Syndie market slump

Caroline, Colosseum shelved, while other first-run offerings scramble for big-city outlets

Considering the splash Paramount made with Caroline
at NATPE, it must have been tough crossing Caroline Rhea off the fall 2001 production list, as the studio syndicator did last week

But several shows are missing key clearances in New York and/or Los Angeles, holes that need to be filled. Series holding "incomplete" grades post-NATPE include Universal's dating strip The Fifth Wheel
and Pearson's action hour Lean Angle, which haven't confirmed New York homes.

New Line's action series Hard Knox
has nailed down such markets as Philadelphia and Boston (both duopoly situations on WPSG-TV/KYW-TV and WSBK-TV/WBZ-TV respectively), but there's no news from Los Angeles, New York or Chicago. Nor has Lions Gate/Mercury Entertainment's action effort Tracker
unveiled clearances in those three top cities.

Moreover, Pearson's Colosseum, which was to have starred Andrew Dice Clay, was peddled aggressively to NATPE buyers but is not going forward in syndication. And, it's expected that Lions Gate/Mercury Entertainment's Who Wants To Date a Hooters Girl?
will land on a cable network instead of on broadcast stations as originally planned.

"I think this has been a very difficult market. It's been tougher than usual," notes Pearson's chief of domestic distribution Joe Scotti, who declined to reveal any clearances on a new weekly series Pearson just announced called Man O'Man.

One of the problems has been the suspected program-buying freeze at the Chris-Craft stations stalling activity until their purchase by News Corp. is finalized. Pearson was able to fill Card Sharks' last clearance hole on Chris Craft's WWOR New York, "but this won't trigger a buying spree," says Scotti.

Then there's the possible soft ad market on the horizon, driven by a slumping economy, which is making "the syndication market go sideways," especially in daytime, says a source. Stations are making projections on what they think they'll be making, and it looks awful," says one syndication source. In the case of Caroline, John Nogawski, the domestic syndication president, says Paramount called it quits because stations weren't willing to pony up high enough license fees to offset production costs.

The syndication landscape looks even darker when you throw in last week's cancellation of Pearson's Baywatch Hawaii, which, after 12 seasons seemed like a perennial.

"Now with Pearson telling stations they don't have Baywatch
to run, stations ... may have four hours to fill," says Ira Bernstein, president of Mercury Entertainment.

Now, he believes he can score better time slots and/or stronger stations for Tracker.
Has Bernstein already contacted these stations? "It's already happened. It was happening yesterday," he says.