Distributors wheel last-minute deals

Jan 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

For the first time, the conclusion of the National Association of Television Program Executives convention may leave industry pundits with more questions than answers.
Will hotel rooms work for distributors exiting the convention floor? How will NATPE adapt or change to once again seduce the domestic studios? Without the traditional NATPE deadline, how many new shows will be announced after the market? Who will take Regis Philbin’s chair on the set of syndication’s `Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’?
Each of these questions is expected to be answered after the gathering. But regardless of the answers, distributors are, as usual, wheeling and dealing at the last minute. As always, programming real estate remains at a premium, pushing syndicators to firm up deals made months ago for the fall 2002 shows.
Just last week, Paramount Domestic Television announced its first clearances for upcoming reality vehicle “Life Moments” on the NBC owned-and-operated stations, Twentieth Television’s clearances on upcoming strip “The Rob Nelson Show” reached a 60 percent level nationally, while Tribune Entertainment renewed sophomore action hour “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda” for another two years on its stations.
And there may be more heat in coming weeks. Columbia TriStar Domestic Television is loaded with projects in development and has yet to announce a companion to the upcoming game show “$100,000 Pyramid.” Among the shows being considered are a project from former “Talk Soup” host John Henson and a project in conjunction with eBay.com. One or two series from the distributor are expected to take the spotlight shortly, possibly after February sweeps, when shows on the bubble have a clearer picture of their destinies.
NBC Enterprises and Universal Worldwide Television may still announce the launch of actions hours post-NATPE. Tribune appears likely to announce which of its action hours will move forward at the convention itself. Twentieth is said to be mulling more regional tryouts such as those that have proven successful for “Texas Justice” and now “Good Day Live.” Buena Vista Television still has to announce the host of the already-cleared “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Regis Philbin’s agent last week confirmed to a New York paper that Mr. Philbin would not take the position of host.
“Despite the changes in the business, NATPE remains an important rallying point for all of us,” said Twentieth’s President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Cook, whose company is among the many to exit the NATPE floor and set up camp at the Venetian Hotel. “We plan to continue to posture ad-supported programming and demonstrating its value to both stations and advertisers. It’s our job here to make sure they don’t forget about us.”
For executives remaining on the floor, few doubt that foot traffic will be ultimately diverted by the Venetian movement.
“I can say that we have not had any problems getting people to come to the floor to visit us,” said Rob Corona, senior VP of domestic sales at Hearst Entertainment, which will remain on the NATPE floor offering fare such as “The Bravest” and “Ron Hazelton’s HouseCalls.” “It has been odd, however, that everything imploded all at once. But I hope that the convention will survive, but we’re prepared to move forward no matter what happens.”
Last year’s blur of relationship shows (and court shows the year before that) from the major studios has now given way to a hodgepodge of projects throughout the genres.
As for talk shows, Dr. Phil McGraw, Rob Nelson, John Walsh, Caroline Rhea and James Van Praagh will all take a stab at syndication’s most challenging genre. Most of the above hosts’ series have already secured clearances all but guaranteeing a run this fall, with Warner Bros. Domestic Television’s Rosie-replacement “Caroline Rhea” still in discussions on where it will land in the major markets. The latest rumor regarding the strip is that the company is in negotiations with the ABC O&Os about a late-night slot, particularly if “Politically Incorrect” doesn’t return. However, company officials said that all dayparts were being considered.
Among new court shows, Twentieth is already having success with “Texas Justice,” now that the strip has officially launched nationally. The distributor will be at NATPE looking to fill in gaps as well as search for station upgrades. Indie player Telco Productions, meanwhile, is finding that the cracks left open by industry consolidation has helped clearances of its all-barter court show, “We the Jury.” Warner Bros. is planning to revive “Moral Court” and is expected to relaunch it before the summer.
Next season’s rising reality/variety vehicles all appear to be moving forward. Buena Vista Television has already cleared “Wayne Brady” on the ABC O&Os. Mr. Brady, a regular on ABC’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” will host what is said to be a lighthearted talk/variety show. Twentieth will continue rolling out its own spin on reality with “Good Day Live,” while Telepictures Distribution is unveiling “Celebrity Justice,” which has already nabbed some clearances.
Paramount’s “Life Moments” is being pitched as a daytime alternative to court and talk shows.
Daytime’s remaining genre, game/relationship series will get new blood with the upcoming launches of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “$100,000 Pyramid,” the latter with Donny Osmond as host. Both series have been running up clearances.
Although Telepictures is said to have placed relationship strip “Matchmaker Mansion” on the back burner, rumors of a trial summer run of the series are surfacing. Telepictures executives wouldn’t comment on the discussions.