Buena Vista Sets Syndie ‘Makeover’

Feb 26, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Buena Vista Television is out to make over station lineups in syndication with a dose of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

The distributor, looking to capitalize on the long-running success of the ABC prime-time reality series and seize the opportunity to address the dwindling selection of off-network sitcoms, will begin discussions within the next few weeks with both broadcast stations and cable outlets for a fall 2008 syndication launch of the unscripted show.

Around 150 episodes are scheduled to be in the can by the time “Makeover” debuts off-net, enabling the hour-long show to be offered as a Monday-through-Friday strip.

Buena Vista executives are expected to seek deals to air the show in late-afternoon and early-evening time periods, when stations often program off-net comedies. Many stations have long depended on sitcom blocks to draw valuable younger viewers during early fringe and access time periods. Since few hit comedies have debuted in recent years, stations have been on the lookout for programming alternatives to fill those slots.

A daily hour with broad appeal such as “Extreme Makeover” could go a long way toward sewing up holes in stations’ schedules if buyers are willing to go the reality route. Jed Cohen, executive VP and general sales manager of Buena Vista Television, is optimistic they will. “It’s clear that this series will fill a void out there, especially given the lack of sitcoms hitting the pipeline for syndication,” Mr. Cohen said. “The presence of a show the caliber of ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ will immediately refresh these blocks, especially in early fringe and early access.”

The move is the latest in a string of efforts by several distributors to bring nontraditional fare to syndication. Other studios have tapped off-cable and Canadian programming to offer fresh content to stations.

Reality series are sold as syndicated strips relatively infrequently for a number of reasons. Many tend to have shorter runs, so they don’t have enough completed episodes to fulfill stations’ daily needs. In addition, many are serialized and/or competitions, which generally means asking more of a regular commitment from viewers than station executives expect their audience to bear. With competition shows, the suspense may be killed because viewers already know the outcome.

Still, unscripted series have found measured success in syndication as a strip on stations. “Fear Factor” and “American Idol Rewind” are among recent examples. Also, NBC Universal has been experimenting with episodes of Bravo hit “Queer Eye” as a programming replacement for the canceled “Megan Mullally Show” in some markets.

“Makeover,” which features a family in dire need whose house is remade by a team of builders and designers, is uniquely positioned to work in syndication, Mr. Cohen said.

Every episode is a self-contained drama. There is no serialization, but rather a definite structure of a beginning, a middle and an end, he said.

“It might seem easy to compare this show to other unscripted series out there, but the others are contests of some sort, usually feature a winner and are mostly not repeated by their networks,” Mr. Cohen said. “I don’t think anybody can say that about this show.”

It’s also “a show that not only helps people and helps change lives, it inspires community outreach and activism,” he said.

Plus, the series regularly wins its prime-time slot and enjoys a high rate of repeat viewing. “Makeover” currently ranks as the top-rated series in Sunday’s 8 p.m. hour in the 18- to 49-year-old demographic, most recently earning a 5.4 rating and 14 share, according to Nielsen Media Research. “Makeover” has consistently ranked as the night’s top series in adults 18 to 49 as well as all three female demographics of 18 to 34, 18 to 49 and 25 to 54. The series regularly builds on its lead-in and draws higher numbers in each of the show’s quarter-hours.

Mr. Cohen said all of these factors signal the likely success of a program once it hits syndication.

“Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is a production of Endemol USA in association with Disney/Buena Vista’s Greengrass Productions.