News Articles

New first-runs at a glance

1/06/2002 07:00:00 PM Eastern
 B.A.I.T.
  NBC Enterprises
  Weekly hour
  barter
  When Vince Manze, co-president of NBC's in-house advertising and marketing division and one of the masterminds of that network's Must See TV promotion, first joined the network in 1990, he made sure that his contract included a programming-development clause.

Manze, who has a background in both programming and promotion, didn't waste much time coming up with his first show. In 1991, his Guys Next Door, a teen-oriented Saturday-morning series debuted on NBC. That series lasted only one season, and Manze (pronounced Man-zee) has developed a handful of specials for the network since-but it has taken him more than 10 years to get his next series.

This fall, NBC's new syndication unit, NBC Enterprises, will give Manze another shot, with a new action series titled B.A.I.T. "It's been a long wait," he says, "but I think it's going to be worth it."

Joe Livecchi, who works for Manze on the marketing side, actually approached him with the idea for B.A.I.T., which stands for Bureau of Allied Intelligence Tactics. The series, which is currently being cast, follows three female convicts set free from prison to help fight crime. Each has specialized skills: One is a computer wizard, another is a street hustler, and the third is a professional con artist. Manze calls it "Charlie's Devils with a sense of humor."

He explains: "It's an experimental reform program to use the skills that they used to commit crimes to now fight crime. They work with a specialized government agency, and they all live together. They each wear bracelets that keep them in contact. If one breaks, they all go back to prison, so they are all dependent on each other."

NBC Enterprises' executives are selling the series for the fall, and there are whispers that it could get a network prime time window as well, although NBC executives had no comment. As for the show's marketing and promotion, Manze says B.A.I.T. just "might get a little something special" when it debuts.

 Beyond With James Van Praagh
  Tribune Entertainment
  Daily talk
  cash + barter
  James Van Praagh says he was originally offered the show that fellow psychic John Edward wound up hosting for Sci Fi Channel, now in first-run syndication.

But Van Praagh, who is bringing out his own daily syndicated show this season with Tribune Entertainment, Beyond With James Van Praagh, says the Sci Fi opportunity three years ago just didn't feel right.

"I thought the right thing would come at the right time in the right forum," says Van Praagh, a best-selling author and psychic. "So I just passed on it, and I'm glad John [Edward] got that show. That show has worked. For me, I knew something would come about, and now it has."

A number of Hollywood studios attempted to sign Van Praagh this year after Studios USA's Crossing Over With John Edward turned out to be the only new syndicated series to show any signs of life.

Tribune Entertainment executives have cleared Van Praagh's series for next fall in more than 60% of the U.S., including eight of the top 10 markets. It has been sold on a number of co-owned Tribune stations in top markets, notably New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta and Indianapolis. The one-hour daily series will include audience readings, segments "ripped from the headlines," one-on-one celebrity readings, and psychic guests and specialists.

Van Praagh says he realized he had special psychic powers in his early 20s after a visit to a medium shed light on his abilities to talk with the dead.

"The medium said I was a very psychic person, a very sensitive person and that I was going to be able to contact people who have passed over," he says. "I didn't believe any of it. But he told me a lot of things about family members that had passed over and things about myself that no one else knew."

Van Praagh says he began reading up on psychic powers and meditating and, about five months later, started receiving "strong visions."

Van Praagh says Edward and he are good friends. But he's not above a friendly tweak. On the difference between his show and Edward's, Van Praagh says, laughing, "Mine will go one step beyond what's out there now."

 Dr. Phil
  King World
  Daily talk
  cash + barter
  Get ready for some tough love, Texas-style.

Dr. Phil McGraw, the resident relationship expert on The Oprah Winfrey Show, is coming to syndication next fall with his own daily talk show amid some rather heavy expectations.

Dr. Phil is distributed by King World Productions, the syndicator behind Winfrey's long-running series, and it's produced by fellow Viacom studio Paramount Domestic Television from the Paramount lot in Los Angeles. Winfrey's Harpo Productions is also a co-producer, and Winfrey is working hand-in-hand with McGraw on everything from set design to show topics. Dr. Phil is currently cleared in more than 85% of the country for its fall debut.

McGraw has been appearing on Winfrey's show since 1998--off and on for two years and, more recently, as the co-host of each Tuesday episode. He says his experience on Winfrey's show has prepared him for the rigors of hosting his own daily show.

"It just can't get any better than Oprah in terms of connecting with the audience and bringing integrity and respect to any subject matter," says McGraw, a Dallas resident with a Ph.D. in psychology and co-founder of a litigation consulting firm. "So I've learned at her elbow, and I think it's the best preparation you can get." (In case Dr. Phil learned a little too much, Winfrey won't be hurt: Contractually, his show cannot air opposite hers.)

The author of two best-selling relationship books, McGraw says he wants to use his show to help bring "leadership and guidance" to Americans. "Somebody asked me the other day what kind of show I was going to do, and I said I think it's truth television," he says. "I think I'm going to get people to deal with the truth in a results-oriented way. You have to deal with and focus on the truth."

King World executives announced last June that Dr. Phil is coming to syndication, and, by the end of the summer, the show was cleared in virtually every market in the U.S.

A number of station executives and industry veterans say McGraw's show is the most promising new entry in the talk genre in several years. "The expectations that others have cannot fractionally approach the expectations that I put on myself," he says bluntly. "I put all of the pressure on myself."

 We, the Jury
  Telco Productions
  Daily court
  cash + barter
  Alex Paen believes he has found the perfect alternative to the tried-and-true format of both syndicated court shows and talk shows.

Paen, president of Los Angeles-based distributor Telco Productions, has combined the two formats for a new hybrid first-run series entitled We, the Jury.

"It's familiar, but it's got a twist," says Paen, who also hosts the syndicated weekly series Animal Rescue and is a world-affairs correspondent at KCBS-TV Los Angeles. "The show is a cross between Politically Incorrect and Judge Judy, and it has more substance to it than most syndicated shows are used to."

Paen has teamed up with Bill Grundfest, a former senior writer and producer on sitcom Mad About You, and Eugene, Ore.-based Chambers Productions on the series. Grundfest is co-creator and executive producer.

Producers are still deciding on a judge for the series; there will be no on-camera host. Paen has not announced any clearances, although that disclosure is supposed to be coming soon. Even so, We, the Jury is set to debut during the week of Sept. 9.

"We have been working for two years trying to come up with different types of strips, and Bill wanted to get into syndication," says Paen. "We felt we had to marry two or three genres because we didn't believe we could go out with a straight relationship, straight court or straight talk show in this market. We figured we had to do a hybrid of something, and this is what we came up with."

In each half-hour daily episode, eight jurors debate and decide cases based on real life stories-but the litigants are played by actors.

Paen says that four pilots have been taped and Telco sales executives are currently out selling the series for the fall. Among the four pilots, one case involves a fight between a couple over frozen embryos, and another has the jury weighing whether a woman can collect damages from an owner of a mutt that got her purebred show dog pregnant.

"The cases are not 'You owe me $100' or 'You stole my TV,'" says Paen. "They are a lot more complex and sometimes there is no exact right answer. The purpose of the show is to stimulate discussion."

 The John Walsh Show
  NBC Enterprises
  Daily talk
  cash + barter
  John Walsh, the man behind Fox's 14-year-old series America's Most Wanted, is coming to daytime television next fall with his eponymously titled talk show, and the same passionate style.

NBC Enterprises' The John Walsh Show, is a one-hour talk show that producers say will deal with issues "that people care about" in an increasingly scarier world. "If you look at what has happened in the last year, people want to know more about what goes on in the world; they want to know how things affect them, and how to protect their kids and themselves," says NBC Enterprises President Ed Wilson. Walsh became an expert in missing persons and security issues in the early '80s after his son, Adam, was abducted from a shopping mall and later found beheaded. Walsh and his wife founded the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 1984, and they helped get Congress to pass the Missing Children's Act, which brought about an FBI database on missing children and other reforms.

In 1988, Walsh became a nationally known TV personality with the launch of America's Most Wanted on Fox. The series has helped find and convict nearly 700 hundred criminals (15 from the FBI's most-wanted list) and after Sept. 11, President Bush went to Walsh for help, asking him to produce a special prime time episode on Fox about the terrorists.

Walsh will continue hosting America's Most Wanted, and Wilson says he will use knowledge gained from the series on his talk show.

"We have created a show that is going to cover current events when need be," says Wilson. "If this show was up and running when the Columbine High School shootings took place, John would have taken the show there for a couple of episodes. When the racists dragged that man to death in Jasper, Texas, a few years back, The John Walsh Show would have been there on location."

The program will be based out of New York, where Walsh tapes most America's Most Wanted episodes these days. Wilson says the NBC owned stations have signed on; now sales executives are out clearing the rest of the country for its fall debut.

 John Woo's Once a Thief
  October Moon
  Weekly hour
  barter
  While working as a consultant at Alliance Atlantis, former MTM syndication executive Chuck Larsen saw something that he believed would work in the U.S. market.

Larsen, who also runs his own syndication distribution company October Moon, realized that Alliance Atlantis action series John Woo's Once a Thief never got a chance in this country. Alliance Atlantis produced and sold the series internationally in 1999, but never brought it to America.

Now, Larsen has. "John Woo is an amazing director with films like Mission Impossible 2 and Face/Off to his credit," says Larsen. "We thought this series deserved a shot in the U.S. and who knows, if the show does well enough here, maybe we'd produce another season of it." Could Woo come back to direct a second season? It's too soon to say, Larsen responds.

Alliance Atlantis only produced one, 22-episode season of Once a Thief with Woo behind the camera, and the series was all but dead until Larsen came across it. Now the series is cleared in over 60% of the country for the 2002-2003 season for weekend play on local stations. Clearances for Once a Thief include KCAL-TV Los Angeles and KRON-TV San Francisco.

Once a Thief was one of Woo's first martial-arts films, released in 1990 and remade for Fox in the late '90s. The series features three young martial artists who work for a secret government agency fighting crime and terrorism. Ivan Sergei, who starred in The WB's Jack and Jill the last two seasons, is one of the leads.

"We may have been a bit early for this genre in the U.S.," says Alliance Atlantis' Jeff Lynas. "If you look at the marketplace now, this sort of martial-arts world has moved not to theatrical but to TV, too. We think it's the right time for this series here in the U.S. now."

Larsen also says Once a Thief has an advantage over other action series headed to stations in the fall. "Our first season is done, shot and in the can," Larsen says. "Recently a lot of action series have been announced but never do reach it to TV. That won't be the case with this series."

 Life Moments
  Paramount
  Daily reality
  cash + barter
  Greg Meidel says that, when he returned to Paramount Domestic Television last year to head up the syndication division's programming efforts, he told his staff that he didn't want to develop the fifth or sixth show in a genre.

Meidel says he wanted to focus the studio's efforts on "category killers" like Paramount's Entertainment Tonight and Judge Judy-both shows at the top of the ratings in their respective genres.

"So we really started investigating where women were going in daytime, and it became very evident that there is a passion out there for what The Learning Channel and other cable channels are doing with shows like A Wedding Story, A Baby Story and A Make-over Story," he says. "They are doing great storytelling and really making it feel so first-person that you don't even realize that there is a camera in the room."

The result of Meidel's research turned into Life Moments, a one-hour daily series that incorporates elements of many of the female-targeted reality shows. Paramount Domestic TV is teaming up with Pie Town Productions, the producer of A Baby Story for The Learning Channel and several other reality cable series. The Learning Channel's block of female-oriented reality shows has scored record ratings for the network in daytime.

Slated for the fall, Life Moments has an interesting local angle. The series will have a national host (not yet decided) and will also allow local stations to use their own talent as on-camera host. For each episode, Paramount will send stations segments that can be filled in by local talent and can be cross-promoted on local news.

"We are looking to get the local stations involved in the same way PM Magazine revolutionized the access time period some 20 years ago," says Meidel.

Life Moments will feature a first-person, cinema-verité style when it covers weddings, births, makeovers and touchy-feely friendships.

Paramount execs say they are looking to clear the show in daytime periods for the 2002-03 season. The studio didn't officially unveil the series until late last year and hasn't announced clearances yet.

 Pyramid
  Columbia TriStar
  Daily game
  cash + barter
  After Donny Osmond's syndicated talk show with sister Marie was canceled a year and a half ago at Columbia TriStar, Osmond says, he was approached by the studio to host a new version of game show Pyramid.

The idea of hosting a game show wasn't too high on his priority list at the time, and he was just coming off two seasons of co-hosting a daily talk show. But after a lot of prodding from his manager and the sudden resurgence of game shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, he reconsidered.

"After contemplating the talk show going away, I started to realize that the whole genre or at least the perception of the genre had changed and Regis [Philbin] and Whoopi [Goldberg] had done it and done it successfully," Osmond says. "It had become a different animal, so to speak, and there was a sense of class about it that there hadn't been in the past."

Columbia TriStar Domestic Television executives shot a pilot with Osmond over a year ago and contemplated bringing Pyramid out in syndication for the 2001-02 season. But studio executives held the project back and then last summer announced that Pyramid was headed to local stations in the fall of 2002.

The updated Pyramid, with a new set and interactive elements, is cleared in more than 75% of the U.S. for next season. Insiders say the game, which previously was the $25,000 Pyramid, will be worth up to $100,000 per episode.

The original Pyramid aired both on CBS and ABC, as well as in syndication several times. It has aired in a number of different time periods, too, including early fringe and daytime.

Longtime Pyramid host Dick Clark gave Osmond a call when it was announced that he was taking over the reins. "Dick passed the baton on to me," he says.

"He called me up and said, 'If they could have picked anyone to replace me, you are the right one to have been picked.' I told him I appreciated his confidence, and he said to just enjoy the game. I think that's the best piece of advice you can get: Just enjoy the game and let it come to you."

 The Rob Nelson Show
  Twentieth Television
  Daily talk
  barter
  Rob Nelson wants to take daytime viewers back to the era of talk shows that don't exist on television anymore.

Nelson, who formerly hosted The Full Nelson on Fox News Channel, has his own syndicated talker coming to local stations next fall, and he says his show will not be like what's out there now.

"My talk show is not going to be conventional, at least not by what people think of as conventional anymore," says Nelson, the author of two books, including Last Call: 10 Common Sense Solutions to America's Biggest Problems. "I think people think of talk shows like Jerry Springer as conventional now. People have a bad image of daytime talk. I'd say my show is going to be what a talk show should be."

Twentieth Television has cleared The Rob Nelson Show in more than 50% of the country for a fall debut, including clearances on all of the co-owned Fox owned-and-operated stations. Nelson's show will originate from Los Angeles, and the one-hour daily series will have a single-topic format, Twentieth executives say. Linda Ellman, formerly of Hard Copy and Entertainment Tonight, is the show's executive producer.

"Rob has been called a young Phil Donahue, and he already has a wealth of experience in the talk-show arena," says Twentieth TV President Bob Cook. "He'll bring the same blend of credibility and compassion to his show that made Donahue a talk-show franchise."

Nelson, who holds a law degree from Stanford University, got his start in the limelight in the mid '90s when he launched Lead or Leave, a public-advocacy group committed to protecting the rights of young Americans. Nelson was featured on everything from Today to 60 Minutes and soon had his own show on the Fox News Channel.

His cable show was more of a political roundtable, but, Nelson says, the syndicated show will be different, geared more toward everyday people and their issues.

"Every single issue I will do on this show in some way will affect you or someone you know," Nelson says.

"This is not going to be a freak show," he continues. "It's about our real world. It's about relationships, our jobs, our struggles with sexuality, trying to understand one another and everything that happens to us in our day-to-day lives."

 The Wayne Brady Show
  Buena Vista
  Daily variety
  cash + barter
  Disney executives have been working overtime trying to give Whose Line Is It Anyway? co-star Wayne Brady a show of his own. Last summer, Brady hosted his own prime time variety series on ABC, and now Disney's syndication unit Buena Vista Television is giving him a shot with daytime audiences.

Buena Vista has put together a one-hour daily series hosted by Brady that combine's celebrity interviews, comedy, music and audience interaction.

The studio says the daytime series will go by the same name as Brady's prime time series on ABC, The Wayne Brady Show, but won't be anything like it. As for the ABC series, which had a six-episode run last summer, it's still alive and is expected to return to the network this spring.

"It's rare to find a performer who can honestly be described as multitalented," says Angela Shapiro, president of Buena Vista Productions. "Wayne Brady is one of that select group. In addition to his incredible improvisational comedy skills, his warmth, humor, wit and innate sense of timing make him the ideal host for a classic talk/variety show like this."

Slated for the fall, the syndicated version has been cleared on the ABC owned-and-operated stations for the 2002-03 season, and the Buena Vista staff is now attempting to sell it to the rest of the country. ABC clearances include the top three markets: WABC-TV New York, KABC-TV Los Angeles and WLS-TV Chicago.

Veteran manager and producer Bernie Brillstein, who has worked on a number of syndicated talk shows in the past, is signed on as executive producer. He's a fan, obviously: "Wayne is a complete performer. He can sing, dance, do improv and talk face to face with anyone. In today's world of overnight successes, Wayne has prepared for 15 years for this opportunity."

Brady, who has been a regular on Whose Line Is It Anyway? since its debut in 1998, has also hosted a number of prime time specials for ABC. He co-hosted Dick Clark's New Year's Eve special last week from Los Angeles and has an extensive background in stand-up comedy circles.

 Weakest Link
  NBC Enterprises
  Daily game
  cash + barter
  George Gray says he's not intimidated taking over the reins of Weakest Link from the game show's quick-witted and no-nonsense host Anne Robinson.

Gray, a comedian and former host of The Learning Channel's Junkyard Wars, is leading Weakest Link into daytime syndication five days a week starting this month. Gray says he will wear mainly black outfits and run the show in a style similar to British Robinson's, but the daytime version will be a little looser.

"Anne paved an amazing path in the British version and here in the U.S.," says Gray. "Never once has the word 'congratulations' been heard on this show. The cup is always half-empty. But being on five times a week, I'm going to have to be a little more accessible, a little more light-hearted than the prime time versions."

NBC Enterprises has sold the syndicated version of Weakest Link in over 85% of the U.S. for the next year and a half. The daytime version will differ in a few other features besides the hosts. It will be a half-hour vs. the prime time's one-hour format, and only six contestants will play for up to $75,000 on each episode. NBC's prime time version, which debuted in the spring of 2000, has eight players vying for up to $1 million.

"If you watch the show for five minutes, you will instantly get that it's the same show. The music is the same, the set's the same, and the lighting is the same," says Gray. "But it's a totally different game. NBC Enterprises made no attempt to make me be Anne. I don't look good in tight leather dresses anyway. Although for sweeps."

(Gray will keep Robinson's catch-phrase going, though: "You are the weakest link. Goodbye!)"

The syndicated Weakest Link is produced by BBC Worldwide, NBC Studios and The Gurin Co. Across the ocean, Weakest Link, which debuted as a daytime series in the U.K. and then moved into prime time, is currently sold in more than 70 countries worldwide.

Phil Gurin, who also produces NBC's prime time version, is the executive producer on the U.S. syndicated version as well. The same set will be used at NBC's Burbank, Calif., headquarters where 60 episodes have already been taped.

 Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
  Buena Vista
  Daily game
  cash + barter
  The show that took prime time TV by storm is coming to daytime in the fall with or without Regis Philbin.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, which led ABC to the front of the pack during the 1999-2000 season, is arriving at local stations in September for its first season in syndication, and expectations are sky high. At the network level, meanwhile, the game show was praised in 2000 as ABC's salvation and damned in 2001 as executives blamed themselves for over-exposing it, leading to a deep ratings trough for the network.

Buena Vista TV, the Disney-owned distribution studio is behind the show's syndication launch, and executives there are taking their time choosing who will helm the daytime ship.

Prime time Millionaire host Philbin, who also co-hosts Buena Vista's Live With Regis and Kelly, has been rumored to be the leading candidate and has the vote of the game show's executive producer Michael Davies. "I've always said Regis would be my choice to host the syndicated versions," says Davies, who brought the show to ABC executives' attention in the spring of 1999. Buena Vista's Kim Harbin would say only that there is a "short list" of candidates for the hosting position and a final decision hasn't been made yet.

What is sure is that Millionaire has been sold in more than 85% of the U.S. for next season, including clearances on the major CBS O&Os. Millionaire will be seen on WCBS-TV New York, KCBS-TV Los Angeles, WBBM-TV Chicago and several other CBS-owned stations.

"The syndication industry needs a big hit," says Buena Vista TV President Janice Marinelli. "When you look at the magnitude of Millionaire's performance on the network, you're looking at a rare opportunity."

The syndicated version of Millionaire will be a daily half-hour, down from the prime time's one-hour format. But contestants will still be able to win up to $1 million on each episode, Buena Vista executives say.

 

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