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Syndicated Strip Development: TYRA BANKS

Nov 22, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Arguably the most anticipated project of the 2005-06 syndication season, Telepictures’ deal with has emerged as the early market leader. Ms. Banks, a supermodel who is also the creator and host of the UPN reality series “America’s Next Top Model,” has made a name for herself with guest spots on King World’s “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” where she has supervised makeovers of Ms. Winfrey’s guests. The Victoria’s Secret model is one of the few personalities who may launch a show next season who fits into the instantly recognizable “one name” category.

A presentation tape designed to sell Ms. Banks’ show began circulating among station groups and ad reps two weeks ago. The tape features a live audience and a set that looks like a fashion show runway, according to a buyer who saw it. In one segment Ms. Banks interviews actorWill Smith, who spoke about his relationship with his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Another segment features a discussion of “mean girls,” young women who enjoy taking out their frustrations on other young women. A third segment features a guest discussing her relationship with an older man, with Ms. Banks encouraging the guest to move on from the relationship. In what could be considered a nod to any accessibility problems the supermodel may have with daytime viewers, Ms. Banks also shows the audience untouched pictures of herself to highlight how fashion shots are created.

Industry insiders described the project as “the one bright light in the landscape” and cited its versatility, saying the show could run in daytime on traditional affiliates but could also be shown on independent stations targeting the 4 p.m. (ET) or 5 p.m. time slots that once were inhabited by “The Ricki Lake Show” or “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest.” Insiders said the show could be positioned as a bridge between afternoon programs and sitcoms in early access.

STEVEN COJOCARU

Steven Cojocaru, nicknamed “Cojo,” is a Canadian fashion writer whose syndicated column got him a gig as People magazine’s West Coast style editor and, ultimately, correspondent positions on both NBC’s “Today” and Paramount’s new “Entertainment Tonight” spinoff “The Insider.” Paramount may come to the market with a vehicle for him that mixes style with celebrity interviews.

Presentation tapes that have been circulated show Mr. Cojocaru in produced segments, including an interview with Oscar winner Halle Berry. The tape also includes a trip Mr. Cojocaru took to a spa with “CSI” star Marg Helgenberger.

Industry insiders said Mr. Cojocaru faces the same risk faced by other likable personalities who appear on-screen for only short periods of time-the chance that they might be unable to carry a 30-minute show five days a week. And what works during a network morning show or in prime access may not play as well with the daytime audience. Either way, analysts expect Paramount to groom the show much as the company did with “The Insider”-using “Entertainment Tonight” and its high-profile prime access time slots to promote the newcomer.

VERA WANG

Buena Vista confirmed in August that it is developing a project with fashion designer Vera Wang. A fashion editor at Vogue magazine for 16 years, Ms. Wang launched a bridal collection in 1990 after experiencing frustration in preparing for her own wedding. Her $20 million-a-year business now includes a full line of bridal products, evening wear and women’s fragrances, and she has become known for putting everyone from Jessica Simpson to Sharon Stone into her wedding dresses.

Casablanca Records chief Tommy Mottola and “The Original Kings of Comedy” executive producer Jeb Brien are slated to executive produce.

Ms. Wang’s intimate access to celebrities would be an attraction for any syndicator looking to develop a star-driven chat show, but her scant television experience and relatively unknown personality make her a question mark. Insiders suggest that Buena Vista is less concerned about the feasibility of a Vera Wang project now that it appears “The Tony Danza Show” has second-season potential.

ISAAC MIZRAHI

Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi first gained notoriety after his then-boyfriend released a behind-the-scenes feature documentary, “Unzipped,” that profiled the creation of Mr. Mizrahi’s fall 1994 collection. The film led to a number of on-air correspondent jobs and cameo appearances that culminated in a talk show on cable’s Oxygen network.

Mr. Mizrahi is probably most widely known for his current line of women’s clothing at discount retailer Target. NBC Universal shot a pilot with Mr. Mizrahi earlier this year that has not been widely circulated. He was a guest earlier this season on NBC Universal’s rookie daytime talker “The Jane Pauley Show.”

Like Steven Cojocaru, Mr. Mizrahi runs the risk of being an appealing television personality only in limited settings-a guest, a correspondent-who does not translate to a five-day-a-week schedule.

MARTHA STEWART

The true wild card of the year is Martha Stewart. Still incarcerated, Ms. Stewart has been making headlines, thanks to her partnership with reality producer Mark Burnett and for the hire of former ABC Entertainment executive Susan Lyne as Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia’s new CEO.

Ms. Stewart is expected to be released in March and is sentenced to an additional five months of house arrest, which means she could be available for a project by fall 2005. Although there have been no announcements concerning any deals with syndicators, Mr. Burnett’s blossoming relationship with NBC, where he produces “The Apprentice” and “The Contender,” could facilitate an agreement with NBC Universal. While Mr. Burnett also has strong track records with other networks, including “Survivor” home CBS, insiders said they would expect any syndication deal for Mr. Burnett and Ms. Stewart to be with NBCU.

CBS parent Viacom may have run its course with Ms. Stewart, whose previous syndicated strip was distributed by Viacom’s King World and aired on the CBS owned-and-operated stations. Considering Ms. Stewart’s name recognition and past success in television, there is always the possibility she could develop something for a January 2006 launch. Her daughter’s recent interviews with CNN’s Larry King suggest that even if a show is not immediately in the works, Ms. Stewart is making sure her persona is still a force in the marketplace.

VANESSA WILLIAMS

NBC Universal is discussing a possible vehicle for former Miss America Vanessa Williams, who has become a well-known recording artist and stage performer. A series regular on the canceled NBC prime-time drama “Boomtown,” Ms. Williams is also known as a wife and mother.

Her potential entry into the syndicated strip market opens up the possibility of NBC Universal using her vocal talents to develop a “Wayne Brady”-type variety-talk format. NBCU is considering pairing Ms. Williams with another host, possibly even the “Today’s” how weatherman Al Roker, sources said.

SUZE ORMAN

Signed by Twentieth Television, CNBC personal finance editor and Emmy winner Suze Orman is the author of four best-selling books on creating personal wealth and financial freedom and star of “The Suze Orman Show” on CNBC. A former financial analyst, she also written and produced specials for PBS and QVC and writes about money matters for O: The Oprah Magazine and Yahoo! Personal Finance.

Twentieth’s signature strategy of slow rollouts in selected markets before going national could give Ms. Orman the time to build what many consider a less financially focused strip for a more generic self-improvement show. The consensus seems to be that Ms. Orman will have to go beyond the financial advice segments that dominate her CNBC show if she is to succeed in syndication.

MO’NIQUE

Mo’Nique is a comic with an established audience, thanks to her roles on UPN’s “Moesha” and the subsequent spinoff “The Parkers.” She also has a successful stand-up and feature film career. She now has a deal with Telepictures.

Bucking the fashion-home design trend, Mo’Nique follows the more traditional model for comic-turned-daytime
talk-show-host that has been successfully executed by NBC Universal with Ellen DeGeneres and Telepictures itself with Rosie O’Donnell. Her established personality and strong delineation from fellow Telepictures talent could make Mo’Nique an attractive alternative to the other hosts who may be jockeying for positions on the fall 2005 schedule.

JUDGE ALEX

Announced just last week, Twentieth is going forward with what is so far the only new court show of the season, “Judge Alex.” The show stars Miami-Dade County, Fla., Judge Alex Ferrer, who currently serves in the criminal and family divisions of Florida’s Eleventh Judicial Circuit.

Judge Ferrer is a Cuban immigrant and a former police officer. His show would be the eighth judge show in the marketplace.

PAIGE DAVIS and/or NATE BERKUS

Paige Davis and Nate Berkus are two of King World’s most attractive properties. Ms. Davis’ run on TLC’s “Trading Spaces” has made her a home makeover phenomenon. Her recent forays on King World’s “The Oprah Winfrey Show” have made her even more attractive as a syndication prospect.

The big question is whether King World wants to pair Ms. Davis with fellow “Oprah” protege Nate Berkus, who hosted the Do It Yourself Network show “Ask DIY” and has appeared regularly on HGTV programming and Ms. Winfrey’s show. In a crowded design marketplace and with no reason to rush, considering the platform both have on “Oprah,” the general expectation is that a project for Ms. Davis and Mr. Berkus, most likely under the Harpo Productions banner, would be aimed at a fall 2006 launch.

‘REAL PEOPLE’

One of the few alternatives to traditional talk currently on the development schedule, “Real People” is Tribune Entertainment’s attempt to bring back the 1979 NBC prime-time feel-good reality series for syndication.

Teaming with The Gurin Co. and George Schlatter Productions, Tribune has produced a pilot with former “Saved by the Bell” star and “The Other Half” co-host Mario Lopez, eschewing the original’s five-host format. The cancellation of NBC’s “Home Delivery,” which airs on major-market Tribune Broadcasting stations, opens up a potential slot for the show, but the original “Real People’s” extensive use of packaged segments could make the show a challenge as a strip.

ROBIN QUIVERS

In a deal with Sony Pictures Television, Ms. Quivers is one of the best-known radio personalities in the country, thanks to her decades-long relationship with shock jock Howard Stern. She has appeared on Mr. Stern’s various television ventures over the years but has not had a career separate from him.

A natural fit in terms of the independent stations that are likely to be Sony’s first stop in terms of major clearances, Ms. Quivers will have to overcome the significant hurdle all radio personalities have faced in the transition to television. Rick Dees, Dr. Laura Schlessinger and even Ms. Quivers’ colleague Mr. Stern himself have all struggled to make a go at syndication.