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Weighing in on the reality wars

Court shows will crowd syndicated slots next fall (with five new and six current series set to bump elbows), but reality stands to become the next genre to beat.

That's the word circulating around the Telepictures Productions camp. The studio recently beefed up its development division by carving out a new position for Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, naming her senior executive producer of reality programming.

Formerly a FOX Television Stations Group news consultant and a Hard Copy executive producer, Gregorisch-Dempsey will now oversee the creation and development of Telepictures' reality-based programs. She'll start by supervising the studio's soon-to-be seven-seasons-old newsmagazine Extra.

Besides CBS' Survivor's opening up the floodgates for all things real, "you can't ignore the popularity of VH1's Behind the Music and A & E's Biography," said Gregorisch-Dempsey.

Over the years, Extra has piled up "a gold-mine library containing footage of people when they were starting out," she explained. "So I want to tap into that and have fun with it..There are so many fascinating tangents to reality that haven't been explored yet. And, trust me, at Telepictures, we will explore and exploit them."

Through her present duties as partner in the production company Edge TV, Gregorisch-Dempsey has amassed nine show formats, which she's keeping under wraps for now.

Katz TV's Bill Carroll applauds Telepictures' move. "On the syndicated side, if there's great success with [Studios USA's Dick Wolf-produced] Arrest and Trial, that's going to heat up reality programming. I think we're gearing up for that potential."

But Gregorisch-Dempsey's first order of business is revamping Extra, following the announcement that its executive producer Sheila Sitomer will leave the post next year to pursue other opportunities. Among newsmagazines, Extra (which posted a 3.3 rating for the recent May sweeps period) places a decent but distant second to Entertainment Tonight (which rang up a 5.9 for the month). Also, Extra's sweeps performance was down 8% compared with May 1999. Following Extra in the magazine May wars were Inside Edition (2.8), Access Hollywood (2.4) and National Enquirer (1.5).

Already, Gregorisch-Dempsey has snagged America's Most Wanted Supervising Producer Neal Freundlich and Managing Editor Steve Longo as Extra's new executive producer and co-executive producer, respectively.

Previously, Freundlich served as senior producer at Boston-based Sunbeam Television. Longo has held several production stints at MTV.

Still, "before we give anybody a run for their money, I want to give viewers great TV. And then I want to kick everyone else's ass," Gregorisch-Dempsey said.