John Rohrs thinks his first-run syndicated drama will be a hit for stations and his Rohrs Media Group. The barter-only show is low risk for stations, giving them exclusive programming. The question is will it be able to compete during weekends with off-net staples like Law & Order: SVU, Criminal Minds and The Closer.
When The Pinkertons premieres on Oct. 4, it will be one of a few dramatic hours to debut in broadcast syndication since the genre petered out in 2009 with the cancellation of Disney-ABC’s short-lived Legend of the Seeker.
But John Rohrs, president of distributor Rohrs Media Group, is confident that The Pinkertons can succeed and possibly revive the genre, despite facing significant hurdles.
Stations don’t have to pay a fee to air the weekend show. The Pinkertons, which is cleared in nearly 90% of TV homes on stations including Tribune’s CW affiliate WPIX New York and Weigel Broadcasting’s independent WCIU Chicago, is being sold on a barter-only basis. The 16 minutes of ad time is being split down the middle.
“For stations, there is nothing but potential,” says Rohrs. “The only thing we’re asking stations to do is promote it.”
The Pinkertons is inspired by the 19th century detective agency founded by Allan Pinkerton, portrayed by Angus Macfadyen, star of AMC’s Revolutionary War drama Turn. The show is reminiscent of Castle with romantic tension between two of its lead characters, Allan’s son William and Kate Warne, the first female detective in the U.S.
“In The Pinkertons, we have a first-run show, which our broadcast stations are looking for,” says Sean Compton, president of strategic programming and acquisitions at Tribune Broadcasting. “It’s a genre that works for us – it’s a procedural like Person of Interest and Elementary. And there is really no risk for us. We’re replacing barter-only shows with a barter-only show.”
“This is about investing in a time period and dedicating promotion to it,” says Neal Sabin, vice chairman at Weigel Broadcasting. “We’d like it to succeed. We’ve never been a broadcaster who gave up on weekends because it’s a nice springboard to weekday programs. And there are retailers who advertise.”
Rohrs says another reason stations signed up for The Pinkertons is because it’s exclusive to them. “The only place viewers can see it is on their television stations,” he says. “That is a very rare pitch to TV stations these days.”
Rohrs’ credentials should also give comfort to those scheduling the show. He formed the independent TV and movie distribution company that bears his name in 2011 after 17 years at Sony Pictures Television, including 10 as EVP of cable TV.
Rohrs Media Group previously distributed Meredith’s The Better Show and, in 2013, sold We TV’s Bridezillas into broadcast syndication.
The Pinkertons will typically air Saturday and Sunday afternoons with latenight double runs.
That means it will be competing with well-established, off-network shows like NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution’s Law & Order: SVU, CBS Television Distribution’s Criminal Minds and off-cable shows like Warner Bros.’ The Closer that have pushed syndication originals out of weekend time slots.
With clearances in 90% of the country, on stations owned by Tribune, Hearst, CBS and others, Trifecta launched a first-run drama this season, SAF3. It’s about sea-air-fire rescue from Baywatch creator Gregory Bonann. It is delivering just a 0.3 household rating, but is coming back for a second season.
Rohrs declined to say exactly how much the planned 22 episodes of The Pinkertons cost to produce.
“We are going to spend millions of dollars on a first-run show that will be of the quality and style you can put up against The Walking Dead or any program on any broadcast or cable network,” Rohrs says. “That resonated with [stations].”
Each hour-long episode of shows like AMC’s The Walking Dead cost about $2.7 million to produce, while shows like The Closer — now in syndication but originally on TNT, cost about $1.5 million to $2 million per episode, according to SNL Kagan.
That’s a lot of money to offset with a barter-only business. But Rohrs says he’s confident the show will turn a profit.
The show’s setting is Nebraska but it’s produced in Canada by Rosetta Media and Buffalo Gal Pictures. They’re footing some of the bill and so is Amuse Group USA, a division of Japanese production company Amuse Inc.
Moreover, The Pinkertons will likely generate revenue from international license fees. International distributor Zodiak Rights will start selling it in October at the MIPCOM television marketplace in France.
“From a modeling standpoint, we’re not worried,” says Rohrs. “I don’t want to get into specifics, but I can say the show will launch here and we’ll be in great shape. International is shaping up fine as well.”
It used to be that syndication’s original hours like Baywatch and Xena generated a profit from international sales, even before domestic revenue was factored in.
But that market dried up the past couple of decades as it was flooded with higher quality dramas like CTD’s NCIS — the most-watched TV drama in the world, according to Eurodata TV Worldwide.
Not everyone shares Rohrs’ confidence. “I don’t really think there’s a way to do this anymore,” says a syndicated TV executive. “Disney tried it a few years ago and, with all their clout, they couldn’t do it.”
Other TV analysts are more hopeful. Bob Thompson, director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, thinks The Pinkertons can capture viewers’ attention.
“I think there’s an opportunity for an hour-long drama in syndication,” he says. “Today, it’s much less important than it used to be which time slots and stations it gets. If The Pinkertons comes out and it’s this killer, great scripted drama, it doesn’t matter what its first-run location is. People find these shows.”