Hearst serves up Court Stew

Teams with National Entertainment, which will produce 'Talk Soup' -like take on court genre for syndication

While some syndicators race to prepare shows for fall launch, two companies are making joint plans for the 2001 season.

Hearst Entertainment and National Entertainment (the year-old original-content division of post-production house National Video Center) have teamed up to enter two pilots in the 2001 first-run syndication sweepstakes: Court Stew, a half-hour strip described as E!'s Talk Soup for the court genre, and reality series The Bravest, a weekly half-hour that follows firefighters during rescues.

"We wanted new first-run ideas, and they had some," said Hearst Entertainment President Bill Miller on how the two companies decided to work together.

The relationship goes even deeper. National Video Center will take over executive-producing reins of Hearst's weekly lifestyle series B. Smith With Style, currently in its fourth season.

National Entertainment will produce the two new projects. Court Stew was co-created by Tami Leech and Lisa Siskind (former co-executive producers for USA Networks' recent film The Mary Kay Letourneau Story). Hearst will handle all distribution activities for the pilots and will start to shop the shows to station clients in September.

Court Stew will have plenty of material to select from: No fewer than 11 syndicated court series (five freshman, six returning) are set for the coming season. Given viewers' fast-paced lives and desire for instant information, "this will be better for them than having to sit through all [the available] shows," says Russell Best, National Video Center's vice president and general manager. Court Stew will sift through network and cable shows, including Law & Order, for court-related footage. Best says some of the syndicated court series may not last, but he's not worried about dwindling content.

Best says there could have been a legal issue with the producers of E!'s Talk Soup had they gone with Court Soup. "But we just said, why take a chance? We would have loved to have called it Court Soup. But we thought stew was kind of like soup, but just a little bit thicker."

The Bravest will follow firefighters at work. "When you and I are running out of a building, they're running in," says National Entertainment's Vice President and Managing Director Steve Pinkus.

According to the company, New York's fire commissioner has already agreed to give the show access to its fire crews and its library of 100 years' worth of fire footage.

The company is also fine-tuning Parole Board for 2001, taking court shows a step further.