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Tribune gets in on the action

Other syndicators are dropping out of the action-hour business, but Tribune Entertainment is gung ho with five projects currently in development for the fall 2002 season. Projects unveiled last week include SPQR, which follows characters living in ancient Rome; MechWarriors, based on the Microsoft computer game Battletech; and The Ultimate Adventure Company, about the real-life experiences of explorer Barry Clifford.

Several syndicators have already closed a lot of big station deals for their 2002 shows. But Tribune has a ready distribution partner in its Tribune station group, which hasn't yet made any groupwide purchases on any fall 2002 first-run shows. The Trib pipeline also gives it a leg up in continuing to shop around its action hours when such non-aligned distributors as Studios USA and Pearson, of the canceled Xena
and Baywatch, respectively, have scaled back their efforts in the genre. New Line's The Lost World
is also considered to be on the rocks for next season.

Beyond feeding its Tribune group, the distributor is also looking to create original content for the broadcast and cable networks—Sci-Fi Channel and The WB, which includes many Tribune outlets, are likely possibilities. But Tribune's own stations are still its top priority.

As for 2001 efforts, Tribune has cleared Mutant X
in 165 markets, representing 95% of the U.S.; Talk or Walk, 185 markets, 92%; and off-net City Guys, 183 markets, 91%. It still represents barter-sales activities for Hearst Entertainment, NBC Enterprises and Universal Worldwide Television.

But the syndicator was also looking at 2002. Besides the five action projects—the other two are Pendragon, a take on Camelot, and Trade Winds, a TV spin on the sailing movie White Squall—Tribune is also developing the psychic talk strip Beyond with James Van Praagh.

Tribune was "very aware" of Crossing Over with John Edward's
appeal in the marketplace before hatching Beyond, starring medium Van Praagh, says its president Dick Askin. Yet, if Crossing Over
ends up missing with audiences this fall, Beyond
"will go ahead regardless," he adds, thinking that Van Praagh "stands on his own merit."