The Era of Good Dealing

All of NATPE's new strips are cleared; King World goes home early

The eclectic National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) conference last week in Las Vegas began with the breathtaking news of an industry realignment. It ended on the usual note: A syndication PR executive, looking anxious to board a plane and with no exciting information to offer, asked a reporter, “Do you want a cookie?”

A flurry of panels delved into scores of new content-delivery platforms, international format-swapping and other intriguing topics, but about the only thing on the minds of many was the surprise announcement of the demise of UPN and The WB and birth of The CW network.

No final attendance figures were available at press time, although it appeared that they were up as much as 1,000 from a year ago, when NATPE publicists say about 8,000 showed up—a number some say was inflated. But if The CW creates a new field of independent stations, NATPE 2007 ought to be bigger still.

Every one of the seven new first-run strips offered at the convention by major syndicators—two talk, two advice, two court and one scripted serial—look like sure bets for fall.

NBC Universal announced that The Megan Mullally Show has been cleared in more than 70% of the U.S., including co-owned NBC stations.

King World made a loud marketing statement by unexpectedly shutting down its booth a day early, leaving only a sign that said The Rachael Ray Show was “sold out,” having hit the 95% clearance mark.

One veteran may not be so lucky, however. In a bad sign for Buena Vista Television (BVT), The Tony Danza Show left NATPE still without clearances in New York or Philadelphia for this fall. BVT also did not provide any information about renewals on the two-year-old talk show, but a studio rep says no decisions have been made yet on its fate.

Twentieth Television, fighting to keep Geraldo Rivera's strip, Geraldo at Large, alive, announced that the magazine show—introduced in November as a replacement for A Current Affair—was cleared in 70% of the U.S., but only for the remainder of this season. Although Twentieth did not provide any clearance information for 2006-07, the announcement was seen as sign of the co-owned Fox stations' continued support for Rivera's efforts.

Paramount, with no new product, rushed to cash in on its top-rated court shows and movie packages. Sony Pictures Television had already cleared its two new offerings, The Greg Behrendt Show and Judge Maria Lopez, in most of the country prior to NATPE.

Responding to other syndicators' criticism for taking Lopez out on a straight-barter basis, Sony Pictures Television Domestic TV President John Weiser emphasized that the studio is in the business of making money: “We would not get into a break-even business.”

Significantly, all three strips—two talkers and one judge show—introduced this past season have received production commitments for fall. The last to do so, Telepictures' The Tyra Banks Show, kept its morning and afternoon double runs on the Fox stations, as renewals hit 70% of the country.

The talk-show successes defy the odds—according to Warner Bros., the survival rate for the 249 talkers launched since 1981 has been only 30%—and have boosted the confidence of sellers.

Ablow is A Go

Telepictures' new entry for fall, The Dr. Keith Ablow Show, had been cleared in more than 90% of the U.S., including one run per day on the Fox stations. After protracted negotiations, Frank Cicha, VP of programming for the Fox station group, praises Ablow and says it will be paired in early fringe with Tyra and other programming. Closer to launch, he indicates, there may be some opportunities for it to have second runs.

From a station standpoint, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution (WBDTD) President Dick Robertson says he understands broadcasters' desire to air more originals in daytime, rather than airing back-to-back episodes of the same talk shows. “These double runs have chased a lot of eyeballs to cable,” he says.

Ablow will be carried in some news-adjacency time periods on traditional affiliates, with about a quarter of its clearances in early fringe and the remainder in the 9 a.m.-3 p.m. daytime block.

Billed as a younger-skewing Dr. Phil, the show will be marketed with the slogan “Everybody Needs a Second Opinion.” It's targeted to the women 18-49 demo and will have “a little more contemporary point of view” than Dr. Phil, Robertson says.

Like that show, Ablow will produce segments out of the studio, according to WBDTD Executive VP/Tele­pictures President Jim Paratore.

Robertson says Ablow will remain a daytime-oriented show, despite the rush by syndicators to fill the prime time void left by the formation of The CW network. If the show advances to subsequent seasons and gets upgrades, he says, the studio will probably look to add more early-fringe elements to the production.

Desire Knows No Language

Other new and returning shows came out of the gate strong. Twentieth reported that Desire, its new English-language series of telenovelas, had reached 70% of the country, and Cristina's Court (from court and news-magazine producer Peter Brennan) is at 80%. The off-network offering of Still Standing achieved 86%.

When not selling, syndicators did some teasing. The cast of Two and a Half Men made an appearance in the Warner Bros. hotel suite and on the exhibition floor, and the characters from Twentieth Television's animated Family Guy were plastered on posters around the hallways. Both sitcoms are the strongest candidates for a fall 2007 off-net syndication launch.

BVT also was in preview mode with its off-net trio of hour-long series: Desperate Housewives, Lost and Grey's Anatomy.

In between absorbing hard-sales pitches for syndicated shows, there were those sessions about new and future delivery platforms.

Still, without programming, observes NATPE President/CEO Rick Feldman, all the talk about new technology wouldn't amount to much. “At its heart,” he says, “NATPE is still a programming convention.”