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20th tries hand at regional launches

Feb 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Still waters ran deep at Twentieth Television after a long run of silence from within the company’s development ranks so far this season, and now a new court show and a late-night talk show will lead off a new regional launch strategy for the syndicator.
With a merger of the Fox owned-and-operated stations and the Chris-Craft Industries stations still pending, Twentieth was quiet throughout January’s National Association of Television Program Executives market, with the distributor mainly firming up its current programming crop for the next few seasons.
Now, with Bob Cook at the helm of the studio after taking over shortly before the new year, the company is preparing a series of regional launches beginning with “Texas Justice” next month.
“With regional launches, not only is it less expensive than if we prepared a national launch, but it gives us the opportunity to control the environment where it will be placed,” Mr. Cook said. “This way we can select the time periods and the competition … and that can give us a reasonable picture of whether the program can work or not.”
“Texas Justice” was cleared at six of the Southern Fox O&Os: KDFW-TV, Dallas; WAGA-TV, Atlanta; KRIV-TV, Houston, where the show will be produced; WBRC-TV, Birmingham, Ala.; WHBQ, Memphis, Tenn.; and WGHP, Greensboro, N.C. Each of the stations will control the advertising inventory.
The half-hour strip will be ruled by Texas lawman Larry Joe Doherty. Kathryn Seigel Levine of the studio’s now-canceled “Forgive or Forget” will serve as executive producer. The series will debut March 26 for a 13-week test run that will last through the May sweeps.
While a number of studios have deserted the once-traditional slow rollout because of the expense involved in the production of a show, Mr. Cook said by using the Houston production facilities, a large chunk of the bill has been cut. In addition, the studio will have to promote the series in only six cities.
“Not only do we need a smaller marketing budget, but by synergistically sharing the program with stations in our own group, not to mention the fact that we are using Houston’s new facility, with its expansive post-production capabilities, it all represents an incredible savings for us,” he said.
If the series is able to carry its lead-in and provide a solid boost for the stations, the company is already poised to extend it toward the Eastern Seaboard by rolling it out to other markets.
Behind “Justice,” the company is readying a late-night talk show also designed to be tested regionally, although thus far talent for the upcoming series has yet to be announced.
“Part of the reason we didn’t bring anything to the convention is that we wanted to make sure we tried out the product and would be able to fine-tune it,” he said.
“When they look like they are finally ready, we can take them to the next level. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t take another project straight to pilot, but right now in a number of cases, with the levels of patience needed these days to make a show work, we will test it out before we make a firm commitment to bring it out nationally.”