Debmar Proves Indies Alive and Well

Jan 20, 2008  •  Post A Comment

After mass consolidation throughout the television business, analysts were quick to proclaim the independent distributor all but dead, particularly in the syndication industry. Fast-forward to 2008 and independents are not only very much alive, but thriving.
Debmar-Mercury Co-Presidents Ira Bernstein and Mort Marcus find themselves entering NATPE in a position enviable even by studio standards. With series such as “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” and “Trivial Pursuit: America Plays” cleared and ready to launch on stations across the country this fall, and other series being carefully shaped for future clearances via slow rollouts, the young company has quickly made a programming impact.
“When we started this thing, it was literally just me and Ira, and if we were at lunch there was literally nothing happening at the company because no one else was working,” said Mr. Marcus. “Although we have obviously added bodies since then, we still are very lean and that gives us an advantage. Having been at Disney for so many years, I can say that there were huge overheads to deal with, and even if you cut back on personnel, you’re still fat.”
Having recently opened its first international offices, Debmar-Mercury now is truly a worldwide production and distribution media company specializing in syndication, cable, network, VOD/pay-per-view and pay TV.
The company’s slate currently features “House of Payne,” which premiered on TBS in June to record-breaking ratings and will be followed in the fall with a four-year concurrent syndication run.
The company also owns domestic distribution rights to the groundbreaking sitcom “South Park,” as well as “Family Feud,” “The Surreal Life” family of celebrity-based reality shows, USA Network’s “The Dead Zone” and National Geographic’s “Really Wild Animals.”
“We are literally there to find out where there is a need and be able to fulfill that need,” Mr. Bernstein said of his slate of programming. “We don’t have a separate wing of the company developing stuff. We’re the ones who make sure the product we’re distributing works as a model in the media.”
Debmar-Mercury recently announced that it will offer two of the Discovery Channel’s most popular series, “American Chopper” and “The Deadliest Catch,” to broadcast TV stations for the first time. It also has cleared a late-night talk vehicle for comedian Tom Green, which will be adapted from his Internet talk show “Tom Green Live” for seven stations.
In addition, the company recently announced that “Trivial Pursuit,” the upcoming game show backed by Hasbro, had cleared 55% of the country, including Fox affiliates in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington and Baltimore.
Meanwhile, sources said the company has snagged New York radio host Wendy Williams for a series that could air as early as this spring on a Fox-owned New York station, although the executives would not comment on any deals.
“When you look at the types of product we get involved in, it’s clear that any time we can be involved in something resembling a brand, that’s the business we want to be in,” said Mr. Bernstein. “Because of all the clutter in the media landscape, everything needs to have an identity for us to be willing to get behind it.”
“Ira and I don’t like to be in the baking business,” said Mr. Marcus. “We prefer to go with what works.”


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