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First-Run Syndie Slate Strong

Nov 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

While distributors make their plans to pack their bags, or not, for NATPE, syndication development continues to strengthen compared to years past, with nine companies preparing first-run strips for next season.
A trio of new court shows will join the pack of series being pitched to stations: “Judge Karen Mills” from Sony Pictures Television, “Family Court With Judge Penny” from Program Partners and “Star Witness” from Radar.
The series add to an already rich mixture of development for next season that features everything from the “Dr. Phil” spinoff “The Doctors” to the daytime version of “Deal or No Deal” to series featuring Donald Trump, Bonnie Hunt and Steve Harvey to a TV version of “Trivial Pursuit.”
If tradition holds, even more are likely to surface before January’s National Association of Television Program Executives television market. That roster has the potential to put the most new first-run strips on the air since 2002, when 12 freshman series hit the airwaves.
Even more companies will be in the mix, with off-network and off-cable product available to strip such as “Punk’d” from Trifecta and “Storm Stories” from Litton.
“What you have is that everyone is gearing up for the fact that in the not-too-distant future, we are going to be in the digital environment,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Media. “Because of that, everyone is looking at those future opportunities and is out to find special niche openings that exist now, despite the fact that station schedules are set for the foreseeable future.”
The latest entrants in the syndication arena include “Family Court With Judge Penny,” a half-hour strip presided over by Judge Penny Brown Reynolds, from distributor Program Partners and producer 44 Blue.
Judge Reynolds will oversee the gamut of issues that go to family court, including spousal abuse issues, child neglect and related family relationship problems, according to Program Partners co-founders Ritch Colbert and Josh Raphaelson.
“This is a show that stations are extremely interested in,” said Mr. Colbert. “Television is at the point right now where there is a saturation of the small claims proceedings we saw on the other court shows. Our show brings more relevance and substantive issues than some of the other programs because ours contains issues that are of interest to everyone with a family.”
“We wanted to do something that would elevate the genre without reinventing it, as court shows continue to be the backbone of station lineups,” added Mr. Raphaelson. “In fact, we were surprised that no one had ever done a family court type of show. It seems an obvious thing to do.”
44 Blue co-owner and executive producer Stephanie Drachkovitch, who brings a successful resume of daytime development to the table, sees “Family Court” as filling a need not being addressed by shows currently on the air.
“Family issues have been a staple of daytime for so many years, but no one was targeting that in the court genre,” she said. “The addition of Penny, however, completed the concept because she is such a unique and compelling personality and is going to stand out because of her commanding presence but backed with a compassionate side.”
Meanwhile, Sony Pictures Television has confirmed it will bring its own brand of justice to the marketplace, with a new show featuring Florida Judge Karen Mills Francis. The distributor has three court shows on the airwaves, collectively dubbed by the syndicator “The Supreme Court”: “Judge Hatchett,” “Judge Greg Young” and “Judge Maria Lopez.”
Radar Distribution is planning a series entitled “Star Witness” featuring Court TV anchor Rikki Klieman as judge. The format will feature celebrities who are experts in an area such as horses contributing their thoughts on the case to help resolve it. Ms. Klieman has been an anchor for Court TV since 1994 and serves as legal analyst for CBS’ “The Early Show.”
Executives from Radar did not return requests for comment.
Analysts say the inclusion of the new programs, as well as the breadth and scope of new series and distributors in the mix, could help NATPE offset the loss of CBS Television Distribution, which was announced earlier this week.

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