Reality shows boost syndie independents

Apr 9, 2001  •  Post A Comment

While major studios scramble for international financing for their upcoming and returning weekly syndicated action hours, smaller independent syndicators are quietly nailing clearances for their weekly fare.
Leading the charge in recent weeks is Hearst Entertainment, which has given a firm go to all five of its weekly shows, including two upcoming series. With all the major markets cleared, the distributor joins a number of others who last week secured their places in the weekly ranks for the fall.
Rising production costs and lower ratings spelled the end of two longtime weeklies, Studios USA Domestic Television’s “Xena” and Pearson Television’s “Baywatch Hawaii,” while trouble with international financing ended Pearson’s “Lean Angle” before the show even launched.
According to Katz Television Group Vice President Bill Carroll, indie players offer alternative programming to stations with a financial model that can withstand both international and domestic market fluctuations.
“The boutique syndicator is able to adapt to the marketplace and take advantage of whatever niche opportunities exist and [is] able to produce programming that is economically viable even without 100 percent clearance,” he said. “It is the large studio syndicators that end up suffering from economics and have to deal with a huge committee looking at things.”
The indie player offers stations cheaper but viable counterprogramming.
“For stations, the shows give them some variety, almost always as weekend programs made available on a barter basis,” said Mr. Carroll.
Thriving at this is Hearst. The company has now committed to firm gos for “The Bravest,” a new reality series a la “Cops” that follows the perils of firefighters, as well as for the family-oriented series “The Pet Shop With Marc Morrone.” Making return appearances will be “Ron Hazelton’s Housecalls,” “B. Smith With Style” and a sophomore run of “Famous Homes and Hideaways.”
“The marketplace is challenging right now,” said Robert J. Corona, senior vice president of domestic sales at Hearst. “Our economic models for reality programming do not necessarily rely on an international production partner, and this benefits us when you look at the number of shows that have gone away this year. It opens up time periods for us.”
Perhaps the highest profile of Hearst’s new launches is “The Bravest.” With a 79 percent clearance rate, the series will air on WCBS-TV in New York, KNBC-TV in Los Angeles and WBBM-TV in Chicago.
“Reality is a genre that people are looking at more carefully, because it attracts a younger audience,” Mr. Corona said. “It helps that it does not require the amount of intense promotion that a [different type of] series might. Series like `The Bravest’ have a timelessness to them. Similar shows such as `Cops’ and `America’s Most Wanted’ always had a strong history of success.”
“The Pet Shop With Marc Morrone” has found outlets on WNYW-TV in New York, KTTV in Los Angeles and WGN-TV in Chicago.
Other indie players making waves last week with reality variants of their own included Western International Syndication, which added its biggest market yet with clearance of “Cheaters” at KCAL-TV, Los Angeles. After a gradual rollout throughout the year, the weekly series will air on at midnight Saturday. “Cheaters” now stands at 80 percent clearance nationally for the second season.
Meanwhile, fellow indie player Litton Syndication has cleared “Urban Latino” on KCBS-TV, Los Angeles. This latest round of clearances for the half-hour weekly series now gives the lifestyle/entertainment magazine clearance in six of the top 10 Latino markets and access to more than
60 percent of U.S. Latino homes nationwide.