No longer willing to go it alone, Tribune Entertainment is seeking partnerships with producers that will, above all, yield quality programming for its syndication-hungry TV station group.
With its change in management, Tribune Entertainment is completing its transition from a full-blown syndicator to a streamlined, sales-and-distribution service provider whose principal goal—other than profitability, of course—is filling the programming needs of the Tribune station group.
Last month, Tribune Entertainment’s ad sales chief, Clark Morehouse, ascended to the top job, executive vice president and general manager. Tribune programming guru Marc Schacher was promoted to senior vice president of programming and development, where he will directly oversee the development of all programs intended for Tribune’s 24 stations. Significantly, both report to John Reardon, president and CEO of the station group, Tribune Broadcasting.
Morehouse and Schacher—who will be assisted by Donna Harrison, Tribune Entertainment’s vice president of development—replace Dick Askin, who stepped down in May 2005 and now is chairman and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Tribune once was a significant standalone syndicator, producing, distributing and selling ads for highly successful programs like Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules. But those days are over.
“Tribune is not a first-run studio anymore,” Morehouse says. “We have terrific relationships with companies that are producers of first-run TV shows, so we are making a slight change in the way we go about our business. We are committed to making Tribune Entertainment a viable entity.”
The best example of the new Tribune is its partnership with Sony on The Greg Behrendt Show, which focuses on the lighter side of relationships. Behrendt rolls out in national syndication on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
Sony handles most of the show’s heavy production and distribution lifting, while Tribune provides its station group as the launching pad. It’s a partnership similar to one Tribune previously had with Universal, before NBC bought that company in May 2004. Together, Tribune and Universal developed and launched Home Delivery, a lifestyle show that lasted only one season.
In another such partnership, Tribune is distributing and selling the ads for Fremantle’s American Idol Rewind, which Tribune stations also will be airing on Saturday nights this fall. The show represents something different for broadcast syndication, which traditionally has snubbed unscripted shows.
Rewind will replay the Idol contests of the past five seasons as well as include never-before-seen footage, such as Kelly Clarkson’s audition.
“I believe in it and stations are putting it in great time periods,” Schacher says. “We’re double-running it on all our stations and it’s going to get great exposure and a great promotional push. I think all those Idol groupies are going to love it.”
Tribune is also partnered with Fremantle on Family Feud and the pair is reportedly developing a companion game show. “We’re always looking to expand our relationship with Fremantle,” Morehouse says.
In addition to Idol and Feud, Tribune also sells ads and distributes Debmar’s South Park and New Line’s Masterminds, which is coming off of Court TV this fall. In prior years, Tribune sold ads for New Line’s The Twilight Zone and The Lost World.
Tribune is also the ad rep for DIC Entertainment’s animated kids’ programming, although not the three-hour block the CBS stations picked up for the fall. DIC created its own in-house sales division to handle those sales.
While Tribune now runs such DIC shows as Strawberry Shortcake, Madeline, Sabrina and Trollz, it wants more first-run and live-action kids programming.
“As an ad-sales group, we have found a way to monetize the national marketplace in animation 52 weeks a year. That’s good for us but it’s not so good for our stations,” says Morehouse. “It’s tough for our stations to make animation work, so we are looking for a way to evolve our relationship with DIC so that it performs its legacy function in educational and informational programming but will also be more first-run as we evolve it. Starting in the 2007-08 broadcast year, the DIC product on our stations will look very different.”
DIC’s Chairman and CEO Andy Heyward confirms that: “Kids’ advertising is largely limited to national sales, not local, and as a result there is less appetite from the local point of view. As a result, we are working with Tribune to structure our E/I block with them to be targeted towards older kids, and that will involve more live-action.”
Tribune’s other line of business is renting out studio time at its recently refurbished Hollywood lot.
The bottom line at the new Tribune appears to be the bottom line. With the parent Tribune Co. under financial stress, the new management is dedicated to efficiency and cost cutting. To that end, Tribune earlier this year dropped out of the Syndicated Network Television Association, the New York-based group that trumpets syndication advertising.