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Open Slots Heat Up Market

Jan 19, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Could syndicators actually see a seller’s market at the National Association of Television Program Executives conference?
That’s what syndie insiders were asking during the week leading up to the 2004 edition of the annual confab-when it appeared that as many as nine series were facing cancellation. Combined with a limited list of new offerings in the pipeline, the potential cancellations could leave stations scrambling to fill several holes in their schedules.
Recent years have seen early sales and schedules developed far in advance of the new season. This time things could be much different, at least with some station groups.
Series that already received their official cancellation notice include “The John Walsh Show,” “The Wayne Brady Show,” “Crossing Over With John Edward” and “Hollywood Squares.” An uncertain fate awaits a slew of other strips.
“Pyramid” is ready to be pulled after this season, according to some sources, though distributor Sony had no comment on the show’s future. Telepictures rookie “Sharon Osbourne” may have lost its time period on Tribune Broadcasting stations to “Home Delivery,” which Universal just sold to Tribune for a fall debut. “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack” has already been dropped in several markets, despite two-year deals, according to one station manager. King World’s “Martha Stewart” faces an uncertain future due to Martha Stewart’s upcoming trial. “Ricki Lake” is looking increasingly iffy as Ms. Lake considers her future in the business. Other late-fringe series in the relationship and game show genres are also on insiders’ lists of bubble shows.
Clearly, not all of these series will go away, but the potential is there to change a market’s lineup. The challenge now for syndicators will be to find quality time slots in lieu of just any hole in a schedule.
“One thing NATPE could be known for is the opening of time slots,” said Twentieth Television President and chief operating officer Bob Cook. “I would say that seven cancellations is pretty extraordinary, and frankly I can’t remember this many shows being cancelled this close to the market.”
While an unusually long list of shows may get the ax, an unusually short list of new shows is waiting in the wings to replace them.
“Part of the situation is that there’s not a wide selection to look at this year,” said Chuck Larsen, October Moon Television president, who is offering the series “That’s Funny” to stations as a strip for the fall. “There’s now more shelf space than we’ve had turnover in years. We for years have had a buyer’s market, but that may be leveling out and puts us in a good position to take advantage of that.”
Five shows have now nailed down homes for the fall 2004 season, all with sister companies or longtime partners. NBC Enterprises’ “The Jane Pauley Show” is cleared on the NBC owned-and-operated stations; Paramount’s “Entertainment Tonight” spinoff “The Insider” will air on the CBS O&Os; Twentieth’s makeover series “Ambush Makeover” is set on the Fox O&Os; Buena Vista’s talk show “The Tony Danza Show” was sold to the ABC O&Os; and Universal’s project with Tribune, “Home Delivery,” will be on the Tribune stations.
“If you look at the marketplace over the last 10 years, every year there’s been an average of 10 new series that have moved forward for the fall, and last year there were four,” said Steve Rosenberg, president of Universal Domestic Television. “To have one of those shows is a real feather in our cap. Now that we’ve got Tribune as a launch, we will use NATPE to try to get commitments from the rest of the country.”
Of course, just pinning down a clearance in the major markets is considered a coup. Universal Domestic Television managed to secure a group-wide sale of reality series “Home Delivery” to the Tribune stations last week. The sale, part of a previously announced development agreement between Universal and Tribune, gives the show a clearance level of nearly 40 percent of country, including slots on WPIX-TV in New York, KTLA-TV in Los Angeles and WGN-TV in Chicago as well as eight of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20 markets.
Universal will also try to secure major market clearances for the Jennifer Lopez and Lynda Lopez daytime project.
The “Home Delivery” sale fills one key time period on Tribune, potentially locking up the station group’s schedule for the fall, forcing a strip to go off the air and spelling trouble for Sharon Osbourne’s talk show. Then again, with a number of double runs airing on the station group, new openings could be made. Tribune is said to be considering adding one more series or keeping Ms. Osbourne’s for a sophomore go-round. Sources said that should another new series make its way into the lineup, it would likely be either Telepictures’ Steve Harvey talk show or Telepictures’ project from former “Moral Court” host Larry Elders.
Sales of “Tony Danza,” and “Jane Pauley” have pretty much locked up schedules on the ABC and NBC O&Os, respectively, with sales in recent weeks. Mr. Danza’s talk show is now cleared in 45 percent of the country, with WABC-TV, New York, WPVI-TV, Philadelphia, KGO-TV, San Francisco, and WDIV-TV, Detroit, among the players to sign on.
“This is truly an outstanding launch,” John Bryan, executive VP of sales at Buena Vista Television said. “The quality of stations is fantastic and that speaks volumes about Tony’s talents, charisma and his ability to connect with and deliver an audience. We couldn’t be happier.”
Over at NBC Enterprises, which began clearances for “Jane Pauley” over the summer, the focus at NATPE will be on cleaning smaller markets. “Pauley” now boasts a clearance level of 95 percent of the country. In addition, the distributor will market the off-network run of reality hit “Fear Factor.”
“We’re going in with `Fear Factor’ and hope to do quite a few deals on the series at the market,” said Ed Wilson, president of NBC Enterprises. “We’ll also take a look at securing some upgrades or renewals on [weekly series] `The Chris Matthews Show’ and `Access Hollywood’ and hopefully meet with general managers and prepare for 2005.”
Clearly, the Fox station grouphas the most room to fill and most potential deals that could go down at NATPE. Though a lot of space has gone to Twentieth Television with renewals of “Good Day Live,” “Divorce Court” and “Texas Justice” and the launches of “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest” and “Ambush Makeover,” the group still has space to play with. This has kept Mr. Cook’s company occupied and trying to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Our mandate in the first-run-development arena is all about strips, daytime early fringe access and just being very aggressive in that arena,” he said. “We’ve found some success in the incubation realm and expect that to continue. We have a dozen projects that we like and are creating some tape on, so we will research and try to prepare for another summer test for these properties.”
At NATPE he will focus, however, on the off-net launches of “Yes, Dear,” “Reba,” “Boston Public” and “24.”
“We have our old guard coming back, the new kid premiering and our test show rolling out nationally in addition to these great off-net series. It’s a good spot to be in,” Mr. Cook said.
One group looking to snag those Fox time slot openings will be Sony, which enters the market with a duo of new first-run shows: the half-hour “Pat Croce: Moving In” and the hour-long talk show “Life & Style.”
“Right now things are outstanding, and we’re feeling very good about the marketplace’s reaction to the product we’re bringing out,” said John Weiser, executive VP of Sony Pictures Television. “I think we’re bringing out product that the stations like and plan to make the most of frustrations our clients have had with our competitors. There will be a huge station turnout at NATPE, and Sony will once again be at the heart of it, listening to the client base and servicing them.”