger of UPN and the WB), Ion (formerly Pax TV) and MyNetworkTV, all of them gobbling up multiple hours of station real estate.

But Dave Morgan, the zealous, soft-spoken president and CEO of Litton, is convinced movies could start inching their way back onto the schedules, particularly in advance of 2008, a presidential-election year. Those quadrennial years gin up the demand for 30-second spots by political candidates, pushing station execs into setting aside as much commercial time as possible for local sale (at inflated prices).

Since the distributors of most five-a-week syndicated series demand lots of 30-second spots in the stations’ schedules as part of their deal, Morgan says Litton could gain an edge with its movies, because it’s not asking for one second of station time: The movie contracts call for cash only.

And, beyond 2008, Bill Carroll, VP of programming for Katz TV, another rep firm, says more outlets could crop up for movies, as TV stations “create a number of new digital channels, which will need lots of product. And movies are desirable product, especially when the digital services can buy multiple runs over a number of years.” (Actually three years, according to Pete Sniderman, VP of business affairs for Litton.)

But to make an impact in TV syndication similar to that of his two biggest indie rivals, Program Partners and Debmar-Mercury, Morgan knows he’s going to have to eventually come up with a firstrun strip that elbows its way into reasonably visible time periods. (Stations banished Litton’s previous strip “Ask Rita,” a comedy-fueled talkshow hosted by Rita Rudner, to the wee hours of the night.)

Morgan is gung-ho to expand, saying that Litton’s development office in L.A., run by its VP of production Bryan Curb, has two strip projects in development for the fall of 2008. He declines to be more specific, citing competitive reasons.

But Morgan’s optimism may not be completely unfounded. TV syndication is coming off the worst development season in decades; the major distribs, fed up by an 80%-plus failure rate among rookie shows, have become gun-shy.

Behemoths like CBS Paramount, whose shows dominate so many station time periods, hesitate to develop new syndicated shows, because if one of them succeeds, it’ll be at the expense of an existing Par series such as “Montel” or “Judge Joe Brown.”

“If a so-called little guy like Litton develops an interesting project for stripping next year,” says Carroll, “the TV stations will look very favorably on that project.”

Or, as Art Moore, VP of programming for WABC-TV New York, puts it: “If there’s a void in the station director’s schedule, he doesn’t care who fills it.”

Even if it’s a South Carolina company whose main strategy is to zig when the majors are zagging.

More TV

  • Melissa McCarthy as "Lee Israel" and

    WGA Awards 2019: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?,' 'Eighth Grade' Win Screenplay Awards

    In a pair of upsets, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” has won the Writers Guild of America’s adapted screenplay award for Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty and Bo Burnham has won the original screenplay award for “Eighth Grade.” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” based on the memoir of the late Lee Israel, topped the screenplays [...]

  • 50 Cent Power

    NYPD Officer Under Investigation for Allegedly Telling Police to Shoot 50 Cent 'on Sight'

    A New York City precinct commander is under investigation for allegedly telling officers to shoot rapper 50 Cent on sight, a police rep confirmed to Variety on Sunday. “The matter is under internal review,” an NYPD rep said, declining to answer further questions. Deputy Inspector Emanuel Gonzalez is accused of telling officers during a June 7 roll [...]

  • Bohemian Rhapsody

    'Bohemian Rhapsody,' 'Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Among Cinema Audio Society Winners

    Queen biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody” won the Cinema Audio Society’s top prize for sound mixing at Saturday night’s 55th annual CAS Awards. The film is Oscar-nominated for sound mixing this year along with “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “Roma” and “A Star Is Born.” In a surprise over heavy-hitters “Incredibles 2” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Wes [...]

  • Marvelous Mrs Maisel Vice

    'Vice,' 'The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel' Lead Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Winners

    Adam McKay’s Dick Cheney biopic “Vice,” starring Oscar nominees Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Sam Rockwell, won two awards at the sixth annual Make-Up and Hair Stylists Guild Awards Saturday night. The film won for best period and/or character makeup as well as special makeup effects. “Mary Queen of Scots” received the prize for period [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Good Morning America

    Jussie Smollett Angrily Denies Complicity in Attack

    Attorneys for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett issued a statement Saturday denying that he orchestrated his Jan. 29 assault, and saying he is “angered” and “devastated” by recent developments in the case. Chicago police want to interview Smollett, after learning new evidence from two Nigerian brothers who were released on Friday night. Local media outlets have [...]

  • Jussie Smollett Empire

    Chicago Police Want to Talk to Jussie Smollett as New Evidence Emerges

    Chicago police are seeking to re-interview “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, after new evidence emerged in his alleged assault. Smollett has claimed that two men attacked him at 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, and put a noose around his neck. The Chicago Police Department has consistently said [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content