Syndie 2011: Everything Old Is New Again

WITH 10 new syndicated shows on the slate for fall 2011, TV stations have the most new programs to choose from since 2002, when distributors offered 11. Of course, the shows eight years ago were all original first-run programs. This year, most of the new shows have aired elsewhere.

Of the 10 shows on offer this fall, only two are original: CBS Television Distribution’s Swift Justice With Nancy Grace and Sony’s Nate Berkus, a spinoff of CTD’s Oprah.

While being new may give Grace and Berkus an edge, coming to syndication with a track record has its advantages. “Originals are what everyone would like,” says Amy McMahon, associate director and lead syndication negotiator at Starcom USA. “But there’s also something to be said for shows that are proven.”

Still, the two shows do come with a certain level of awareness, featuring stars with strong brands. Grace is a cable-news fixture; Berkus is an Oprah regular.

Considering its Oprah-backed pedigree, Berkus is the show considered most likely to succeed. “The challenge Sony faces is that they went into the marketplace a little later, so in some cases they didn’t get the time periods they might have had they been out earlier,” says Bill Carroll, VP of programming at Katz Media Group.

Grace also will premiere with high expectations. “It has CBS’ production team behind it, and has the added factor of a recognizable name with a consistent following,” Carroll says.

Twentieth’s new game show, Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, comes to syndication after a run on Fox prime. With clearances in syndication, MyNetworkTV prime and cable, “Lyrics is a nice, safe show,” McMahon says. “I don’t think it’s breaking the mold, but it offers good integration opportunities for advertisers.”

Such pre-branding and multi-platform clearances have become necessary in a new economic environment that requires careful cost management. That’s why three of syndication’s new strips—NBC Universal’s Real Housewives, MGM’s Cash Cab and Debmar-Mercury’s E! True Hollywood Stories—come to TV stations from cable. Shows that have previously aired on cable offer an inexpensive alternative because their production costs were covered during their cable run.

Similarly, Program Partners’ Canadian import Steven and Chris is affordable because all of its episodes have already been produced. NBC Universal’s Access Hollywood Live is a spinoff of the company’s veteran magazine, so producing the show, which launches this fall on selected NBC and Fox-owned stations, should incur only incremental costs.

Court shows have remained popular because they can be produced cheaply while still attracting viewers. Entertainment Studios’ America’s Court With Judge Ross has a simultaneous run on one of ES’ high-definition broadband networks. Litton’s Judge Karen’s Court is a resurrection of the show Sony produced two years ago.

There are many new offerings this year partly because so many strips are ending. Warner Bros.’ Tyra Banks and Bonnie Hunt, and NBC Universal’s Martha Stewart and Deal or No Deal all conclude their runs after this season. Litton’s Street Court is also expected to depart.

And according to Trifecta Entertainment’s Hank Cohen, Judge Heck, which would have starred Missouri federal judge Tony Heckemeyer, is unlikely to launch.

Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.