Tribune Syndie Readies Revival

Apr 9, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Tribune Entertainment appears to be back in business.

Clark Morehouse, executive VP and general manager of Tribune Entertainment, said that based upon his initial meeting with new Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell, the television production and distribution arm of the multimedia empire will be looking to expand its development and distribution slate following a long stretch of contraction.

“After a period of uncertainty, we now have a mandate to get back in the game,” Mr. Morehouse said.

In recent years, the syndication company scaled back on its series development slate, partly because of the potential sale of the Tribune Co. and partly due to escalating production costs and lower ratings plateaus for syndicated series. The last first-run talk show Tribune Entertainment produced and distributed was the 2002 strip “Beyond With James Van Praagh.” Mr. Morehouse took over for former Tribune Entertainment CEO Dick Askin, who left in July.

Mr. Morehouse noted Tribune Entertainment is working on a number of ways to bolster its distribution library.

“We are a relatively small company now in syndication, but not an irrelevant one,” he said. “We have a couple tricks up our sleeve both inside and outside the syndication world. In addition, our approach is to work with our television station group to maximize the effectiveness of their program schedules.”

Currently, the company has three strips in syndication, freshman “American Idol Rewind,” the tireless “South Park” and game show “Family Feud.” However, next season, Debmar/Mercury will take over distribution of the latter, with Twentieth Television handling ad sales.

In addition, Tribune distributes a number of weekly series.

News of Tribune’s re-emergence as an aggressive player in syndication was met with enthusiasm in the industry.

“Tribune has been an independent distribution force in the business for a while now,” said Chuck Larsen, president of October Moon Television. “With the station group and a production facility available to them, Tribune has the potential to utilize its synergy with great effectiveness. I’m glad to see them back in the business again.”

On the station front, under Marc Schacher, senior VP of programming and development for Tribune Broadcasting, the company is for now only expected to be filling in some weekend programming holes.

For this fall, the stations have scheduled double runs of “Family Guy” from Twentieth Television and “Two and a Half Men” from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. In addition, Tribune has renewed runs of “Jerry Springer” and “Maury” from NBC Universal and added rookie hour “The Steve Wilkos Show” to its stations’ lineup. The company has runs of “DeGrassi: The Next Generation” set as well.

Ten months after it began soliciting options and buyers, Tribune Co. last week agreed to a sale to real estate magnate Mr. Zell. He will pay $34 per share for some 126 million shares and take the multimedia company private.

Mr. Zell has said sale of the company’s assets, including the 23 TV stations Tribune has considered unloading, is not an option. That means the new Tribune can expect regulatory and advocacy obstacles, including cross-ownership bans on owning a newspaper and broadcast properties in the same market. Tribune owns WGN-TV, WGN-AM and the Chicago Tribune in the nation’s third-largest market.

Meanwhile, sources said while the company will undergo a tightening of some division budgets, layoffs around the company are expected to be minimal.