Getting together—on something

Tribune Broadcasting and Universal Television Enterprises last week struck a deal to co-develop, co-produce and co-distribute a first-run daily program in syndication. Now all they have to do is figure out what the show is and when to launch it. Under the deal, the show, whatever it is, will launch in either fall 2003 or fall 2004.

No word yet on format, but the companies say they will consider all projects on their respective program-development slates. That would include Fergie, a new talk/variety show that Universal announced last week for 2003 hosted by Sarah Ferguson, the former wife of England's Prince Andrew and, more recently, a diet spokeswoman.

Katz Media Group Programming Vice President Bill Carroll calls the Tribune-Universal pact a "real estate deal," referring to the fact that Tribune has agreed to commit time periods on its stations.

"I think that's true. With Tribune, it's like having beachfront property, so I'm happy with our real estate," says Steve Rosenberg, president of Universal Television Enterprises.

Universal Television has the production resources; Tribune has the stations. Tribune also has a production company, but, as Tribune Broadcasting Vice President Marc Schacher says, "Times are changing, and everybody has to be open to doing things differently."

The two have done a lot of business, including carriage agreements for Jerry Springer
and Maury, which air on many Tribune stations. In fact, the deal arose from renewal talks on those shows earlier this year, Schacher says. "We got to talking about how the old economic models for syndication development really weren't working and how nobody wanted all the risk. We think this deal is great way to provide incentive for both sides to have a stake in picking a show we really have some passion about and then nurturing it."

Universal will handle station sales, and Tribune will sell the barter advertising.

Rosenberg says the Tribune deal is also "a statement about what companies like ours can do without being directly aligned with a broadcast group. Even vertically integrated companies [like Tribune] have to look elsewhere for breakthrough product. The pathway to success is not just internal."