After moving from the wrestling ring to the Minnesota governor’s mansion, Jesse “the Body” Ventura is close to moving behind the bench.
As television syndication companies this year seek high-profile names and show formats, Mr. Ventura, the former governor, actor, author and professional wrestler, is deep in negotiations with Twentieth Television to host a court show aimed at daytime television, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
If the deal is completed, the half-hour court show would debut in fall 2009, joining a number of other personality-driven series being readied for the season. That’s in stark contrast to recent years, when cheap formats and under-the-radar names drove shows.
A Twentieth spokesman declined to comment on development at the company. Mr. Ventura's representatives could not be reached for comment.
Mr. Ventura, whose resume includes stints as a Navy frogman and a talk-show host on both television and radio, might have the star power to distinguish himself from the welter of court shows, said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television Group.
“Jesse is a bigger-than-life personality, and there is always an advantage of having a brand name like his attached to a show,” Mr. Carroll said. “That personality could especially work well in the court genre, where he could break through in a crowded field. Needless to say, it would be hard to confuse him with the other judges.”
Court shows remain one of the most stable and popular categories for new syndication development, with 11 series on the air in first-run syndication; “Judge Judy” leads the pack. Three more series will hit the airwaves this fall: Program Partners’ “Family Court With Judge Penny,” Sony’s “Judge Karen” and Telepictures’ network deal for “Judge Jeanine Pirro.”
Distributors are moving back toward higher-profile (and more expensive) shows for 2009, although court programs tend to cost less than talk shows. Already, a bevy of well-known names is either on deck to host a series or in serious negotiations with a distributor.
Among the projects rumored or confirmed to be in the works for fall 2009 are a talk show from Program Partners hosted by Marie Osmond, “Dr. Oz” from Sony Pictures Television, a series featuring Food Network personality Paula Deen at Telepictures and a talk show featuring “King of Queens” star Leah Remini at CBS. Debmar-Mercury, meanwhile, is considered likely to move forward with a series featuring Wendy Williams based on early ratings results from a test run, according to analysts.
Twentieth Television, meanwhile, has been among the more active distributors for the season, inking a deal for a syndicated version of Fox’s “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and also developing projects featuring Donald Trump and former New York politician Alfonse D’Amato.
These names mark a sharp turnaround from recent seasons, when syndicators opted to keep costs low and find low-cost formats and/or lesser-known hosts to drive a show.
“Stations are looking for things that are distinctive,” Mr. Carroll said. “That almost always means something relatively high-profile but also expensive. By pre-branding their shows with names that people are already familiar with, it increases the odds that audiences will be able to find a show in a cluttered television universe.”