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Stations scrambling to slot new strips

Dec 31, 2001  •  Post A Comment

After a hot summer stacked with early clearances for 2002, the second wave of station deals in recent weeks has answered some lingering questions among syndicators-even as new puzzles appear.
Tribune Entertainment’s “Beyond With James Van Praagh,” Twentieth Television’s “The Rob Nelson Show,” Buena Vista Television’s Wayne Brady project and NBC’s John Walsh vehicle all either have landed or are close to landing key time slots nationwide. Earlier in the year, station deals were struck for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Weakest Link,” “$100,000 Pyramid” and “Dr. Phil.”
In the all-important New York and Los Angeles markets, programming executives now face decisions as some stations are stacked with upcoming inventory while others still have holes to fill.
Sources confirmed that NBC’s owned stations in the top three markets were closing in on a deal for Paramount Domestic Television reality vehicle “Life Moments,” which follows real-life women and their day-to-day experiences, from having babies to remodeling their homes. The negotiation was first reported by Daily Variety. However, key New York and Los Angeles stations have already gone on a shopping spree.
KNBC, for example, is already committed or about to be committed to “Weakest Link,” “Dr. Phil” and the John Walsh talk show. Although the station has said it would drop its 4 p.m. newscast to fit in “Dr. Phil,” station sources and syndication insiders are speculating on where the incoming shows could fit. “Weakest Link” is now slated to air as a double run from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., replacing “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” whose host is coming down to her final months on the strip before being replaced by Caroline Rhea. So far, no deal has been reached with KNBC to extend the show featuring Ms. Rhea.
With news and “Rosie” giving way for the new crop, two other hours would have to open up for the other projects. Buena Vista hour “Iyanla” has had difficulties in its 10 a.m. time slot, which could go to Mr. Walsh. Should KNBC pick up “Life Moments” from Paramount, some analysts speculated that the stations’ manager would have to consider dropping NBC’s “The Other Half” if no other hours are available. “The Other Half,” is, however, still being given a fair shot of returning-the talk show recently dropped co-host Dr. Jan Adams and showed ratings growth in the November book.
New York outlet WNBC-TV may have a more flexible schedule. The station thus far looks to pick up only the Walsh strip and will not be renewing Studios USA’s “Sally Jessy Raphael,” which currently airs at 11 a.m., for next season.
The station could also have time periods open up should NBC Enterprises pull the plug on “The Other Half,” and in an extreme emergency has extra runs of “Access Hollywood” and “Extra” at noon that could be replaced if necessary.
The tightest of all the station groups is ABC, which is said to have cleared the upcoming Wayne Brady variety hour on most of its owned-and-operated stations, excluding both Los Angeles and Chicago. At 10 a.m., WABC-TV, New York, has a departing “Rosie,” whose real estate is rumored to be sliding to the new show. KABC-TV, Los Angeles, however, has little to work with. The station lineup appears booked solid with “Live With Regis and Kelly” as well as ABC soaps and “The View” and King World Productions staples “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Wheel of Fortune,” and “Jeopardy!” Should the outlet opt to bring on a new series, a prime target would be the 4 p.m.-to-5 p.m. news hour, although that is unlikely.
New York’s most aggressive player thus far has been WCBS-TV, which has nabbed “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Weakest Link” and “Dr. Phil.” With “Martha Stewart Living” renewed and “Crossing Over With John Edward” giving the station its best delivery in the 3 p.m.-to-4 p.m. slot for a syndicated series in station history, WCBS has already planned to drop its 4 p.m. newscast for “Weakest Link’s “debut next week. Most analysts expect “Millionaire” to either join the strip next fall or replace “Hollywood Squares” at 7 p.m., with “Squares” teaming with “Link” at 4:30 p.m. Where “Dr. Phil” will land remains uncertain.
KCBS-TV has also picked up “Millionaire” and is said to be eyeing its “Shipmates” hour block at 3 p.m., though distributor Columbia TriStar Television Distribution has not decided to pull the show.
For syndicators looking for holes in the nation’s top two markets, Fox stations, including the recently acquired Chris-Craft Industries group, expect to have some time opening up in both New York and Los Angeles with the demise of “Power of Attorney” and the Fox Kids block.