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Tribune Invites Syndie Suitors to Chicago

Tribune Co. is looking to shake up its syndication strategy—and one possibility involves a move away from its daytime staples Jerry Springer and Maury Povich.

That idea was floated at a summit in early May, when top syndication executives from every company—CBS, Debmar-Mercury, Disney-ABC, NBC Universal, Program Partners, Sony, Twentieth and Warner Bros.—flew to Chicago for the day to talk programming with Tribune's new executive team, led by COO Randy Michaels.

Sources who attended the meeting said Tribune is still formulating its strategy. But it appears the group is reappraising its reliance on Jerry and Maury. The two shows, both from NBC Universal, are double-run on many Tribune stations, but their ratings have been declining over the past couple of years and they attract mostly direct-response advertising.

Syndicators expect Tribune to move instead toward more-mainstream talk and court shows and local-oriented programming, both of which bring in more traditional advertisers. It's also likely that Tribune will develop its own talent and shows to air on its stations.

Michaels is in the unique position of heading both the Tribune group of 23 TV stations and managing Local TV LLC's soon-to-be acquired 17 stations under a joint management deal formed last December. The new coalition has yet to make a big programming acquisition since it was formed last December, but most expect that arrangement to allow Tribune to yield unprecedented buying power.

Says one syndication observer, "I can't believe that if you have that kind of influence, you aren't going to exercise it."

Recounting A Recount

It was predictable enough that Recount, HBO's retelling of the disputed 2000 election, would raise all kinds of partisan hackles simply by revisiting that contentious moment in American democracy, much less dramatizing it on TV.

But ABC News chief national correspondent Jake Tapper says the reality on the ground in Florida back then was often stranger than fiction.

Tapper, who covered the recount for Salon, was a consultant on the film—his book Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency was among the sources used by screenwriter Danny Strong—and found the result to be more or less factual.

For instance, Warren Christopher, who oversaw the Gore legal effort during the recount, will be glad to know that Tapper doesn't recognize the pushover portrayed in the movie by John Hurt.

"My reporting does not square with the idea that Warren Christopher wanted to throw in the towel early on," Tapper says.

But he says Tom Wilkinson's portrayal of Chistopher's Republican counterpart, James Baker, as a ruthless steamroller was closer to the mark: "If you are ever in that situation, you will want Jim Baker. He is tough."

Then there's Laura Dern's hysterical portrayal of Katherine Harris, the much-maligned Florida Secretary of State.

"If I was Katherine Harris I wouldn't be happy," Tapper says. "But it is how many Democrats and Republicans viewed her. She was a very controversial figure, and she was picked upon very unfairly in a lot of ways."

Or perhaps not so unfairly. She apparently fancied herself the modern embodiment of Queen Esther, the Old Testament heroine who saved the Persian Jews from peril.

And that scene in which Dern's Harris announces at a college football game that she had dreamt she entered a grand arena on horseback with the American flag in one hand and the certification of the election for George W. Bush in the other?

"You would think that was over the top," says Tapper. "That happened. A lot of stuff that happens in politics would ring false in a movie because nobody would believe it."

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