Pie Town moving into syndication

Apr 22, 2002  •  Post A Comment

As the staff of Pie Town Productions prepares to move into its new San Fernando Valley office building, they see the transition as symbolic of the company’s next step up television’s evolutionary ladder.
With series such as “A Baby Story” boosting the profile of The Learning Channel, “Designer’s Challenge” on Home and Garden Television and “Cooking School Stories” on the Food Network, reality television continues to serve up a successful platter. Now with an independent documentary making the film festival rounds and upcoming syndicated strip “Life Moments,” the company is poised to try its hand in new forums.
“Taking on a syndicated show like `Life Moments’ is, quite simply, a natural move for us,” said Tara Sandler, executive producer of all Pie Town programming and co-founder of the company. “Everything we’ve done in the past has built up to this. Right now, each of our shows seem to have a cult following, and this is an exciting opportunity to carry that over to broadcast audiences.”
Founded in 1995 by Ms. Sandler and Jennifer Davidson, and joined in 1997 by Executive Producer Scott Templeton, Pie Town has produced over a thousand hours of programming in a variety of different formats, from daily series to network specials to weekly reality shows. The company recently hired former King World Productions executive Greg Spring as its director of development. He came up with the “Life Moments” concept.
“We were attracted to this project because it’s something so completely different for broadcast syndication,” said Kristin Peace, VP of development for distributor Paramount Domestic Television. “It hits on the same emotions that daytime audiences are craving. Clearly, Pie Town has found that unique voice in being able to tell these kinds of stories.” The future strip has been cleared in more than 85 percent of the country for Paramount (including the NBC owned-and-operated stations) and will also air on the Hallmark Channel, which will repurpose the episodes for its own schedule. The series will feature three to four segments about memorable events in people’s lives such as weddings and reunions and will be hosted by former NBC “Later Today” host Asha Blake.
“It was a show I felt only Pie Town would be able to produce,” Mr. Spring said. “Whatever cable network they were on, inevitably their shows would end up on top of the ratings because they were well-produced. When I came in to pitch the show, they knew exactly what it was I wanted to do. `Life Moments’ is something completely different than everything else you see on daytime TV, and their proven track record showed they were up to the task.”
Mr. Spring said the advertiser-friendly positive programming as well as the show’s ability to localize hosts added to the strip’s value.
“We had to knock on a lot of doors, all without being packaged by a major talent agency,” Mr. Spring said. “We were fortunate that [Paramount Domestic Television President of Programming] Greg Meidel saw the unique qualities of the show.”
Segments will range from career-based to action-oriented for its Sept. 9 premiere. Among the first topics to be covered will be a union 34 years in the making of two women who didn’t know they were sisters and met on the Internet, a woman who donates her kidney to her 1-year-old baby, and a woman who meets the bone marrow donor that saved her life.
“We’ve always seen syndication as a natural outlet for us as well as a goal to reach broader audiences,” Mr. Templeton said. “Greg helped put us in that new direction as we continue to branch out.”
Clearly, the reality business has changed for the company founders, who all worked together at GRB Entertainment and produced Pie Town’s first series, “Great Country Inns,” with 45 episodes of the show in an eight-month period at under $20,000 per episode.
“We’ve gone from one show and three staff members working in an 800-square-foot space to 11 shows and 150 people on staff in our current offices,” Ms. Davidson said. “But we’ve managed to make it work because all of us are hands-on people, each bringing a different skill to the table.”