In Depth

A Ferocious Few Fight for Fall Flight

New first-run syndication offerings are few for fall 2009 as syndicators remain cautious about what stations are able to afford in tough economic times.

Despite this, major distributors are preparing several important titles for the marketplace, including Sony Pictures Television’s “The Oprah Winfrey Show” spinoff “Dr. Oz” and Twentieth Television’s syndie version of the Fox series “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”

First-Run Syndication

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Each title offers distinct advantages in the marketplace, but each also has its drawbacks.

Below is a breakdown of the prospective slate, with analysts’ descriptions of the pros and cons of the shows.

“Dr. Oz” (tentative title) (Sony Pictures Television)

What: “Dr. Oz,” starring Dr. Mehmet Oz, brings the celebrated doctor to television five days a week to discuss medical issues, a la his “Oprah” appearances.

Pro: “Dr. Oz,” produced by Ms. Winfrey’s production company, Harpo, has the clout of the Oprah moniker behind it. And just like other Oprah spinoffs, like “Dr. Phil” and “The Rachael Ray Show,” Dr. Oz has been able to use his “Oprah” appearances to hone his on-screen presence for the television audience.

The success of CBS Television Distribution’s “The Doctors” also bodes well for “Oz,” showing there is an appetite for a daily medical talk show.

“Dr. Oz” has already been cleared in the majority of the country, landing on the Fox stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Con: The Oprah pedigree can be both a blessing and a curse, as expectations are running very high for the success of “Oz.” Even an above-average start may disappoint buyers, given the names associated with the show.

“Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” (Twentieth Television)

What: A daily half-hour version of the Fox network’s Mark Burnett/ZOO Productions game show “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?,” which tests contestants on facts taught in grade school.

Pro: As with NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution’s “Deal or No Deal,” “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” is being brought from prime time to daytime with few changes. Fox prime-time host Jeff Foxworthy remains on board for syndication. The show is also a family-friendly and established element, making it a low-risk purchase.

Con: The syndicated game show genre hasn’t had a massive hit since “Jeopardy!,” making it a difficult nut to crack. The show hasn’t announced any clearances yet, but analysts are pointing to the Fox Stations Group as the most likely major-market purchaser.

“The Wendy Williams Show” (Debmar-Mercury)

What: New York-based syndicated radio talk show host Wendy Williams brings her unique personality and views to television, tackling current events, fashion, celebrities and cooking.

Pro: Wendy Williams has the strong voice and personality to cut out a distinct niche audience. A six-week trial run of the show in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Detroit drew solid numbers, auguring potential for growth. Also, the talker is slated for a July start, which will help it grab a foothold before the rest of the pack premieres. “Williams” is backed by the Fox stations in several major markets.

Con: Establishing a national audience may prove difficult for “Williams.” Successful in urban markets, Ms. Williams may be too edgy for middle America.

“The T.D. Jakes Show” (tentative title) (CBS Television Distribution)

What: Bishop T.D. Jakes headlines an inspirational talk show, building on his religious leadership background and frequent appearances on “Dr. Phil.” Phil and Jay McGraw’s Stage 29 Productions is set to produce.

Pro: Some analysts, noting the current mood of the nation, say they believe this show could be the right program at the right time given Bishop Jakes’ message of helping people through hard times. The show is currently cleared in 50% of the country, with a commitment from Tribune Broadcasting for the major markets.

Con: Despite Bishop Jakes’ reach, he may not be known to the average viewer, which may limit sampling for the show. Also, Tribune’s recent bankruptcy could jeopardize the program. Bishop Jakes and the production values of the show won’t come cheap in terms of licensing fees from stations. Cash-strapped stations might not be able to cover what is an acceptable amount to produce the show and make it profitable.

“The Marie Osmond Show” (tentative title) (Program Partners)

What: A talk show featuring Marie Osmond.

Pro: Ms. Osmond is riding a wave of renewed recognition from her appearance on “Dancing With the Stars,” and she has experience as a talk show host from her mid-’90s talker “Donny and Marie.” It is rumored that the show will be produced in Las Vegas, which means less competition for guests from L.A.-based talk shows such as “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Tonight Show.”

Con: Although the show has cleared some markets, it is still lacking clearances in the major markets. Analysts are viewing Tribune or NBC-owned stations as possibilities, but the few available time periods could make the going rough.

“Judge Jeannie Pirro” (Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution)

What: A court show featuring Jeannie Pirro, a former candidate for New York attorney general, Fox News legal analyst and contributor to “The Morning Show With Mike and Juliet.”

Pro: “Pirro” currently airs on The CW in the afternoon, giving it built-in national exposure and an established franchise. “The Tyra Banks Show” is settling into “Pirro’s” time period for fall 2009.

Con: As with most new entries in the court genre, it’s going to be difficult to gain traction within such a deep field of similar programs.

Updated at 10:55 a.m.: Corrected producer in 8th graf