Syndicators season the mix

Jul 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Syndication’s development season continues to steamroll as studios, ranging from Warner Bros. to Twentieth to Universal to Promark, explore or acquire new projects.
On the strip side of the business, Rosie O’Donnell will groom comedian and actress Caroline Rhea to fill her shoes after next season. Ms. Rhea will appear on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” throughout the upcoming season as guest host and co-host and in recurring segments to become fully integrated into the strip to make for a seamless transition when she takes over hosting duties for 2002-03. The outgoing host will then serve as executive consultant for the Rhea series, which will continue to be produced by Telepictures and distributed by Warner Bros.
Ms. O’Donnell has chosen to exit after next season to spend more time with her children and pursue other professional opportunities.
“I’m unbelievably grateful for the years of doing the show,” said Ms. O’Donnell. “Now it’s time to pass the baton, as I think all good artists should. Caroline is very funny-she’s self-deprecating, she’s intelligent, she’s smart, she’s sensitive, and she cares about people in a way that’s very relatable and accessible.
“Viewers feel comfortable with Caroline because they know her from sitcoms and they know her from `Hollywood Squares.’ They know her as Whoopi’s friend and Bruce Vilanch’s friend and my friend. I think this familiarity is really important in reaching the daytime audience.”
The show will maintain its current format while tailoring certain elements and segments designed specifically for Ms. Rhea. The series will continue to originate from New York, utilizing a number of key staff members who have contributed to the success of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show.”
“When you see Caroline in this format, it is obvious she’s the right person to carry on this franchise in daytime,” said Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution President Dick Robertson.
“We know the audience and have a proven track record in the daypart,” said Jim Paratore, president of Telepictures Productions. “We have also enjoyed great success with `The Rosie O’Donnell Show’ and have a team in place and a show that’s up and running. Add to this Rosie’s understanding of the sensibility of the daytime audience and her assistance in front of and behind the camera, and we have the best opportunity to keep this advertiser-friendly talk/variety franchise successful for years to come.”
Ms. Rhea, who currently stars as Aunt Hilda on “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” filled in as guest host of “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” several times last season, earning Ms. O’Donnell’s endorsement as a replacement in the process. Earlier this year, Paramount cleared a talk show featuring Ms. Rhea to most of the country, but the distributor later pulled the plug for financial reasons.
Meanwhile, over at Fox, Fisher Entertainment and producer Andy Lassner, who has an overall deal at Fox TV Studios, are co-developing an on-the-road talk show with Rita Scott, a regular on HBO’s “Taxicab Confessions.” Fox syndie arm Twentieth Television is also considering making an early-morning presence with a national adaptation of Los Angeles station KTTV’s “Good Day L.A.”
In addition, NBC’s fledgling syndie division continues to put down roots in the programming landscape. The syndicator has shot a pilot at the Hearst-Argyle TV Productions facility in Boston featuring former NAACP head Kweisi Mfume. On the weekly side, the studio is developing an action hour about crime-fighting fashion models.
Universal is in talks with Dimension Films and Abandon Entertainment to distribute “The Dark Ages of Camelot” based on the online game of the same name. Universal owner Vivendi recently agreed to come out with a board game version of the project, prompting Dimension to announce a television series in development. Now Universal may distribute the series about Camelot after the death of King Arthur, whose kingdom has splintered into three factions.
Promark Entertainment is in the midst of expanding its weekly library with the acquisition of distribution rights to two series, “McGee and Me” and “Secret Adventures.” The “McGee and Me” package will be launched as two half-hour holiday specials in November and December that will be followed in fall 2002 by weekly syndication.
“We are very proud to be representing this high-quality and compelling product,” said Promark President David Levine. “Mixing live-action filmmaking and animation is hot right now, and we are convinced these shows will capture the interest of a very vast and diversified audience.”
The “McGee and Me” and “Secret Adventures” projects were produced several years ago and aired on the ABC Network as weekend specials. The series were sold in more than 70 countries, including the United Kingdom, where they aired on the BBC.
Publicists for the syndicators declined to talk about the projects.