Tribune wants piece of action


Other syndicators are dropping out of the action-hour business, but Tribune
Entertainment is raring to go in the genre with five different projects
currently in development for the fall-2002 season.

Projects unveiled during a Tuesday press briefing include SPQR, which
follows characters living in ancient Roman times; MechWarriors, based on
popular Microsoft Corp. computer game Battletech; and The Ultimate
Adventure Company
, about the real-life experiences of explorer Barry

Several syndicators are out in the market with their 2002 shows and have
closed a lot of their big station deals already on such shows as Dr. Phil
and the strip versions of The Weakest Link and Who Wants to Be a

But Tribune has a ready distribution partner in its Tribune station group,
which hasn't yet made any groupwide purchases on any fall-2002 first-run

This established pipeline also gives Tribune a leg up in continuing to shop
around its action hours when such nonaligned distributors as Studios USA and
Pearson Television plc -- of the canceled Xena: Warrior Princess and
Baywatch, respectively -- have scaled back their efforts in the genre.
New Line Television's The Lost World is also considered to be on the
rocks for next season.

Beyond feeding its Tribune group, the distributor is also looking to start
creating original content for broadcast and cable networks, with Sci Fi Channel
is a likely possibility. But Tribune will keep its stations as its main
programming priority.

Besides action projects -- others include Pendragon, which will
explore the Kingdom of Camelot; and Trade Winds, a TV spin on sailing
movie White Squall -- Tribune is also developing for 2002 psychic talk
strip Beyond with James Van Praagh.

Admittedly, Tribune was 'very aware' of Crossing Over with John
'sappeal in the marketplace before hatching Beyond,
starring medium Van Praagh, president and CEO Dick Askin said. Yet if
Crossing Over ends up missing with audiences this fall, Beyond
'will go ahead regardless,' he added, thinking that Van Praagh 'stands on his
own merit.'

Tribune's goal for 2002 is to distribute one daytime strip and two action
hours, with some of the other projects landing in cable or on a network.

In other Tribune developments, Askin firmed up a November completion date on
its Tribune Studios digital-conversion project, estimated at costing between $10
million and $15 million. Once finished, the 10-acre site in Hollywood will be
the first all-digital studio in the United States, with high definition

The first to make use of the new digital equipment -- which Askin said allows
for more efficient production -- will be Tribune's upcoming Talk or Walk
and Pearson's Card Sharks. Paramount's Judge Judy and Judge Joe
will continue to tape on the lot.

Tribune Studios, formerly owned by Warner Bros., is considered legendary
because it's where The Jazz Singer, the world's first 'talkie film,' was

As for 2001 efforts, Tribune has cleared Mutant X in 165 markets,
representing 95 percent of the United States; Talk or Walk, 185 markets,
92 percent; and off-net City Guys, 183 markets, 91 percent. It continues
to represent barter-sales activities for Hearst Entertainment, NBC Enterprises
and Universal Worldwide Television.