With the growth of cable networks and hundreds of digital channels set to launch over the next several years, industry leaders are constantly preaching how content will be king in the 21st century.
If that's the case, then Paramount Domestic Television appears to be in a pretty good place. The syndication division at the famed Hollywood studio is sitting on a library of more than 55,000 hours of classic and recent TV hits-a list that could round out cable's Nick-at-Night
lineup for the next decade.
Classics like I Love Lucy, TheAndy Griffith Show, Hawaii Five-0, and The Honeymooners
are in Paramount's vault, with more recent series including TheLove Boat, Family Ties, Cheers
and Beverly Hills 90210
also within the studio's grasp. And the syndication division is now preparing to sell current prime time series such as Frasier
(another cycle), Becker, Charmed, and The Parkers
to local stations.
In addition, Paramount Domestic Television is bringing 14 first-run programs to NATPE this year, including stalwarts Entertainment Tonight
, Judge Judy
and The Montel Williams Show. Three new series are being offered to stations in syndication; Caroline
(a talk show with Caroline Rhea of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch-fame), a movie review series coined Hot Ticket
and a dating show with Rendez-View.
"It's a great time to be at Paramount," says Frank Kelly, Paramount Domestic Television's Co-president. "We have more product both on a library basis and first-run basis to bring to the marketplace than we have ever had. Everybody at any studio would like that."
Paramount first got into the syndication game in 1966, shortly after Gulf & Western Co. acquired the studio and decided to get serious about the TV business. Gulf & Western quickly purchased Desilu Productions, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's production company and started to build a TV library. With Desilu Productions came such hits as I Love Lucy, Mission: Impossible, The Untouchables
and a short-lived network series called Star Trek.
And it was with the toss-in series Star Trek, that Paramount's syndication division started out in the first-run business, selling the sci-fi series to local stations in the early 1970s. Between movies, network/syndicated series and merchandising-the Star Trek
franchise has reaped billions of dollars for Paramount over the last 30 years. Late last year, Paramount Domestic Television sold a number of Star Trek
series and films to newly branded The National Network (TNN) for close to $400 million.
The deal was just the latest that Paramount's syndication division has made with a co-owned company since the Viacom-CBS merger last year. Paramount Domestic Television recently sold the off-network rights for Cheers
to MTV Networks and this year launched controversial daytime talk show Dr. Laura
on the co-owned CBS O & Os.
"We are certainly aware of who is in the family," says Kelly, who has shared the top spot at Paramount Domestic Television with Joel Berman for the last five years. "But on the other hand, they are essentially just other customers for us, great customers, but just customers. We also have a lot of customers that aren't under the Viacom umbrella. And if you took a snapshot of us a year ago and compared it to today, I'd say on a day-to-day basis very little has changed here."
Under the Viacom banner, Paramount inherited a new bedfellow in rival syndication studio King World Productions. King World, recently merged with former CBS syndication unit Eyemark Entertainment, is now a rival as well as a co-owned company with Paramount Domestic Television.
"We have been competing with King World for 20 years now and its just part of the landscape," says Kelly. "Roger [King] is an incredible salesman, and they bring out terrific products, but we are still competitors. We go head to head. We are out there now competing on the talk-show front attempting to get the best clearances for our shows."
Industry executives have speculated about the possibility of Viacom executives merging King World with Paramount's syndication unit in a cost-cutting effort-a notion Kelly downplays.
"It has never been a conversation over the last year and a half and I haven't heard anything about that, even for the future," he says. "I think it works fine now, why mess with it?"
Outside of the Viacom-CBS merger last year, the Paramount Television Group was bolstered by two studio acquisitions in 1999 that doubled Paramount's first-run syndication production nearly overnight. In May of 1999, Paramount acquired Rysher Entertainment's programming library from Cox Broadcasting Co. and just one month later, it got Spelling Entertainment and its syndication subsidiaries Worldvision Enterprises and Big Ticket Television. Included in the new bounty: distribution rights to Judge Judy, Judge Joe Brow
n, Judge Mills Lane, Nash Bridges, HBO's OZ
among other shows. And as part of the Rysher deal, Paramount also gained 100% control of Entertainment Tonight, which had been a co-production with Cox Broadcasting.
Today Judge Judy
is the top-rated court show in syndication, Entertainment Tonight
is in its 20th season (still the highest-rated newsmagazine), and Big Ticket Television is producing the upcoming Caroline Rhea talk show.