NATPE: Program Partners, Merv Griffin To Play Crosswords

Program Partners began sales talks with stations after Merv Griffin previewed his new hi-def game show at a private pre-NATPE invitational presentation for potential buyers Sunday in Las Vegas. Co-owned by the distributor and Griffin’s agent, The William Morris Agency, the show is titled Let’s Play Crosswords.

No clearances were announced at press time Monday afternoon. The show, being offered by Merv Griffin Entertainment, Program Partners and the William Morris Agency (WMA), is being cleared on a cash basis outside the top three markets.

“I’ve been working on this concept for a while,” says Griffin, the creator of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!, about the show that utilizes “the basics” of crossword puzzles.

Mark Itkin, worldwide co-head of television at the William Morris Agency, says the agency got involved in the project because it “has enjoyed a long and successful relationship with Merv.”

Let’s Play Crosswords has various rounds in which players must answer questions with words that solve a crossword to win.  There is a bonus round and returning champion.

A bonus round heightens audience anticipation, and a returning champion builds the excitement from one episode to the next. 

Until now, Program Partners has been primarily focused on Canadian drama imports like Da Vinci’s Inquest and its procedural block, Crime Watch. It is also rolling out Degrassi: The Next Generation to U.S. stations for fall.

Still, one of its principals, Program Partners’ Ritch Colbert, has a long history of selling game strips like The Joker’s Wild, Tic Tac Dough and Sale of The Century.

Griffin likely opted for a deal with an independent rather than a major studio because he can reap more of the upside coin if the show is a success.

Program Partners is not saddled with the huge overhead costs of majors like CBS Television Distribution, which is sitting out the fall with its two game shows, so could potentially reap a solid return based on Crosswords’ production costs and potential clearances.

In other Program Partners news, the company says it will begin syndicating content to TV station Websites to plug shows like the popular DaVinci’s Inquest with highlights and behind the scenes footage, with room for local advertisers to be integrated into the content.