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More Splash, Less Cash

The round of freshman first-run and off-network offerings being introduced to stations this fall exemplify syndication’s new paradigm: pre-branded, economically produced shows that can make a splash without costing a fortune.

This fall, five first-run shows, three from major distributors, are premiering. Both Sony’s Nate Berkus and CBS Television Distribution’s Swift Justice With Nancy Grace fit that model: Berkus is well known from his days on Oprah, while Grace has a substantial following from her work on CourtTV (now TruTV) and CNN’s HLN (formerly Headline News). Twentieth’s major entry, Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, is known from a primetime run on Fox.

That’s also why syndicators and stations are taking their chances with three off-cable shows, NBC Universal’s Real Housewives, MGM’s Cash Cab and Debmar-Mercury’s E! True Hollywood Stories—viewers know them and they are already produced.

The same goes for two new shows premiering in select markets. The costs of producing NBC Universal’s new Access Hollywood Live, like the fourth hour of the Today show, are amortized by using the flagship program’s resources. Access Hollywood Live launches Sept. 13 on 13 NBC-, Fox- and Local TV-owned stations. The show will feature Billy Bush and Kit Hoover dishing celebrity news and gossip.

Program Partners’ Steven & Chris, cleared in the 40% of the U.S., has been on the air in Canada for three seasons, although the show’s hosts are known to American audiences through their work on cable.

Berkus, who grew to fame by making over people’s homes on Oprah, kicks off opening week Sept. 13 by introducing Instant Design Studio, a technology that lets him design a space right in front of viewers’ eyes, and also conducts an interview with Elizabeth Edwards Sept. 17. Swift Justice will get right down to business, hearing litigants and deciding cases.

Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, hosted by Mark McGrath, premieres in syndication Sept. 20. The show will launch in primetime on MyNetworkTV Oct. 5, featuring appearances from celebrity guests such as the Backstreet Boys and American Idol favorites.

Two other newcomers join Grace in the crowded court genre, with Litton Entertainment ending Street Court and restarting Judge Karen, a show that Sony stopped producing a year ago. Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios (ES) is introducing America’s Court With Judge Ross, produced in high-definition and aired in syndication and on ES’ fledgling cable networks.

Of all the offerings, Berkus is probably the most high profile. The show is the fourth spinoff from Oprah, after Dr. Phil,Rachael Ray and Dr. Oz. Oz premiered last year and was the top-rated first-run launch since Rachael Ray in 2006.

Berkus occupies a prominent spot on the NBC owned stations, which are revamping their daytime lineups by adding Berkus, Access Hollywood Live and the off-Bravo Real Housewives. Warner Bros.’ The Ellen DeGeneres Show, renewed out through 2014 on the stations, anchors the daytime schedule.

“It’s all part of an overall daytime revitalization with the Today show and Days of Our Lives as the cornerstones,” says Bill Carroll, VP of programming at Katz Television Group Programming. “Real Housewives most often will run adjacent to Days of Our Lives. Nate will run adjacent to Ellen. Access Hollywood Live will often run out of the last hour of Today. The fates of all of those shows end up being tied together.”

Stations also hope to brighten their access and late-fringe lineups with four new off-net sitcoms. Twentieth’s How I Met Your Mother is considered the strongest entry. The show, starring Emmy-winner Neil Patrick Harris and a talented ensemble cast, should pair well with Warner Bros.’ Two and a Half Men, which continues to haul in the genre’s strongest ratings.

Warner Bros. is launching The New Adventures of Old Christine, which worked as a utility player on CBS for five seasons before the network finally pulled the plug last spring. Cancellation usually works against off-network sitcoms, but fans of the show may now seek it out in syndication. Christine also should work well tonally with Mother and Men in TV station lineups.

HBO’s two quirky comedies, Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm, premiere in syndication starting Sept. 13, occupying late-fringe and late-night time slots due to their edgier content. Tribune, in particular, is counting on these two shows to freshen their schedules.

The latest show from Tyler Perry, Meet the Browns, premieres in broadcast syndication Sept. 20, two years after House of Payne launched on TV stations. TBS just picked up another sitcom from Debmar-Mercury, Are We There Yet?, produced by Ice Cube and Revolution Studios. House of Payne is a mediocre performer on broadcast stations, and Meet the Browns is expected to turn in a similar performance in pairings with Payne.

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