Armed with action hours

With NATPE 2001 a little more than a month away, syndicators polish up action hours for a tightening market, with an eye toward slots expected to be vacated by departing old-timers.

Pearson Television is preparing two weekly dramas. In Lean Angle,
executive-produced by Patrick Hasburgh (creator of 21 Jump Street), Antonio Sabato Jr. plays a pro motorcycle racer hampered by family problems. Undercover Blues
(working title), executive-produced by Adam Rifkin (feature film Small Soldiers) and Steve Bing (Chuck Norris' Missing in Action), offers supermodel Angie Everhart and Baywatch
alum Brooke Burns as sisters who are FBI agents working undercover as Las Vegas showgirls.

For NATPE 2001, Pearson will choose just one show from its pool of contenders, which also includes Colosseum, with comic Andrew Dice Clay portraying a Chicago street hustler sent back in time to book gladiator-type fights.

Carsey-Werner, in its debut effort at first-run syndication, is going in a different direction, with a reality-based hour-long weekly. But Lions Gate Television, also in its inaugural go at syndication, is bringing out an action-hour vehicle for Highlander's Adrian Paul.

The marketplace, though, seems tighter than ever for weekly hours. Studios USA yanked Xena: Warrior Princess
because many stations' ratings-ready time slots are going to the networks. And cable outlets like Sci Fi and TNT are also angling for viewers attracted to quick-paced storylines. Plus, most of the rookie weeklies-Tribune's Kevin Sorbo-starrer Andromeda
is the exception-are struggling: Sheena, Queen of Swords,
The Cindy Margolis Show
and The Immortal
all posted below 2.0 household ratings, according to Nielsen Media Research, for the week ended Nov. 19.

"Obviously, it's a tough business," says New Line Executive Vice President, Series Television, Kevin Beggs. "But, with a lot of people leaving, with Xena
and Hercules
out of the picture, that leaves a lot of room."

Katz TV's Bill Carroll agrees. "There are a couple of [weekly] shows that are in their last year. This opens up opportunity for probably three or four new ones."

Says Beggs, who's hoping for big things out of the Adrian Paul project (at one time known as Tracker): "Honestly, in terms of competition, this may be one of the best years to launch something."

Executive-produced by Gil Gates, executive consultant on Relic Hunter, the project will star Paul as a lawman who must capture aliens that appear suddenly on Earth having escaped from intergalactic jails. The concept is expected to attract viewers, because "sci-fi continues to be a performer as evidenced by Andromeda," which placed 15th among all syndicated efforts for the period ended Nov. 19, Beggs says.

Also, Lions Gate, Pearson and New Line (currently shopping its Hard Knox
actioner) are all expecting to land international distribution to increase the profit margin on their shows. The studios wouldn't be able to produce these series strictly for domestic distribution, with an action hour typically costing $1 million an episode.