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Still in the Game

NATPE panel explores the changing paths to syndication success 2/01/2008 07:00:00 PM Eastern

It's still possible to come up with a hit idea for a daytime television show, but programmers can't just rely on a prominent host or star to launch a durable show, say syndication executives.

They were part of a NATPE panel that sought to focus on what has surprisingly become a topic rarely discussed at convention seminars anymore: plain old syndication.

Among the observations in the evolving (but much more unforgiving) world of syndication is that a great host will gain samplers, but if the show idea isn't compelling, those viewers won't be back. In the past few years some good names have crashed and burned: Megan Mullally, Tony Danza and Jane Pauley.

“You have to have a name and a game. They won't fall for it,” said Terry Wood, president of creative affairs and development, CBS Television Distribution, whose company distributes such hits as Dr. Phil and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Though she didn't say it, the risk factor this year falls on Warner Bros., which is premiering The Bonnie Hunt Show. And though she didn't say it, the new CBS talk show, The Doctors, may have benefitted from the fact that many of the docs were introduced on Dr. Phil. Familiarity breeds viewers

Wood says the daytime viewer is different today. She's busy and making smarter choices in entertainment. “The [viewers] are there, they just aren't as available,” she said.

Her company is looking online to see what kind of conversations viewers are conducting about their shows, to determine what content they want, she says.

And promotion is a lot harder, too. Tom Kane, president of CBS owned stations, notes that CW and My Network TV affiliates are using their promo time to hype their new networks' programs, which are at least as unknown as many of their new syndicated shows.

The remedy is to create a can't-miss syndicated series like Entertainment Tonight or Winfrey's talk show, programs that viewers will want to talk about with their friends tonight.

The speakers, who participated at a panel at a luncheon sponsored by B&C and moderated by Executive Editor P.J. Bednarski and Los Angeles bureau chief Ben Grossman, spoke about the challenge of building a TV series out of successful Web content, and the wisdom of investing program development dollars that way. Mainly, most of the panelists, surprisingly, weren't that wowed by the Web.

On the plus side, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution is spending the money and effort to turn the TMZ celebrity gossip site into a viable TV show. The division's president, Ken Werner, said programmers should embrace ideas from the Internet, adding that his company is willing to take the risk.

But Mort Marcus, co-president of Debmar-Mercury, said that from a programming standpoint, the Internet is not that interesting, yet. Debmar-Mercury will let studios invest in the Web and “we'll get in it when it's a business. The best you can get out of the Internet is an idea.”

“It's an interesting place to start,” Wood said of the Web, adding that she'd use her TV instincts to cull content ideas, though. TV viewers may sample content on the Web but, she says, Internet and TV users are very different audiences.—Linda Haugsted, Special to B&C

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