Weekly hours gain steam for NATPE

Jan 14, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Weekly hours have seen little action the past few seasons, but with some estimates projecting as many as a third of the weekly barter hour time slots opening up this fall, some distributors in pursuit of that real estate-particularly independents looking for roots-are preparing all-out marketing assaults at NATPE.
Several off-net hours, including “Early Edition,” “Nash Bridges” and “The Pretender,” are approaching the end of their cycles with stations, potentially opening up some doors. After the 2001-02 season in which “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Practice” hit the syndication world, only “Providence” and off-net cycles of “The Larry Sanders Show” are expected to make an impact as rookies this fall.
As far as first-run action entries, only two new series will definitely hit the screens this fall. Among them, Tribune Entertainment, currently atop the first-run action development throne, will move forward with either “SPQR: Gladiators of Rome” or “The Ultimate Adventure Company.”
The other comes from October Moon Television, which will offer “John Woo’s Once a Thief.” The series originally was set for Fox several years ago but is now a go, with 22 episodes already in the can, as a first-run syndication series. The company has already nabbed 70 percent of the country for a fall launch with stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago signed on.
The story follows Mac Ramsey (Ivan Sergei) and Li-Ann Tsei (Sandine Holt), lovers and professional thieves who are separated while fleeing the powerful Hong Kong underworld crime lord (Robert Ito) who raised and trained them.
Three other first-run scripted series have already been announced by the majors, each with lesser chances of seeing the light of day. Perhaps the most feasible of the three is King World Productions’ “Kane,” a first-run syndicated comedy produced with Howard Stern’s production company that could fill the late-night Saturday slot vacated by the recently canceled “The Howard Stern Radio Show.”
“Kane” will follow the antics of an oddball Southern family and its strong-willed patriarch. The lead character’s life is altered when his previously long-lost wife returns home to him and their group of eccentric children.
NBC’s “B.A.I.T.,” created by NBC Agency Co-President Vince Manze, follows three female convicts who fight crime as part of a government reform program. The project is still in the early stages of development, as is Universal’s series based on the hit movie “The Fast and the Furious.”
A number of first-run series will be exiting the syndication arena, however. Syndicators have already announced the end of both Tribune’s “Earth: Final Conflict” and Studios USA’s “The Invisible Man.” Others with their station deals now up are expected to join them, with announcements expected after the February sweeps.
Definitely returning, according to the studios, are New Line Television’s “The Lost World” and Hearst-Argyle Television’s “The Bravest.”
New Line has announced that it will extend its partnership with Tribune’s station group on the nationally syndicated series, “Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.” With more than 70 percent of the country on board going into the National Association of Television Program Executives convention, the syndicator gave an early green light to a fourth season of the weekly series on stations such as New York’s WPIX-TV, Los Angeles’ KTLA-TV and Chicago’s WGN-TV. New Line’s continued partnership with Tribune includes renewing with Tribune’s national ad sales division.
In addition, “Lost World” also has been renewed by The WB 100+ Station Group and affiliates from station groups including Hubbard, Cox Broadcasting and Hearst.
“When a television show makes it into season two, you count your blessings in this business. But when you give the go-ahead on a fourth season, you know that you have a franchise with staying power. For us, this series has that quality, and the fact that we can continue our terrific relationship with Tribune is truly icing on the cake,” said David Spiegelman, senior executive VP of domestic television distribution and marketing for New Line Television.
Hearst’s “The Bravest” is also poised for another go-round in 2002. The series was cleared on 200 stations covering 90 percent of the country in its rookie season. The distributor has confirmed it is preparing a sophomore year for the series and will move forward with the freshman series “The Pet Shop With Marc Morrone.”
“`The Bravest’ was the first reality series to take viewers to the front lines of firefighting through the use of specially designed shoulder-mounted cameras and sound equipment,” said Rob Corona, senior VP of Domestic Sales for Hearst Entertainment. “While television critics and the viewing public have lauded the series, it is especially gratifying to receive such praise from the fire-fighting and rescue communities.”
Among indie players with new weekly product is the Heritage Network with “’N Gear,” a half-hour weekly syndicated show geared toward fashion-setting 12- to 18-year-olds. The series will be produced by Sweet Lorraine Productions and distributed by Heritage/Baruch Television Distribution, and will go behind-the-scenes with the designers, celebrities, models and Hollywood stylists.
“We are very excited about producing a fashion and lifestyles show that targets teen-age and urban audiences. We are especially proud to have Tyson [Beckford] as our host,” said Frank Mercado-Valdes, president of the Heritage Network. “Despite their spending power, the vast urban market has been largely ignored in fashion-related television programming. Historically, fashion programming has been dedicated to high-end fashion. ‘N Gear will alternatively highlight urban trendsetters like Enyce, Triple Five Soul, Diesel, Phat Farm and Sean John.”
With a national and international tour as well as a bevy of the industry names behind it, the Xtreme Wrestling Federation will attempt to clear its own brand of pro wrestling on stations at NATPE with a more family-friendly type of programming. The new league aims to fill a void created by the sale of World Championship Wrestling to the World Wrestling Federation. Already 10 one-hour shows have been taped in Orlando, Fla., as the promotion prepares to go national.