Syndicators narrow choices

Oct 8, 2001  •  Post A Comment

While series such as “Dr. Phil,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Weakest Link” and “$100,000 Pyramid” are now tallying remaining clearances for their 2002 launches, syndicators are still poking and prodding to determine which other series to bring to the National Association of Television Program Executives market.
The early clearances attained by the shows over the summer have locked up a number of the slots available next year. But with the potential cancellations of series ranging from “Sally Jessy Raphael” to “People’s Court,” topped with slow premieres of most freshman series this season, opportunities await for the savvy development executive.
NBC Enterprises may have “Weakest Link” all but wrapped up, but the distributor now appears to have narrowed down its development slate to two other potential series. One is the previously announced John Walsh talk show, which has already gone to pilot. However, the company also appears to be close to signing a deal with Erin Brockovich, according to sources.
The mom-turned-legal eagle who inspired the Oscar-winning movie of the same name was rumored to take to the small screen with ABC in July, but Ms. Brockovich now appears set to land at NBC instead. Although insiders speculate that any NBC project would likely end up as a talk show, her project at ABC was a format from Mentorn International for a series of specials.
An NBC spokesperson would not comment on any deal with Ms. Brockovich.
Meanwhile, Tribune appears set to move forward with its James Van Praagh project as a reality vehicle for the season and may also be considering a repurposed program from its library that combines elements of “Unsolved Mysteries” with a talk show.
Over the next few weeks, the syndicator will also decide which and how many action hours to move forward with. Tribune currently has a hit on its hands with “Andromeda,” and it launched “Mutant X” last weekend. However, the company revealed over the summer that five other series were in development for the 2002 season. The hours include collaborations with such high-profile names as Roland Joffe, Lawrence Bender, Gale Anne Hurd and Steven De Souza.
“SPQR,” from Mr. Joffe, is set in a world in which an elite guard must protect the emperor of Rome from forces threatening his reign. Russ Kagan and Lorenzo Minomi are producing. “MechWarriors,” from producers Paul Bryant and Michael Wahl of Foundation Imaging, is based on Microsoft’s “Battletech” game. “Pendragon” revisits the time of King Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere and Merlin and comes from producers Mr. Bender and Kevin Brown and head writer Jonathan Hale. “The Ultimate Adventure Company” is inspired by the real-life adventures of explorer Barry Clifford and is being developed by Ms. Hurd and writer Mr. De Souza. Finally, “Trade Winds” is a high-seas adventure from “Baywatch” executive producer Greg Bonnan.
Buena Vista is still busy looking for a host for its new “Millionaire” strip. However, rumors are flying that several aspects of the show may be changed. Speculation about differences between the prime-time and syndicated versions include keeping all the contestants vying for a spot in the hot seat for the whole week. Other changes may include time limits for answers and starting players at the $1,000 level.
The syndicator is, however, still hunting for another project for the season. Although a number of reality vehicles such as “Foreplay” and “Real Medical” are in development, Buena Vista is said to be highest on “The Last Resort” from Fisher Broadcasting. The show is being billed as an alternative-based series that offers “troubled” couples a chance to fly to an island resort to regain their romantic bliss-it’s being described internally as the antithesis of Fox’s controversial hit “Temptation Island” series. However, sources say the executives are looking closely at this season’s slew of relationship strip launches, which have so far been unspectacular, before making a firm commitment.
Other syndicators will make final decisions as later in the year. Twentieth Television, for example, is said to be waiting a few weeks while new programming President Robb Dalton examines the development slate.