Syndication: Getting Back to Business

Jan 22, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Without the sort of BlackBerry-shattering news that rocked last year’s NATPE conference, when creation of The CW was announced, attendees at last week’s 2007 edition of the convention got back to business at hand.

Many market-goers focused on the traditional mantra of the National Association of Television Program Executives event: networking and selling.

Unofficial attendance came in at around 8,000 people, up about 3 percent over the 2006 mark. While the walkways on the convention floor seemed barren compared to previous incarnations of the convention and so-called “sexy” news was slow, distribution executives said their schedules were full.

“I tend to look at NATPE as a place to see people I don’t often get to see,” said John Nogawski, president and chief operating officer of CBS Television Distribution Group. “But this year, I can honestly say that I have done more business than I have ever done before. There were a lot of people here to discuss things with.”

CTVDG, which comprises the merged unit of King World and CBS Paramount, arrived at NATPE without any new first-run product to sell, but was focused on renewals of its core series. Among the series receiving pickups in new deals were “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy!,” “Judge Judy,” “Judge Joe Brown” and “Rachael Ray.” Each of the shows received two-year renewals through most of the country.

In a move to bolster attendance and increase the media spotlight, executives at NATPE might schedule the 2008 convention a week later in January next year, sources said. The switch would allow NATPE to separate itself not only from the two-week-long Television Critics Association’s Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif., which overlapped directly with NATPE last week, but also from the Consumer Electronics Show that takes place in Las Vegas only a week before.

Among domestic distributors, highlights of the week included sales announcements of NBC Universal’s “Jerry Springer” spinoff “The Steve Wilkos Show” to the Tribune and Sinclair stations (it’s now cleared in 60 percent of the country) and Warner Bros. clearing entertainment newsmagazine “TMZ” on the Fox-owned stations. Both deals had been expected (TelevisionWeek, Jan. 15).

In addition, NBC Universal landed off-cable runs of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” on three of its biggest stations, in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, to replace the canceled “Megan Mullally Show.”

Those moves officially upped the tally of first-run strips from the studio-affiliated majors for the 2007 season to a grand total of four.

Sony Pictures Television, which got off to the earliest start with upcoming court show “Judge David Young,” currently leads the coming rookie class with 85 percent of the country cleared.

“Buyers have been very receptive to `Judge David Young’ and continue to see court shows as a consistent performer on their stations,” said John Weiser, president of distribution for Sony Pictures Television. “We have been wall-to-wall with business of all forms over here.”

Twentieth Television has two first-run strips set to debut in 2007, “Morning Show With Mike and Juliet” this week and game show “Temptation” as well as off-net runs of “Family Guy” set for the fall. Company President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Cook said buyers are hungry for quality product.

“We’ve been knocking down deals one after the other,” Mr. Cook said. “There is an appetite out there for the next hit, be it game, talk or court, and as a result we are fortunate enough to be able to be picky with where our shows are going.”

“Morning Show” has now cleared 65 percent of the country for the fall, “Temptation” is in 40 percent of the country and “Family Guy” is set in 82 percent.

Debmar-Mercury, which recently snagged program-distribution responsibilities for “Family Feud,” upgraded time periods for the game show in a slew of markets for next season. The company also secured more homes for the 2008 launch of “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.” One deal for “Payne,” according to sources, included Tribune’s station in Philadelphia, which now joins a roster that includes the previously announced deals with Fox stations in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington.

Meanwhile, other independent companies not aligned with the major studios were also enjoying a busy market, having secured name talent and branded product to sell to stations.

Trifecta Entertainment, headed by former MGM executive Hank Cohen, entered the market as a rookie. Mr. Cohen quickly snatched up rights to weekly series such as “UFC Wired” and “Jack Hanna’s In the Wild.” Both series were met with great interest, not only by stations but by advertisers as well, Mr. Cohen said.

“We came into NATPE with the mindset that we would show everyone that we were in this for the long haul and that’s exactly what we did,” Mr. Cohen said. “Although interest has been great in our shows, what has really surprised me was how advertisers were seeking us out, especially for our UFC series.”

Program Partners officially unveiled its Merv Griffin-produced game show “Let’s Play Crosswords” on Monday in a meeting with stations that produced a turnout of more than 50 people. In addition, the distributor held crowded parties for the upcoming launch of “DeGrassi: The Next Generation” and “Intelligence.”

October Moon unveiled tape of “Laugh Off,” a first-run Monday-through-Friday comedy competition show produced with Bunim-Murray Productions. In addition to showcasing the series to stations, October Moon President Chuck Larsen also was meeting with barter sales companies in order to decide who would sell ad time for the show.

Many stations depend on blocks of off-network comedies to draw young viewers. Few big sitcoms have taken off in prime time in recent years, so stations have limited syndicated comedy options to program their blocks. Mr. Larsen tries not to compete head-to-head with the big studios, and saw an opportunity in first-run comedy to address the dearth of off-net product.

“Stations have been saying for a while that they want to do first-run comedy,” he said. “The studios don’t seem interested; they’re doing talk shows.”

He said he hopes the show will both help stations fill their schedules this fall and also potentially help discover the sort of comedic talent that has spawned hit prime-time sitcoms in the past.

Based on the feedback from the meetings he had at NATPE, Mr. Larsen said he expects to announce a “go” for “Laugh Off” shortly.

Melissa Grego contributed to this report.