Syndies play games

For top syndicators, the game-show rush is officially on for 2002. What was once an open field for distributors seeking to bring out new wares is filling up quickly with big-named game shows both new and old. The battle to get the best time periods on local stations from California to Maine was in overdrive last week, as Columbia TriStar, NBC Enterprises, Buena Vista and Warner Bros. dotted the country trying to one-up each other.

Buena Vista Television executives quickly cleared a daytime version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? in nearly 50% of the country. NBC Enterprises added to its fast-growing station lineup for a syndicated version of Weakest Link, and, sources say, Warner Bros. Domestic Television is in the marketplace, talking up a 21st century version of Let's Make a Deal.

Columbia TriStar may have pulled off a syndication first in San Diego with Pyramid. The studio licensed the show on two separate stations in the market for concurrent runs, including a prime time spot on KUSI-TV San Diego. At the same time, execs struck a deal with NBC-owned KNSD-TV San Diego for daytime and early-fringe runs. Both stations have agreed to share the series when it debuts in fall 2002, and each will run different daily episodes. Sources say CTTD may be looking to make similar deals in other markets. Other Pyramid pacts include KPNX-TV Phoenix and KRON-TV San Francisco.

Only one of the planned game shows has a host attached thus far—CTTD's Pyramid has Donny Osmond in Dick Clark's old role. Buena Vista executives are said to be looking at a number of people for the daytime Millionaire, including prime time host Regis Philbin. Rosie O'Donnell, who has said she will end her Warner Bros. talk show after the upcoming season, also has been contacted for the Millionairegig.

O'Donnell has also been eyed by NBC executives for Weakest Link and had been reported to be the lead candidate to host Let's Make A Deal. But sources say O'Donnell is no longer in line for Monty Hall's old job.

Over the next two weeks, NBC Enterprises will test close to a dozen possible hosts for Weakest Link and it appears that former Survivor Richard Hatch and prime time host Anne Robinson are no longer in the running.

Sources say NBC cleared Weakest Link in over 25% of the country so far including Detroit; Phoenix; Orlando, Fla.; Baltimore; San Diego and Kansas City, Mo., last week. Last month, NBC licensed the game on a number of CBS O&Os, including WCBS-TV New York and WMAQ-TV Chicago. Weakest Linkdebuts next January.

Millionaireis also headed to syndication on a number of top CBS-owned stations. Buena Vista licensed it to 10 CBS stations for its fall 2002 debut and quickly followed that with a number of other station-group deals. The CBS pact includes eight top-10 markets, including CBS outlets in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Buena Vista added McGraw-Hill, Scipps-Howard and a handful of Post-Newsweek stations to its lineup last week.