At NATPE this week, avoid asking for people's opinions on which are next season's can't-lose new shows. You'll be lucky just knowing what shows are launching in fall 2001.
With News Corp. putting the finishing touches on partnering up its current underling, the Fox O & O group, with its soon-to-be-subsidiary, the Chris-Craft station group, many syndicators are having a heck-uv-a time finding station homes for their fall 2001 shows.
As Mitch Stern, Fox O & O's chief, works out the details on what exactly his new friendship will be with Chris-Craft (which just last Tuesday re-upped its UPN affiliation) he has less time to make programming decisions, likely encompassing both the Fox and Chris-Craft stations.
This all cuts into the efforts of Fox's key content feeder, Twentieth Television, from committing to any new efforts.
Twentieth chief Bob Cook explains, "Once the Chris-Craft deal is consummated, that will possibly change our perspective on what shows we may proceed with in development."
Cook also suggests that the "shaky economic environment right now," is also affecting how News Corp. and probably a lot of other companies are doing business. "If there were ever a time to not be as aggressive, you could certainly build a case for this moment."
Moreover, several other distributors, besides Twentieth, aiming to land clearances with the Fox-owned or Chris-Craft stations, now have fewer selling options available. Throw into that mix the fact that hundreds of mid- and small-market stations follow the lead of the big guys (i.e. a top market Chris-Craft or Fox station) for clues on which fresh series they should grab.
"I have the understanding that Chris-Craft has been instructed not to purchase anything new. They can indicate to syndicators that they like [something], that [something's] a great concept, but they aren't to acquire anything," says one syndication source. "Your normal question is where are your clearances in New York and L.A.? These are basically stalled because of Chris-Craft and Fox, the two major players" in New York syndication, where Fox owns WNYW-TV and Chris-Craft operates WWOR-TV.
Beyond the fact that Twentieth will not be rolling out anything fresh at NATPE-Cook also notes that "no shows in development were ready to bring to the marketplace." Another Fox-friendly distributor, Columbia TriStar Television Distribution, has also been quiet on the fall 2001 front.
There are indications CTTD will launch dating late-night strip Shipmates
and bench Donny Osmond-hosted Pyramid
because CTTD wasn't guaranteed good time periods for it.
Running down the list, there's Buena Vista, which hasn't secured a Los Angeles clearance for Iyanla. Neither Universal (The Fifth Wheel), New Line (Hard Knox), nor Lions Gate/Mercury Entertainment (Who Wants to Date a Hooters Girl?, Tracker) have reported firm commitments for their respective shows. Studios U.S.A. has been hush-hush with Crossing Over With John Edward. And Pearson is struggling to get clearances for its two action hours, Lean Angle and Colosseum.
"Jeez, it's not been fun," says a senior-level distribution executive, pitching several efforts. "I've done everything I can possibly do. I have stations saying they would like to do it. But they can't make all those decisions."
Pearson's domestic distribution president, Joe Scotti, acknowledges, "It's taking more time than I thought to get clearances.consolidation has made all of our jobs difficult. Let's face it, when time periods are with stations with their own syndication operations, they take care of their own first."
Katz TV's Bill Carroll claims that this season's antics are "the most visible manifestation of the consequences of the consolidation that has been taking place. Certainly, if I were an independent syndicator I would be frustrated with the inertia."