Sources: NBC Stations In Talks To Clear Merv Griffin's Crosswords

Program Partners is discussing a deal to clear the new game show Lets Play Crosswords! from Merv Griffin and The William Morris Agency on the NBC O&Os in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. If a deal is finalized, it will likely encourage other big market stations to take it. "We would consider it a go for the fall," a station source tells B&C.

While both the NBC stations and Program Partners are adament that there is no deal yet, a major component said to be under discussion would involve having the show taped at WMAQ Chicago, providing the NBC station with a new source of production revenue. Another show, NBC Universal’s Jerry Springer, is already taped there and this fall an untitled NBC U spin-off with Steve Wilkos will be added to the mix. The three shows would make WMAQ a major syndication production hub.
It could not be determined at press time if other NBC-owned stations are also looking to acquire the game show. Program Partner Principals Ritch Colbert and Josh Raphaelson have remained quiet about the project for the past week.
The show had been rolled out at the last minute prior to the recent National Assn. of Television Program Executives (NATPE) conference—without any tape and only Griffin (creator of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!) on hand for a computer presentation—on an all-cash basis, assuming that it would bypass the top-three markets in its first season.

But Colbert and Raphaelson said during NATPE that they had structured the deals to add a barter element if they were able to secure clearances for Crosswords in the top-three markets, which combined cover 15% of the U.S.

The deal would be considered a major coup for the small distributor, since the project had been greeted with widespread doubt in a year when even major studios have failed to set the world on fire with their new series.

It would put Program Partners, which until now has been primary focused on Canadian imports, in the same company as major studios currently selling new cash-plus-barter shows.