What's Hot In the Market

While court and talk score big, games and relationship shows flag

We need something noisy and loud in syndication, says Mark Itkin, EVP
and worldwide head of syndication, cable and nonfiction programming at the
William Morris talent agency. “What Desperate
and Lost did for prime
time, we need in syndication.”

Court continues its winning streak, although relationship shows suffer
from fickle audiences. Here's a quick look at how the top six syndication
genres stack up:


Oprah, Ellen and Phil make it look easy, but it's tough to find talent
that can score in an ultra-competitive daytime market. With TV stations cutting
local production, executives say it's unlikely a homegrown Oprah Winfrey will
ever grace the landscape again.

One new talk entry for fall comes courtesy of cable and public TV:
Twentieth Television is developing a financially oriented talk show with Suze
Orman, former Wall Street whiz. Orman fits the mold of a new breed of talk-show
host: a good communicator with expertise. One sure bet: Warner Bros. is
bringing Tyra Banks to market. Telepictures has Mo'Nique in its back pocket,
and Paramount likes its pilot with style maven Steven Cojocaru. NBC Universal
is considering a Vanessa Williams show. Meantime, new entry
The Tony Danza Show is doing well in New
York and Philadelphia and is expected to be renewed for next year in better
time slots.


Court remains a tried-and-true genre, with Paramount's
Judge Judy (4.6 national rating) on top.
Paramount's Judge Joe Brown runs a strong
second (3.1), while the rest hover around a 2.0. The category welcomes a new
entrant this fall: Twentieth's Judge Alex.
“If you look over the last few years, court is the only genre whose entire
ratings are up,” says Twentieth's Dalton. “People like it, and
advertisers are supportive. It's your highest value for your production

Court shows also combine the best of soap operas, talk shows and crime
procedurals in one. While the entire genre holds up well,
Judy and Joe are far ahead of the pack, which comprises Warner
Bros.' People's Court and
Judge Mathis, Sony's
Judge Hatchett, and Twentieth's
Texas Justice and Divorce Court.

“When it's done right with a dynamic personality, it's a model
that has a lot of longevity,” says Terry Wood, executive vice president of
programming at Paramount Domestic Television.


Once a hot format in syndication, scandalous relationship shows have
lost steam. Just a few remain: the long-time leader, NBC Universal's
Blind Date; Warner Bros.'
ElimiDate; and Cheaters, from independent producer Bobby Goldstein
and distributor MG/Perin Inc.

While producers like to appeal to young audiences, they also need to
play broad to keep their shows alive for years. Dating shows tend to skew
young, and their audiences are fickle. Youth-oriented cable channels such as
MTV and Comedy Central can do dating shows younger and edgier, and they can
change them out more quickly.

And advertisers don't like the risqué format, which usually
features busty bachelorettes in hot tubs trying to win the man of the day. And
given indecency, stations are more nervous than ever. “I don't know if
anyone is even looking for shows like that right now,” says Itkin.
“Stations have trouble selling the time.”


Ken Jennings' 75-game run on King World's Jeopardy! gave the stodgy game-show genre a shot in
the arm.

Letting contestants play until they lose was the brainchild of executive
producer Harry Friedman, Hollywood's game-show whiz, who also oversees King
World's Wheel of Fortune. Both shows often
top the day's household ratings in the country's biggest markets, though
the majority of the show's viewers are 50-plus, not the group most coveted by

“Ken Jennings has been fantastic for the genre,” says Michael
Davies, executive producer of Buena Vista's Who Wants
To Be a Millionaire
, one of the few shows to launch in the past
three years that's still on air. But he admits the niche has always been a
tough sell. “Game shows have been one of the least cool, least hot, most
frowned-upon formats,” he says. That may explain why, even with Jennings'
recent triumph, no one is developing new game shows.


What Paramount has done with The
is a syndicator's dream: lock up access time slots for
years to come. By seizing an opportunity early, Paramount managed to lay claim
to a rare piece of access real estate on top stations. Says Terry Wood, EVP of
programming for Paramount Domestic Television, the company that produces
Insider parent ET, “We had always been paired with things that
didn't fit. We wanted to control our destiny, our demos and our time

To date, The Insider is beating NBC
Universal's Access Hollywood in the
national ratings just three months out (3.3. to 2.5 last week). But unless
another access show goes away, there will be no space in the lucrative
post-news, pre-prime hour for years to come.

That's not stopping Twentieth, which confirmed it is developing a
revival of A Current Affair, the tabloid
magazine show that changed the face of news. Where it will go is unclear, but
Twentieth expects to launch on its own Fox stations, which cover nearly half
the country.


While Everybody Loves Raymond,
Friends and Seinfeld are still going strong, broadcast executives
lay awake at night wondering what new sitcom will line their coffers, too.

Friends replacement
Joey is turning in a mediocre performance at best, and
Two and a Half Men is hailed as the next big
syndicated bonanza while lacking the real buzz of its forefathers. With
consolidation, there are fewer buyers, which means studios don't necessarily
have market-by-market bidding wars to look forward to when the next big hit
shows up.

Giving studios hope are the monster sales of shows to cable. The
three-show CSI franchise has garnered a
collective $3.8 million an episode, while Frasier went to Lifetime for $640,000 an episode.