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Strong on awareness

This fall's crop of rookie syndicated shows may be getting lost in the flood of war news, but NBC Enterprises expects a different fate for its strip version of Weakest Link, debuting in January.

Weakest Link
is protected because it is "almost like an off-network show," opines President Ed Wilson, noting the free publicity with the concurrent network run of the series. That, he says, is what propels off-net shows to typically outperform first-run efforts. Freshman Everybody Loves Raymond, for instance, is topping the new first-run series in the ratings by far.

Inexpensive word of mouth is especially desirable these days because stations aren't ponying up a lot of promotional dollars, putting their money instead into ramped-up news operations. "A viewer will just be able to see Weakest Link
in a TV Guide
listing, and that can be enough promotion," Wilson insists.

Nevertheless, expect him to drum up some extra buzz for his show. The NBC Agency has started shooting a spot, likely to start running in November, involving a wedding that's a spoof on its "you are the weakest link" catchphrase.

NBC reports that it has 60% clearance now and expects to reach the 85% mark by January. Wilson is clear, though, that he's "holding out" for early fringe and access. Now that a host has been chosen—George Gray, of The Learning Channel's Junkyard Wars—he expects to nail down more deals and indicates that a Seattle clearance, among others, is near.

Also quieting naysayers, King World announced that it has cleared low-rated talk show Martha Stewart Living
in 60% of the U.S. on top-market CBS O&Os. Advertisers are huge fans, says Initiative Media's Howard Nass. Suzanne Sobel, the show's top marketing executive, explains why, comparing Martha
with higher-rated but more controversial talk shows: "There's no sisters sleeping with sisters. This is a show that just feels good to put your product in."