Skip to main content

In a tough market, selling started early

The 2002-03 TV buying season got off to a quick start last summer when a handful of Hollywood syndication studios announced the launch of several new high-profile series.

Disney's Buena Vista syndication division green-lighted a daytime version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
(and, this fall, the prime time version began to sputter), and NBC's new syndication unit quickly rushed out a local-station version of Weakest Link.

Viacom's King World and Paramount Domestic TV teamed up with Oprah Winfrey to get Dr. Phil McGraw his own talk show, and Columbia TriStar offered up a remake of game show Pyramid
with Donny Osmond as its host.

The rush was on. Studio sales executives raced across the country attempting to lock up the best possible time periods more than a year in advance of the shows' launch.

"This was by far the most active early market we've seen, but it was really brought on by a number of things," says Bill Carroll, vice president and director of programming at Katz TV Group.

"I think the biggest part of it," he adds, "was the perception on the part of the broadcast-station community that, in the fall of 2001—although there was high hope—there really was a lot of apprehension that there appeared to be no break-out hits coming, and as such they needed to prepare for that."

But just as quickly as the mad dash started last summer, development in first-run syndication all but dried up during the fall.

The combination of an uncertain advertising economy (syndication was down nearly $1 billion at the upfronts last May, according to several media-buyer estimates), the lack of strong time periods available, and the tragedies of Sept. 11 caused nearly every studio to hold back projects.

No prominent new first-run projects for fall 2002 were introduced to the station marketplace until the last few weeks.

But, with an unintentionally smaller NATPE coming later this month and the November sweeps results in, syndication studios are once again coming out with their usual array of talk, game, dating and variety shows.

There are also a handful of reality projects and action hours coming available for weekend play.

Game shows will be at the forefront of the syndication market next season, with Pyramid, Millionaire
and Weakest Link
all battling for eyeballs.

Weakest Link
will actually have a jump on the competition, as it rolls out this month in daytime. Dr. Phil
is the big name in talk.

On the weekend front, October Moon and Alliance Atlantis are giving John Woo's Once a Thief
a shot in the U.S. market, and NBC has a female-led action series in B.A.I.T.

And a number of studios are still making final preparations on other potential first-run shows for 2002.