Syndication's Feel-Good Fall
The daytime trend is to show viewers how to improve their lives
By Paige Albiniak. Capsules by Paige Albiniak and Kevin Downey -- Broadcasting & Cable, 8/15/2004 8:00:00 PM
Syndicators like the tried and true, so this year's crop of new offerings draws from TV's biggest successes: There will be an attempt to clone the tough-love style of Dr. Phil. And syndie offerings will try to find the ratings magic created by cable's prime time makover and reality series.
Fall 2004 will see the arrival of a trio of reality-based programs: NBC Universal's Home Delivery, Twentieth Television's Ambush Makeover and Sony's Pat Croce: Moving In. All three offer viewers examples of people's lives being changed for the better. (Ten of the top contenders are previewed on the following pages.)
Many of the offerings are about hope, growth, change and progress. Warner Bros.' The Larry Elder Show brings a blunt message of personal responsibility. NBC Universal's The Jane Pauley Show aims to empower women in the spirit of King World's The Oprah Winfrey Show. And Sony's Life & Style wants to do the same thing, channeling a younger version of ABC's The View.
That's a far cry from the wackiness of The Jerry Springer Show and the general freak-show era of daytime television that dominated the daypart just a few years ago. On the other hand, Winfrey, overwhelmingly the most successful daytime show in history, makes a bond with her viewers. They'll even read the books she tells them to. She helps people.
But let's not get carried away. Some of syndication is just trying to bring viewers good old entertainment, along the lines of Warner Bros.' The Ellen DeGeneres Show. The only show from last year that can be called a breakout hit is just plain fun. This season, the closest version of that may be Buena Vista's The Tony Danza Show, which will showcase Danza's gift for gab.
Syndication is as prone to failure as prime time, so some syndicators—Twentieth Television, principally—are testing shows on stations they own before trying to sell them to other stations nationwide.
This fall, two shows are in test mode: Twentieth's Designer Invasion on the Fox stations and Paramount's Dance 360, a hip-hop–heavy offering on stations Viacom owns. Like Twentieth's Ambush Makeover, which goes national in September, Design Invasion is a lifestyle/makeover show that pays off in the final, reveal scene. Dance 360 may be the 21st century version of American Bandstand.
Syndication is alive and well but vastly different from what it was just a few years ago. Network dramas no longer have a guaranteed spot on stations' weekend lineups and thus are finding their way to cable much sooner. First-run syndicated dramas are gasping for life. The international market has imploded. And basic and premium cable has suddenly become a hot new market from which stations can pick and choose, making the competition among syndicators to get first-run shows on the air fiercer than ever.
"What used to look like endless shelf space is now becoming tighter," says Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television. "Stations are becoming much more specific about what they will buy."
The result is the near-extinction of the first-run weekend hour drama; witness the demise of NBC/MGM's Stargate SG-1 this year. And hot network crime franchises—CSI, Without a Trace, anything with the words Law & Order in front of it—are going first to cable networks for high prices, making the shows less valuable by the time they get to station syndication.
Meanwhile, serialized dramas, such as Buena Vista's Alias and Twentieth's 24 have a hard time fetching a good price. Buena Vista ultimately sold Alias in an all-barter deal.
A growing trend in off-net syndication is buying hot off-cable sitcoms, even the racier ones. HBO's Sex and the City hit TBS this summer. And Sex joins Comedy Central's South Park in late-night slots on broadcast stations next fall.
Syndicators used to consider cable a separate market, with very distinct (and faraway) windows, so as not to offend sensitive TV stations concerned about exclusivity. These days, with TV finances tighter than ever, syndicators consider cable a buyer from the get-go.
The window of time when syndicators can sell off-net product to TV stations and cable networks also is shrinking.
"That's a bit of a sea change in our business," says Cook. "Traditionally, you went to broadcast, and then there was a three-year window and you went to cable. Now it's getting closer."
For example, Cook says, Reba enters off-net syndication in fall 2006, launching concurrently on TV stations and on Lifetime. NBC Universal's Fear Factor debuted this summer on FX and starts this fall in broadcast syndication, including the Fox station group.
Whether a syndicated show will run on cable largely depends on the show. "On the bigger shows—the Oprahs, the Dr. Phils, the Judge Judys—stations are much less inclined to want to share them [with cable] because they feel they are paying a big enough license fee not to allow it," says John Nogawski, president of Paramount Domestic Television. But that could change.
"I think that, as eyeballs and dollars move to cable, that will be a more competitive business," says Jim Paratore, executive vice president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution and president of Telepictures Productions. "Viewers don't distinguish between cable and broadcast; they are going to find the shows they like. For those of us that make the shows, we'll sell them to whoever will buy them."
The Tony Danza Show
Buena Vista Television
Treading where other former sitcom stars have stumbled, Tony Danza, now a song-and-dance man, makes the leap to syndicated–talk-show host on Sept. 13.
Buena Vista Television's Danza has a lot working for it: Perhaps most significant, it will lead out of ABC's perennial early-morning hit Live With Regis and Kelly in many markets. The show will air primarily on ABC stations and is cleared in more than 90% of the country, including ABC Station Group, Sinclair, Gannett, Hearst-Argyle, Post-Newsweek, Cox and Raycom.
Executive producer John Redmann worked on the canceled but Emmy-winning Wayne Brady Show, also from Buena Vista, and was supervising producer of the Rosie O'Donnell Show, too.
"I learned from that show how to make a show different, to approach everything from a positive place, and to treat celebrities like real people and regular people like celebrities," he says. Like Rosie, the one-hour Danza will be taped live in New York.
Danza will interact with recently announced sidekick and announcer, former Apprentice wannabe Ereka Vetrini.
"He does have quality timeslots," says Jordan Breslow, director of national broadcast research at MediaCom, adding, "But so did Wayne." And in some markets, Danza will be going against NBC Universal's new Jane Pauley Show.
Starting with a slow trickle in the hopes of later making a big splash, Twentieth Television will debut Design Invasion in a handful of markets this fall, just as the syndicator did with Ambush Makeover last year. With luck, Design will generate enough interest to get a national rollout in its second season.
"The idea is to put out our product in limited markets in a variety of time periods over a set time frame and then tweak it," says Robb Dalton, president of programming and production at Twentieth Television.
"If [the show] doesn't spark, we can move on to another project and not spend too much money on something the public doesn't want."
Design, which like Ambush, is a half-hour show produced by Banyan Productions. Geared to women 18-49 and 25-54, the show will premiere Sept. 13 on selected Fox owned-and-operated stations and will be shown mainly in the morning. It is being sold in its test run on a cash-only basis. Design stands a good chance of attracting an audience, at least among the many fans of home-renovation shows. Since TLC's Trading Spaces took off in 2000, home makeovers have become one of the hottest trends in reality TV. In addition to spawning dozens of cable shows, the format is also being incorporated into syndicated talk shows like The Oprah Winfrey Show. It has also wiggled its way onto prime time with ABC hit Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Design Invasion is the first home-makeover show in syndication.
As with many new reality programs, Design takes a well-worn genre and shakes it up. But just a bit. In each episode, the family whose home gets renovated will get to hang onto a prized possession with a "rescue card." And instead of having a few days to redo a house, one of six designers will have only 12 hours to finish the job.
Life & Style
Four young, hip hosts may be all it takes to set Sony Pictures Television's Life & Style apart from ABC's The View. But Life & Style has other hurdles to overcome to shake all the comparisons.
And there are some differences. Life & Style executive producer Ray Giuliani (Geraldo, Sally Jessy Raphael) is including taped segments in addition to The View-type in-studio chats. The hosts—(above, from left) former Laterhost Cynthia Garrett, E! Entertainment Television alum Jules Asner, comedian Lynne Koplitz and clothing designer Kimora Lee Simmons—also will engage the audience in conversation. That's a new wrinkle.
"The way the set is built, the way we're shooting it, and the way we're producing it is audience-interactive," says Giuliani. "I love that energy, and it's one reason we're in New York."
Debuting Sept. 12 and targeting women 18-49, the show's lack of carriage on major network affiliates. Sony is not part of a station group, unlike other top syndicators. Still, the show is cleared in 98% of the country, including WLNY and WPIX New York, KCAL Los Angeles, and WCIU Chicago. Life & Stylewill run on nine Viacom stations in the top 20 markets, as well as on Tribune, Gannett, Hearst-Argyle stations. It's also sold to the Sinclair, WB+100 Station Group, Belo, LIN and Raycom groups.
Melanie Chilek, Sony's senior vice president of development and syndicated programming, says the idea for the show came from the realization "there isn't much on TV that appeals to a younger woman."
Paramount Domestic Television
In this year's biggest syndicated launch, Paramount Domestic Television is finally bringing The Insider to access. The half-hour strip, debuting Sept 13 and cleared in 98% of the country, has been in development for two years. Its production is probably the most intricate ever attempted by a syndicator. Conceived to be either a companion to magazine leader Entertainment Tonight or a standalone that can compete against ET, the show has forced executive producer Linda Bell Blue to quickly learn some new tricks.
"This is a group that likes a challenge, and we've done this together for many years," Bell Blue says. "Our competition is out there waiting to see how this is going to be done." The Insider's set will be adjacent to ET's, which also is getting a revamp, so that Insider host Pat O'Brien (above) and ET anchors Mary Hart and Mark Steines can walk "between" the shows. Depending on the station, Hart can preview what's coming up next on The Insider, and O'Brien can do the same for ET.
Paramount has stocked the show with producers from all over the industry. Insider stories will be longer and more in-depth, says Terry Wood, Paramount's executive vice president of programming.
"We're going to give viewers a take that they aren't seeing out there right now," Wood promises.
Major station groups clearing The Insider: the CBS owned-and-operated stations, Hearst-Argyle, Scripps Howard, Hubbard, Belo, Gannett, Cox, Sinclair and Raycom.
Larry Elder Show
Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution
Larry Elder had to fail before Warner Bros. could see how successful he could really be. He was was a star in Warner Bros.' syndicated Moral Court in 2000-01. That show was canceled before it got through an entire season, but it remained on the air in repeats and thrived on WCIU Chicago and a few other markets. Warner Bros. noticed.
"I was so impressed with Larry's abilities, I said, 'We have to do a show with him,'" says Jim Paratore, executive vice president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. This time, it's a talk show.
"I've got a perspective and, hopefully, a sense of humor and some charm," Elder says. "I've got some common sense, and I deeply, deeply care about helping people improve their lives."
He's best-known for his conservative syndicated radio show. But his talk show won't be political. "I can wear more than one hat," he says, pointing to Ben Stein, actor, game-show host—and former Nixon speech writer.
The one-hour show starts Sept. 13 and is cleared in 90% of the U.S., mainly in the daytime. It's on Viacom stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
The Jane Pauley Show
NBC Universal Television Distribution
NBC Universal's The Jane Pauley Show faces the toughest competition in syndication: King World heavyweights The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. Phil.
When Pauley announced that she would be retiring from Dateline after 20 years with NBC News, it didn't take long for Ed Wilson, then president of NBC Domestic Television Distribution (which has since been merged with Universal's syndication division), to scoop her up. NBC's owned-and-operated stations needed a big name to compete in early fringe, helping them into their local evening newscasts. With Oprah signed on the ABC-owned stations through 2011 and Phil slated to stay at least through 2006, it doesn't appear the competition is going to slack off anytime soon.
Pauley will air at 11 a.m. in New York and 10 a.m. in Los Angeles, which keeps her away from Phil and Oprah in those crucial markets. Executive producer Michael Weisman—who has produced such events as the Salt Lake City Olympics and the World Series—has a long-standing relationship with both Pauley and Jeff Zucker, president of the NBC Universal Television Group.
"What's similar to sports is that we're treating this show as if it were live," Weisman says. "We can be very flexible and not painted into any corners or any type of restrictive format."
The show will air in 99% of the U.S., with 140 out of 202 clearances in early fringe. NBC Universal plans to produce 180 episodes each year. It premieres Aug. 30, right as the Olympic Games wrap up in Athens.
NBC Universal Domestic
NBC Universal's Home Delivery merges talk, lifestyle and reality into one, taking the traditional daytime show out of the studio and into viewers' homes. Hosts (from left, below) are Egypt (that's it), Stephanie Lydecker, Sukanya Krishman and John Sencio. They visit real people, helping them create major change in their lives. The four hosts gather in a studio at the show's start and close. Otherwise, it's shot on location in places as diverse as Long Island, N.Y., and Long Beach, Calif. "It's all the real daytime topics but done in the field with a reality feeling," says executive producer Amy Rosenblum. Home Delivery, premiering Sept. 13, is an hour strip. Two stories are presented every hour, with an update of previous stories at the end of each show. In one, Home Delivery brings a dad home from Iraq to celebrate his daughter's high school graduation. In another, the show gets plastic surgery for a 7-year-old boy born without ears. "There are going to be a lot of stories about relationships, and they may have conflict to them," says Linda Finnell, NBC Universal Domestic Television's senior vice president of programming. "The stories have a lot of heart and soul. "The newly merged company inherited Home Delivery from Universal, where it was created as part of a joint development deal with Tribune. The Tribune stations will serve as key launch group. The show is cleared in more than 90% of the country mostly in daytime slots.
Paramount Domestic Television
The coolest moves, the hippest gear, and some of the craziest club kids TV has ever seen: Paramount Domestic Television is bringing Dance 360 to the Viacom station group this fall.
Paramount is test-running Dance 360, hosted by Fredro Starr and Kel Mitchell (at left), giving it 13 weeks to prove itself. The Viacom station group is footing the production bill, and keeping all the barter time. If Dance 360 performs, the stations will order more episodes, and Paramount will take it out nationally.
The kids featured on the show come from all over the country to strut their stuff. Executive producer Claude Brooks says he saw some 2,000 wannabes in the search for dancers to fill 65 episodes, all of which were shot in Hollywood this summer. A lucky few are selected by the show's hosts to fight it out on the dance floor.
The kids wear their own clothes; Brooks told them to bring their hottest club wear to the set. Some are so hot that the Paramount costume department has had to step in. Paramount also keeps Kel, Fredro and deejay K-Sly outfitted in the latest styles.
"All the clothes the kids are wearing are what the rest of the country will wear in six months," Brooks says. "If one element of this show reads fake, we're done."
Twentieth Television's Ambush Makeover is Exhibit A in a wave of reality hitting syndication this fall. The genre eased into syndication last year with the soap-opera dramatics of NBC Universal's Starting Over. But Ambush has the upbeat tone of two sister programs, TLC's Trading Spaces and A Makeover Story; all are produced by Banyan Productions.
"When you're going to do these shows, it helps when you've done several hundred before," says Robb Dalton, Twentieth's president of programming and production, referring to his partners at Banyan. Ambush already has a track record. The half-hour show premiered in July 2003, originally in a test run with 13 weeks that was extended for six weeks. The show averages a 1.4 household rating on the Fox owned-and-operated stations with back-to-back episodes in most markets. Ambush goes nationwide Sept. 13, with clearances in 95% of the country. The Fox Television Group, covering 45% of the country, gives it a huge boost. It will air primarily in the morning.
The makeover twist is that the six stylists don't know whom they'll be making over beforehand. Neither do the "victims." They're plucked right off the street.
"I am a huge fan," says Laura Caraccioli-Davis, senior vice president and director of Starcom Entertainment.
Pat Croce: Moving In
Sony Pictures Television's Pat Croce: Moving Intakes the host into guests' homes to help solve their problems. Very Dr. Phil-like. Indeed, Croce, the former owner of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers, is the author of self-help books (as is Dr Phil McGraw). And people problems is his beat. Debuting Sept. 13, it will air primarily in daytime; and it's cleared in 98% of the country, including Fox stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington. Also on board are Viacom, Tribune, Raycom, Sinclair and Scripps Howard. Two episodes will run back-to-back in most markets.
Although Pat Croce may seem like Dr. Phil, the newcomer's format and host stand out from virtually everything else in syndication. It's rawer, and he's a tough personality.
"Pat is a catalyst for change. Is everything a happy ending? No," says executive producer Barry Josephson." But I think people are better off when Pat leaves than they were when he arrived."
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