Katz Finds Winners Among Slim Syndication Pickings

Jan 16, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Katz Television Group executives recommend that local stations consider for syndication Warner Bros.’ upcoming talk show starring Dr. Keith Ablow, King World’s new Rachael Ray strip and new court offerings, according to the ad sales firm’s annual syndicated product report.

However, Katz, which advises more than 350 station clients, recommended the new shows in part simply because the programs will exist.

The station reps’ report lamented a lack of new first-run product compared with the number of options stations had the luxury to choose from just a few years ago, before industry consolidation, a “less robust” daytime commercial sales environment and rising production costs slowed down the launch of new series.

“Overall, we are cheerleaders for first-run programming,” said Bill Carroll, Katz’s VP and director of programming. Mr. Carroll said in a news release that he and his colleagues “must be advocates for the new and original with all its anticipated promise and inevitable flaws.” Katz also recommended the premiere of weekend drama “CSI: Miami” for fall 2006 syndication among the off-network offerings in this year’s report.

Katz issues a report on syndicated programming every year in advance of the National Association of Television Program Executives convention. NATPE, which this year runs Jan. 24-26 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, traditionally has served as a market for stations to buy new syndicated programming. But as the business has moved toward fewer and larger station group-wide deals due to consolidation among stations and syndicators, NATPE has become less driven by clearing shows and is now more about serving as an annual industry meeting. Katz, which completed its review in early December, updated it later in the month after Twentieth Television announced it was developing its “Desire” telenovela project for 2006.

“Our group was intrigued by the pilot,” Mr. Katz said in the release, noting that “nontraditional affiliates with the right time period opportunity should seriously explore this new avenue of programming, especially in markets with a significant Hispanic population.”

Talking Up Talk

In the talk genre, Mr. Carroll’s review called Warner Bros. Domestic Television Syndication’s pending project with the “follically challenged” forensic psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow a “pleasant surprise.” The pilot for Dr. Ablow’s talk strip was categorized in the review as “not perfect” but still a “well-produced episode [that] shows promise of Dr. Keith’s firm but approachable manner.”

With a younger-skewing target than King World’s successful “Dr. Phil,” the Dr. Ablow strip is appropriate for daytime with both traditional and nontraditional affiliates, Mr. Carroll said in the release.

The Katz recommendation of King World’s “Rachael Ray” was not driven by a “clear and concise execution” of the show’s pilot, but instead based on the show’s “pedigree, Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement and the involvement of the ‘Dr. Phil’ creators, under the direction of [President of creative affairs and development for King World Productions and Paramount Domestic Television] Terry Wood.”

Mr. Carroll said in the release that Katz felt comfortable making the recommendation even with “the aggressive pricing of a King World launch,” particularly for traditional affiliates.

Order in the Court

In the reality/court genre, the review welcomed the success of Twentieth Television’s “Judge Alex” this season and touted the overall health of courtroom strips.

Twentieth has become an “effective factory” for developing court shows, thanks to the power of its corporate cousins, the Fox-owned and operated stations, said Jim Curtin, senior programmer and director of programming for Katz, in the release. Thanks to that background, the studio’s upcoming “Cristina’s Court” got a healthy recommendation.

“The powerful combination of Fox TV’s distribution system and the experience and talent of Cristina Perez make ‘Cristina’s Court’ a good option,” Mr. Curtin said in the release.

Sony’s rival court offering for fall 2006, “Judge Maria Lopez,” also drew praise from Mr. Curtin, particularly for its “attractive barter deal.”

“If you are in need of a court show and in the top 100 markets, ‘Judge Maria Lopez’ is a viable option,” he said in the release. “The deal is attractive and the risks are low.”

The report also offered support for Sony’s “The Greg Behrendt Show.”

Katz withheld judgment on NBC Universal’s talk project with Megan Mullally, which Mr. Carroll said needs to find a balance between Ms. Mullally and the character she plays on the sitcom “Will & Grace.”

In addition, a review of Twentieth’s “Geraldo at Large” called the newsmagazine, which is currently running on most Fox owned-and-operated stations,

“a work in progress.”

Off-Net No Laughing Matter

Among off-network half-hours, the Katz review once again bemoaned the lack of breakout network comedy hits, but saw some potential prospects down the road in this season’s rookies “My Name Is Earl” from NBC, UPN’s “Everybody Hates Chris” and CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother” and “Out of Practice.”

But stations shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for these shows to make it to 100 episodes, said Ruth Lee Leaycraft, VP and director of programming for Katz’s continental television sales division.

“Unfortunately, it will be 2009 or 2010 when maybe, and that’s a big maybe, these comedies could enter the syndication marketplace,” she said.

Because of the dearth of new off-network options, the review cautions stations from categorizing Warner Bros.’ “Two and a Half Men,” which is available this fall, as a “must buy.” But the report also addresses the reality of what’s available.

“At the right price, ‘Two and a Half Men’ is our recommendation,” Ms. Leaycraft said in the release.

In terms of debuting one-hour off-network weeklies in 2006, the review gave a recommendation to King World’s “CSI: Miami,” based on the solid performance of the original “CSI,” which continues to dominate the genre in its second year.

Ms. Leaycraft also recommended Warner Bros.’ “Without a Trace,” Debmar’s off-cable hour “The Dead Zone” and Program Partners’ two-hour block of Canadian procedurals called “Crimewatch,” which follows this year’s successful syndication of “Da Vinci’s Inquest.”

“If you are a UPN affiliate or a WB affiliate, these two shows could work well in your prime-time area or possibly on a traditional affiliate for late-night airings,” she said in the release.