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CTD Developing Nancy Grace Strip

CBS Television Distribution (CTD) hopes that CNN's Nancy Grace will become the next Judge Judy. The syndicator has signed an exclusive development deal with Grace, who appears twice nightly on CNN's HLN (formerly Headline News), to develop a 30-minute daily strip that will be a new take on the court show. CBS executives are light on the format's details, but they are excited about Grace as a personality.

CTD shot a presentation with Grace last week and is developing the show, for now titled Swift Justice With Nancy Grace, for fall 2010. Grace has no plans to leave her show on HLN.

CTD first started talking to Grace—a lawyer, best-selling author and TV host—last year. A quick study of Grace's popularity convinced CTD that it might be a good idea to go into business with the former attorney.

Magnet for women

“We looked at our research about her, and it didn't take too long to notice that she's a superstar on HLN,” says John Nogawski, CTD's president. “She's the most female-skewing star that they have on their air, and she's number-one in every adult and female demo. She's a huge brand.”

Producing shows with stars who are already brands—much as Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions has done with Dr. Phil, Rachael Ray and now Dr. Oz—is something of a mantra among syndicators. If viewers are already familiar with a talent, they are more likely to tune in.

“The key to any great show is the personality,” Nogawski says. “Nancy is a gigantic television personality, and people already trust her opinion.”

“She'll be holding court in her voice and doing things her way,” adds Terry Wood, CTD's president of creative affairs and development. “She's outspoken, has a strong opinion and a lot of passion; those are all ingredients that will be in the mix on this show.”

CTD also is developing a show that's tentatively called The Lawyers. The show is being created and would be executive-produced by Jay McGraw, president of Stage 29 Productions, which is housed at CTD. McGraw, son of Dr. Phil McGraw, is the creator and executive producer of The Doctors.

“These are two completely different formats,” Wood says. “One is wrapped completely around Nancy Grace's personality. The other is a format-driven show like The Doctors in that it brings you useful information.” McGraw already has shot a first effort of The Lawyers, which also would be intended for fall 2010.

Stay off the sidelines

At the end of a difficult summer for stations, syndicators were looking at 2010 as a “skip year,” said many of them, due to the lack of cash in the market. But cash or no, stations need programs, and syndicators don't want to risk permanently losing time periods by sitting out a year of development. Thus, several shows are already in the pipeline. Besides Grace's show and The Lawyers, Warner Bros. has shot a pilot featuring Food Network star Paula Deen and Kate Gosselin, star of TLC's renamed Kate Plus 8; the show would likely integrate Warner Bros.' Website.

Any first-run show that hits the air next fall must be produced on a budget, according to syndicators. “We have to produce our shows economically considering today's dollars,” Nogawski says.

“The timing is right for Nancy Grace,” Wood explains. “The state of the market just means you have to come up with a new way to get the show done.”

Other syndicators are shopping shows for fall 2010, although nothing first-run yet. NBC Universal is offering stations its Real Housewives franchise off co-owned cable network Bravo. Twentieth is doing likewise with The Dog Whisperer off NatGeo, of which Twentieth parent News Corp. is part owner. Meanwhile, another show that McGraw had in development starring preacher T.D. Jakes appears to be on hold for the moment.

Nogawski and Wood say both the Grace show and The Lawyers have a “very good” chance of going to market. As Nogawski puts it: “From a development standpoint, we think we've got great alternatives to offer stations.”

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