Syndicators Plot Slots for 2006

Rachael Ray a go, Geraldo Rivera, Robin Quivers wait in wings

While first-run freshmen Martha Stewart, Tyra Banks and Judge Alex Ferrer battle to gain traction early in the new season, the arm-wrestling already is underway to determine what new shows may get their shot in 2006.

With development based partially on perceived time-slot opportunities—in other words, failures by somebody else in early ratings performances—syndicators are watching closely to see if those new shows either settle in or head south on the Nielsen charts.

Early Contenders

Megan Mullally (from NBC Universal) and Rachael Ray (King World, Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions and Scripps) are already lined up (Ray's show was officially unveiled last week). But a wide range of potential competitors, including a slew of court shows, are very early contenders for rollouts next fall. While execs at all the studios are tight-lipped, the word is Twentieth, Paramount, Warner Bros., Sony and Buena Vista all have court shows in the works, to go with the seven already on the air.

Development projects at Warner Bros. include a Dr. Phil-type show with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow. Ablow appears on Court TV and created a drama pilot for CBS. He has also been a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today show and is the author of several books, including Inside the Mind of Scott Peterson, which made The New York Times Bestseller list.

And Warner Bros., hoping to build on the seemingly unending obsession with celebrity gossip, is trying a late-night game show based on, what else, celebrity news. While some say that if a celebrity game show was viable, then Entertainment Tonight would have tried it by now, the fact that it's relatively inexpensive and low risk means it has a chance to see the light of day.

A third project Warner Bros. may be considering is a strip version of Meet My Folks, the former NBC reality show in which parents choose who gets to date their daughter or son. But at this point, it is undecided whether this would be stripped in a half-hour or hour-long format.

Several Projects in the Works

All seems to be relatively quiet on the Disney front, with the recent death of the Gloria Estefan project. Insiders say Buena Vista has released several projects lately, including a pilot called Vegas Verdict, for which it fronted the money. And while Wedding in a Week, a show about wedding planning, is still in development, it is not for syndication but rather targeted for cable or prime time.

Sony Pictures Television is still working on its Robin Quivers show. The show starring Howard Stern's sidekick is one of three it is developing for Tribune, at least one of which will be selected. Sony also has a court project starring Maria Lopez.

Paramount still has a series with Steven Cojocaru in development, but even if it comes to fruition, it will not be ready for 2006. Cojocaru is still reporting for ET and The Insider as he battles health issues.

Twentieth is racing to prepare the new syndicated Geraldo At Large, which, not surprisingly, will look very much like Geraldo Rivera's Fox News Channel show, At Large With Geraldo Rivera; it launches in November in the slots occupied by A Current Affair.

Byron Allen reportedly also has two projects currently in development for syndication, Comics Unleashed and Fascinating People, with former ET host Bob Goen.