It’s all about daytime, and the offerings from the major syndicators are few. Only Sony’s Judge David Young looks like a go for fall of 2007. All else is wishes and promises. Fourth hour of NBC’s Today Show is close to a done deal, sources say.
Two months ago it looked as if this year’s NATPE might shape up to be a bazaar reminiscent of the pre fin-syn days, with more than 20 new shows being talked about for September 2007.
Yet, with less than a month to go before show time, only one new first-run show is a certainty—Sony Pictures Television’s Judge David Young. Sony has cleared the court show in 55% of the country, including Fox, CBS and Sinclair stations, and it expects to have pushed that percentage to 70 by the time NATPE opens its doors in Las Vegas.
All else is iffy.
Sony says that it has another project in the works and that it may be ready to present it at NATPE. John Weiser, president, distribution, Sony Pictures Television, declined to provide any details.
Warner Bros. is still talking about a magazine show built around TMZ.com, a popular celebrity news site, and is actually pitching Celebrity Court, in which litigants are judged by a panel of B-list celebrities. It has apparently shelved talkers featuring Christy Haubegger and Maria Salazar.
The newly-formed CBS Television Distribution “hopes to have announcement soon” regarding a promised one-hour game show block developed with Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune producer Harry Friedman. The block comprises Combination Lock and a casino-style update of Joker’s Wild.
Broadcasters say they are interested in a daytime version of NBC’s primetime game show Deal or No Deal, but NBC Universal seems to have had second thoughts about developing it. It has not yet identified a host and broadcasters and station reps contacted by TVNewsCheck have not been pitched.
There are a few other possibilities—shows that may make the leap from O&O experiments to syndication.
NBCU launched the multiplatform iVillage Live on NBC O&Os on Dec. 4. The show and its business model are tied to NBCU’s women-oriented Web site of the same name, which complicates its possible syndication potential. The show is off to a bumpy start in the ratings.
Twentieth Television is using the Fox O&Os for a soft launch of The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet next month at 9 a.m. in most markets. It’s a spinoff of Fox News Channel’s DaySide. Because of its heavy Fox branding, broadcasters say, it would have limited appeal outside the Fox universe.
A trial of the interactive game show My Games Fever, adapted from a format that was a smash hit on BSkyB in the United Kingdom, also started this month on 10 Fox-owned My Network TV affiliates. If successful, it could reach the syndication market.
Add it all up and there may be just three or four news shows debuting next fall. “It’s the least amount of syndication ever,” says Alan Frank, CEO of Post-Newsweek Stations.
The principal reason is that only daytime is in play. Other dayparts are locked up by perennials like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy (prime access) and Oprah and Dr. Phil (early fringe). If anything, the dealmaking in these dayparts revolves around renewals.
Still, the need for new product in daytime is strong, with several new shows from this season unlikely to return. NBC Universal’s Megan Mullally, Sony’s Greg Behrendt and Warner Bros. Dr. Keith Ablow are all struggling. With this much blood in the water the sharks would normally be circling, but not this year.
“A lot of station people wish there was more going on, but there just isn’t,” says Sony’s Weiser.
Another reason for the puny first-run output may be the organizational changes at major syndicators over the past several months, which, some say, disrupted normal development work.
The departure of Randy Falco and David Zaslav at NBC Universal led to a reorganization that has NBC Domestic TV Distribution President Barry Wallach now reporting to TV Stations and Network Operations chief Jay Ireland.
The long awaited merger of CBS Paramount Domestic Television and King World was a huge undertaking, with Joel Berman being replaced by co-presidents Robert Madden and John Nogawski. Madden oversees administration, finance, legal and communications operations, while Nogawski handles syndication sales, ad sales, marketing and new media.
The sales and promotional teams of Twentieth Television have been pulling double duty this year since the launch of My Network TV.
At Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, Ken Werner succeeded the retiring 17-year company veteran Dick Robertson. Werner had been in charge of network distribution for The WB and was involved in the launch of The CW.
“The big guys have not been able to get into the marketplace and, when they’re not moving, no one else feels pressure to make a move,” said Garnett Losak, VP, director of programming for Petry Media Corp.
Also complicating the daytime marketplace is NBCU’s plan to expand the Today Show into a fourth hour starting in September 2007. The fourth hour would effectively replace NBCU’s costly syndication flop Megan Mullally.
Although NBCU denied the fourth hour when it first appeared in print last summer, NBC affiliates and station reps tell TVNewsCheck it is close to a done deal and the New York Post reported last week that Billy Bush was auditioning to be host of the extra hour.
One broadcaster says the move would be coupled with the cancellation of Passions, NBC’s low-rated afternoon soap opera, so that affiliates would lose an hour in the morning, but gain one in the early afternoon.
Syndicators also concede that they are not inclined to rush into the daytime marketplace, where the risks now seem to outweigh the rewards.
“The marketplace is a difficult one,” said CTD President John Nogawski. “It’s gotten tougher and tougher in daytime TV to find that great personality or great concept, produce it at an economic enough level and still make money in a marketplace where no one is willing to play for a show.”
Wayne Karrfalt is freelance writer based in Seattle. You can contact him at [email protected] or 206-706-2739.