New year, new shows


A pair of first-run shows are debuting in national syndication today in more than 80% of the country: a daytime version of NBC's game show Weakest Link
and Twentieth Television's court series Texas Justice.

For Texas Justice, it's the official launch of a series that has been on the air since spring. Twentieth TV executives started it out slowly last March, with a test run on a handful of Fox owned-and-operated stations. Then, in a highly unusual move, at least for the syndication market, the studio allowed stations that signed on for this month's launch to run the series from September until late last month at no charge.

"It was a nice deal for the stations: They made some additional money and got a chance to really sample the goods," says Twentieth TV President Bob Cook. A large national marketing and advertising campaign will help launch the show officially this month, he adds. The series averaged a 1.9 rating from September through December, according to Nielsen Media Research metered-market data. It was the highest-rated new first-run show during the November sweeps. Stations covering more than 70% of the country will be double-running the half-hour series on a daily basis.

Weakest Link
arrives in daytime with some differences. It has a half-hour format and is hosted by George Gray, a stand-up comic who formerly hosted The Learning Channel's Junkyard Wars. Instead of eight contestants and up to $1 million in prize money, it has six contestants and a grand prize of $75,000.

Gray says he has met prime time host Anne Robinson only once. "I was sitting back behind the curtains in between taping shows. She was walking with the executive producer of both the prime time and our version, Phil Gurin, and I saw him point to me and whisper something in her ear. She said, 'So you are the one who took my job' in her onstage persona, and then she came over and told me to have a great time with it. That's what I plan on doing."