The new syndication season has just begun, but some syndicators seem more concerned with 2002-2003
By Joe Schlosser -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/12/2001 8:00:00 PM
Starting with today's debut of Buena Vista Television's Iyanla, syndication's diverse fall 2001 offerings are rolling out (see page 24). Multimillion-dollar marketing campaigns have been launched, high-priced producers enlisted and thousands of air miles logged by sales executives. But does anyone care?
The buzz around the syndication industry and stations is less about this fall's new offerings and more about what's coming for fall 2002. Some studios appear to be selling against shows that haven't even debuted yet, betting on their quick demise.
"We are talking about a year from now with the presumption that everything that is going on the air this fall is not going to work," says Big Ticket President Larry Lyttle, whose studio produces Judge Judy and Judge Joe Brown. "There are so many shows being sold for a year from now that there is no sense objectively in the business that there is any buzz about the 2001 offerings."
A number of current court and talk shows, including Jenny Jones and Sally Jessy Raphael, are considered long shots to make it past the coming season, and syndicators are eyeing their time periods, as well as those of this year's new crop, for their fall 2002 offerings. King World, which is launching The Ananda Lewis Show this fall, is selling Dr. Phil for the following season. Both are daytime talk shows, and sources say Dr. Phil is not allowed to air against Oprah in any market. A number of station executives say that is forcing King World to sell Dr. Phil for the same time periods and on the same stations on which Ananda is set to debut this fall.
"Ananda was a very sellable show for King World, but they are so high on Dr. Phil that, in order for them to get that on good stations and in the best time periods, they had to eat their young a little bit," says one top station-group executive. "If they wanted to be 3 p.m. on major affiliates, Ananda was a little in the way. So they have kind of stepped around it, stepped over it and, I think, a number of times stepped on it."
King World executives deny that and say Dr. Phil is cleared mainly on different stations. In the top seven markets, neither show will air on the same station at this point, King World's Roger King points out. But the shows are currently sold on the same stations in Washington, Seattle, Detroit, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Kansas City, Mo. "We're not blowing Ananda out on any of these stations," King says. "We're very high on Ananda, and stations that buy any show to replace her are making a big mistake."
Other studios also have offerings for both this fall and next, including Buena Vista with Iyanla and Millionaire and NBC Enterprises with Weakest Link and The Other Half . All those shows, though, are said to be targeting different time periods.
Industry experts say this is the earliest sales effort ever in syndication, with four new first-run series cleared in more than 50% of the country for the 2002-03 season, including daytime versions of Weakest Link (debuts January 2002) and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Dr. Phil, a Pyramid remake, comedian/actress Caroline Rhea in place of Rosie O'Donnell, and Saturday Night Live creator/producer Lorne Michaels' first syndication effort.
Syndication's selling cycle traditionally begins in the fall, when major studios unveil potential shows for the following year. But, early this summer, it was obvious that fall 2002 would be different.
Word got out that NBC was going to produce Weakest Link for syndication, followed by ABC's long-anticipated announcement of Millionaire. By late June, both games were being cleared across the country, forcing King World to jump into the market with Dr. Phil. Columbia TriStar began selling Pyramid, and the 2002 race was on.
"I give Buena Vista and NBC credit. They got out there, marketed their shows —Millionaire and Weakest Link— well and sold them aggressively, and got the key time periods," says Paramount Domestic TV's President of Entertainment Greg Meidel. "Between the games and Dr. Phil, the fall of 2002 is done."
The quick-moving market, syndicators and station executives agree, was fueled by two key factors. First, most offerings are proven network or syndication commodities, including Dr. Phil, whose host appears every Tuesday on Oprah. Second was the expected departure of several veteran syndicated series come next fall, including O'Donnell's series. Having announced that Rhea will replace O'Donnell in 2002, Warner Bros. is battling to keep the show in good time periods.
"Everyone suspected and [it is] now confirmed that Rosie was going away. She owned tremendous real estate in the marketplace," says Buena Vista TV head Janice Marinelli, whose studio is distributing Millionaire. "She is on very strong stations and in very key time periods. It's obvious that everyone is anxious to take hold of those time periods."
With all the excitement for 2002, what are the chances of this fall's new shows' sticking around? "They better come out of the box very strong," says one station executive.
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