Trifecta Jumping into First-Run Programming

While several syndicators are turning to low-cost off-cable fare to fill stations' programming needs, Trifecta Entertainment, which has been selling predominantly off-cable shows since the company launched three years ago, is making the leap into original programming. For fall 2010, Trifecta plans to offer stations two new first-run strips, Judge Heck and Tooned In, as well as Mystery Hunters, an educational/informational show from Canada aimed at teens.

“I've always totally believed that good content will sell itself,” says Trifecta CEO Hank Cohen. “These three shows are real swings at the fences.”

Judge Heck, featuring Missouri-based federal judge Anthony “Tony” Heckemeyer, is an all-barter first-run court strip. Peter Brennan, most recently the executive producer of Twentieth Television's Cristina's Court, is executive-producing the new show.

Last year, Sony got out of the court business, taking three shows—Judge Hatchett, Judge Karen and Judge David Young—off the air. And prior to this season, Twentieth canceled Cristina's Court, a two-time Emmy winner for Outstanding Court Show, citing the difficult economy.

Those cancellations have left a hole in the court genre that many syndicators want to fill. CBS Television Distribution has announced that it is developing Swift Justice With Nancy Grace, and Entertainment Studios is offering America's Court With Judge Ross. Jay McGraw's Stage 29 Productions, under CTD's umbrella, also is developing The Lawyers, which isn't a traditional court show but will have a legal focus.

“When you have a unique personality, people will watch,” Cohen says. “Judge Heck isn't on the attack. He's very funny and congenial. It's a different look for daytime court.”

Trifecta's Tooned In puts a big twist on another stalwart syndication genre, the entertainment magazine. Instead of having Mary Hart or Billy Bush anchor, Tooned In will be hosted by animated characters. “Tooned In will explore pop culture just like the traditional shows, but with cheeky writing and a US Weekly kind of feel to it,” Cohen says.

Tooned In will cover live events such as the Emmys or the Oscars just like Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood, but correspondents will wear motion animation suits to the red carpet instead of couture. The final show will feature live-action video with cartoon hosts drawn in by the animators at Starz-owned Film Roman, which also creates The Simpsons.

Trifecta's Canadian import Mystery Hunters stars two teens who explore a mystery such as ghosts or voodoo each week. Mystery Hunters will air in Trifecta's one-hour E/I block along with Animal Atlas. The company had been distributing Jack Hanna's Into the Wild in that block, but chose to stop distribution of that show due to low ratings.

Beyond Trifecta's three new shows, the syndicator is also spicing up its one-hour off-A&E strip, Cold Case Files, with 25 one-minute stories called Cold Case Minutes, produced by Bill Kurtis. The first five minutes already have gone out to stations.

“Right now, we're just giving them to stations as a thank-you for taking the show,” Cohen says. “They can do anything they want with them.”

CBS O&O WBBM Chicago has premiered two installments of Cold Case Minutes on its 10 p.m. newscast, with Kurtis introducing them to the audience, Cohen adds. Stations also are using them as original content and public service announcements, and can sell them to sponsors.

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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.