Star power not enough for syndie

Jun 17, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Syndicated action hours are becoming an endangered species in the new world order of TV economics. Four more shows slated for fall have ended their production runs, including series starring Pamela Anderson and Tia Carrere.
Leading the list of victims is Pamela Anderson’s “VIP,” which has ceased production after four seasons. The series had been considered to be on the bubble, but distributor Columbia TriStar was unable to solidify the series’ financial model due to German production partner Kirch’s going under earlier in the year.
“As a result of our co-production partner, Kirch’s, financial difficulties, they were no longer able to continue with the show, which made the financial outlook untenable,” read a statement from the distributor.
Ms. Anderson released her own statement “Due to a multitude of issues- some personal-we have decided to all move on from `VIP.’ It has been an incredibly fun four seasons,” the statement said.
The series had performed well for the distributor but averaged a 2.0 rating this season, down 20 percent from 2000-01 numbers. Among adults 18 to 49, the series has averaged a 1.2 rating. The series will live on in reruns on cable, however, launching on TNN later this year.
“I think the problem action hours are facing right now is two-pronged,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of group programming at Katz Television Group. “The emergence and success of off-net shared windows has tightened up the marketplace. When you combine that with seemingly less opportunities for international co-ventures that would underwrite these series, I’m not sure we’re going to see any more `Xenas’ for a while.”
Two series that went head-to-head for top new action hour in 1999, “Relic Hunter” and “Beastmaster,” have officially ended production but will return next season on their incumbent stations in a “best of” format, drawing on episodes from their first three seasons. Meanwhile, Promark’s “Secret Adventures of Jules Verne” has been officially canceled after tallying a 0.5 household average this season.
“Relic Hunter” actually made gains in the Nielsen ratings this year, averaging a 1.7 rating, up 13 percent over last year. “Beastmaster” becomes the second Tribune show to cease production after the company ended “Earth: Final Conflict” earlier in the season.
Tribune continues to be the leader of the syndicated action hour business, having successfully launched “Andromeda” and “Mutant X” in the past two seasons. This fall, Tribune will unveil “Adventure Inc.” The company announced last week that Michael Biehn, star of such films as “The Terminator ,” “Aliens” and “The Abyss,” has signed on as the series lead.
Tribune Entertainment and Fireworks Entertainment are distributing “Adventure Inc.,” with Tribune Entertainment representing the series throughout the United States on an eight/national, six/local barter split and Fireworks Entertainment exclusively representing the program internationally.
“The involvement of Michael and [executive producer] Gale Anne [Hurd] represents a powerful package of talent, skills, experience and success for a weekly action hour of this magnitude,” said Philip Segal, senior VP, scripted programming and development, Tribune Entertainment.
Tribune’s “Adventure Inc.” will join other new action series such as Western International’s “Star Hunter,” now cleared in 80 percent of the country; October Moon’s “John Woo’s Once a Thief”; and MGM’s upcoming “She Spies,” which will launch with a limited run in prime time this summer on NBC.
“The business model we’ve developed here is a natural extension of NBC’s ongoing partnership with MGM, which continues to expand and change to meet the demands of the ever-changing marketplace,” NBC Enterprises President Ed Wilson said.
“She Spies” is being produced under a business model developed between MGM and NBC in which MGM will produce 20 episodes of the series and handle U.S. distribution.
“In the new age, we’re going to be seeing more and more financial models along the lines of `She Spies’ and `Stargate SG-1,”’ Mr. Carroll said. “Those shows have situations that take advantage of other platforms to help in not only launching shows but in some ways underwriting the probability of a project going forward.”