Political royalty is coming to the world of TV talk shows-and it’s not Bill Clinton.
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and former wife of Britain’s Prince Andrew, has signed a deal with French-owned Vivendi Universal to host a talk show with a likely debut of fall 2003, according to well-placed sources. The series has already been sold in the United Kingdom, and the company plans to ship it to the United States through Universal’s syndication unit.
Ms. Ferguson divorced Prince Andrew in 1996. She has since stayed in headlines by writing a series of children’s books and by starring in Weight Watchers commercials.
A spokesperson for Universal’s syndication unit had no comment on the deal, but a London source at Vivendi confirmed the project.
The deal all but confirms a development season for syndicators that has “started earlier than ever,” according to one studio head, as a slew of talk shows, newsmagazines, court
shows, game shows and relationship series start development for the fall 2003 season. Although executives have publicly said that A-list talent is simply too expensive to justify spending dollars in a sluggish economy, a bevy of heavyweights are already attached to front-burner projects.
Talk shows on the roster
Warner Bros. Domestic Television grabbed headlines earlier in the year with the announcement that Ellen DeGeneres would enter the syndicated ranks with a talk show. Now, sources say the company has an additional talk show in development with former “Moral Court” host Larry Elder. Company President Dick Robertson has been high on Mr. Elder’s talent, trying to revive “Moral Court” for another year.
The distributor is also exploring a lifestyle magazine show rumored to be an extension of Time-Warner’s In Style magazine. The publication has already partnered up with Telepictures strip “Extra” on a number of segments and insiders feel the extension would be a natural fit. A Warner Bros. spokesperson would not comment on the development.
Over at Buena Vista, the distributor recently firmed up a deal with actress Joan Cusack for a talk show. However, sources say the project may now be developed into a network series, although that remains unconfirmed. The studio does have two projects in development that are more likely to air in syndication, a court/game show with Rocket Science Laboratories and a game show with Vin Di Bona.
In the Rocket Science series, tentatively titled “Defending Your Life,” players are confronted with three people from their past who have grudges against them. If they can defend themselves in a quick trial against all three accusers, players win a cash prize.
Vin Di Bona is developing “America’s Funniest Game Show” for Buena Vista Television, co-produced by game show veterans Chris Bearde and Brett Hudson. The series is being described as a cross between “The Gong Show” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” A Buena Vista spokesperson had no comment.
Twentieth in high gear
Possibly most active in development is Twentieth Television, which recently launched the successful “Texas Justice” nationally and “Good Day Live” in a slow rollout. Among the projects in “active development,” according to one insider, are two talk shows, a game show and a relationship strip.
One of the talk shows is being developed for late-night and will feature “Good Day Live” co-host Jillian Barberie, who recently discussed the series on “Good Day Live” with Carmen Electra. Insiders say the series could be targeting the coveted 10 p.m. slots on former Chris-Craft stations KCOP-TV, Los Angeles, and WWOR-TV, New York, where it would replace newscasts currently running in the time slot. However, others doubt that the stations would want to give up the successful newscasts and speculate that Twentieth is more likely to be eyeballing the 11 p.m. hour.
In addition, the studio continues to develop “State of Mind,” a roundtable discussion featuring astrologers, psychics and other “seers.” Also on the front burner are game show “Face Off” and “Extreme Dating,” in which a couple takes a break and as one partner goes on a date, the other partner is speaking into an earpiece worn by the date.
The Studios USA/Universal banner, meanwhile, may have more than the Fergie talk show in the works. The syndicator recently announced that it has teamed with actor-producer Will Smith and partner James Lassiter’s Overbrook Entertainment to produce a pilot for half-hour newsmagazine “Good News.” The pilot, for the 2003-04 season, will tell emotional stories about the struggles and triumphs of inspirational individuals.
“There are so many positive and emotionally compelling stories to tell,” said Steve Rosenberg, president of Studios USA/Universal. “It shouldn’t take a tragic event to make us focus on what’s right and decent in people. There’s nothing like `Good News’ in syndication, and what makes this project even more attractive to us is the idea of working with Will Smith, James Lassiter and their strong creative team at Overbrook.”
Plenty of possibilities
A third magazine is being developed by King World Productions to debut in the same season as “Good News” and the Warner Bros. project.
Last week, FremantleMedia announced its own development slate designed to further entrench the company in U.S. television. The company announced a beefed-up production slate that includes network, cable and syndicated fare, including a reality series featuring infamous houseguest Kato Kaelin and reality/game show projects with “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” executive producer Dan Patterson, “Fear Factor” co-executive producer David Hurwitz and Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video.
One project that could end up in syndication is “Match Game,” co-produced with Broadway Video, which is a comedy panel show based on the classic Goodson-Todman game show.
Other series for the fall 2003 season include “Trial by Fire” from NBC Enterprises, and an eBay auction series from Columbia TriStar Domestic Television.
Except as noted, studio executives would not comment on shows in development.