2008 program options as WGA strike continues


The WGA strike began November 5, 2007 and now we’re seeing a number of predicted events come to fruition for the industry. Networks are ordering and scheduling a bevy of reality fare for midseason; they’ve saved a few scripted episodes from most of the fall season to sparsely run in ’08 as well.

Studios and talent agencies are laying off staff and losing 160 million per week from mothballed TV shows, according to reports. The scripted TV production biz has all but stopped in LA, excepting ABC’s October Road, still in progress. 62 have been reportedly halted due to the strike.

ABC Studios, Warner Bros. TV, CBS Paramount Network TV, Universal Media Studios, and 20th Century TV have all axed thousands of employees and dozens and dozens of producer deals under the force majeure clause of their contracts. (1/15/08 TVBR #9)

The WGA-AMPTP negotiations were on and off over the past few months, but mostly off. Most say the next round of WGA talks will be based on how the new Directors Guild of America’s contract was crafted. (1/18/08 TVBR #12)

The biggest issue revolves around payment for content run on the internet. The two sides just can’t agree on that, as well as a number of other issues, including reality programming scripting. The finger pointing and blame from both sides is firmly entrenched. (11/29/07 TVBR #232)

Fallout is massive to the Southern California economy-some $875 million so far. The fallout to awards programming has also been massive-the Golden Globes, for example, have been reduced to a quickie press conference, The People’s Choice Awards was reduced to an awkward, taped affair. The Oscars, with no strike waiver, will be similar. (1/10/08 TVBR #6)

Numerous separate, interim deals have been struck with companies like David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants and Tom Cruise’s United Artists. There was hope these deals would help be a template for the larger one between WGA and AMPTP, but no luck so far. (1/8/08 TVBR #4)

All late night hosts have returned after a long hiatus, but most are winging it without writers (excepting Letterman and The late Late Show with Craig Ferguson) and ratings are suffering.
 (1/15/08 TVBR #9)

In fact, ratings are suffering almost across the board in network prime-folks are finding other forms of entertainment. American Idol’s debut even saw its lowest ratings in four years. Networks are scrambling to provide decent makegoods for inventory agencies and advertisers bought in the upfront. Because much of that is taking up midseason inventory, the scatter market being decimated. And the beat goes on……

Regardless of how long the strike runs, there will be a Fall 2008 television season. As it does annually, the Katz Television Group’s Programming Department has sent out its Fall 2008 program previews to about 350 client stations. The highly-regarded reviews help determine the programming selection of broadcast stations throughout the country.
According to Bill Carroll, KTVG’s Vice President/Director of Programming, the reviews of the programming department are determined by market forces and industry trends.
"Now in our second decade of presenting the Katz Television Group Programming Preview, this report is meant to provide updates to our clients on the developments and emerging trends in the world of broadcast syndication," said Carroll. "In this digital age we all face new challenges and opportunities from the Internet and multicasting. But we still need to concentrate on the present by examining the Fall 2007 program performance and the opportunities that exist for next fall and beyond."

The program reviews break down as follows:

Off Network:

"Given the disappointment of years past, reasoned anticipation greeted the launch of two key sitcoms into syndication. In the end, that caution was unnecessary, given the early results for this fall," noted Bill Carroll. "Looking to the future, as we indicated last year, stations must depend on long term players and hopefully this year’s success stories while only relying on the crop of new sitcoms to refresh its schedules rather than revitalize schedules."

"For 2008, solid performance on TBS has been encouraging and we can again tout the unique offering, House of Payne, from the creative pen of Tyler Perry. We particularly see the program having special utility for non-traditional affiliates in markets with significant ethnic audiences. Also added to the mix for 2009 is the well written and critically acclaimed Everybody Hates Chris, which chronicles the early family life of comedian Chris Rock. The CBS Television Distribution deal makes this program a very attractive offering for sitcom stations that fall."

"For 2009, many of you have already or will acquire The Office or My Name is Earl we feel both programs have unique audience appeal and will provide needed freshening to existing sitcom blocks. Our concern about these programs is that they are no longer available with broadcast exclusivity in their initial seasons of syndication."


"Court remains a vital genre both for daytime programming on non-traditional affiliates and for traditional affiliates in early fringe," according to Jim Curtin, Senior Programmer/Director of Programming for Katz Television Group. "As crowded as the court field is, we are currently tracking several new court projects for next year."

"New to the court business for next year is Program Partners, which hopes to launch Family Court with Judy Penny Brown-Reynolds. It is rumored that Warner Brothers is looking to launch Jeanine Pirro as the judge in a court format, but this project remains only a possibility."

"The remaining project is from more traditional court producers. Sony is looking at a new project featuring Florida’s Judge Karen Mills. Sony hopes that Judge Mills’s burgundy robes, no-nonsense attitude and a cash plus barter deal will make her a fixture in quality time periods. This development comes as Sony ends new production on Judge Hatchett and has ended Judge Maria Lopez’s run in syndication."

Curtin concluded, "If you need a new court show for next season, Judge Karen Mills offers the best opportunity for stations."

Game shows:

"Even though the freshman entries turned in less than winning formats, the syndicated game category continues to grow for fall 2008 just as the networks expand its primetime roster with less costly alternatives," said Lisa Hollaender, Katz Television Group’s Director of Program Research. "Not since the premiere of Who Wants to be a Millionaire six years ago has the game show genre seen any new players in first-run or off-network syndication. This season, there are two new entries, but neither was able to break into the game show club."

"For next fall, Deal or No Deal is the first option making its way into the marketplace. It upped the ante on the game’s odds for success in syndication by signing Howie Mandel to lead the charge. While we are very pleased he has stepped up to host, there are some concerns about the modified format for the syndicated version which resembles the international edition more than the primetime one."

"Among the new offerings, we recommend Deal or No Deal. NBC Universal is targeting the elusive early evening time periods, which may work for smaller markets though we see the more realistic scenario as early fringe or daytime slots. If your station is looking at games for other than an access play, Family Feud has re-upped for 2 more years and Millionaire is renewed through 2010."

"Also scheduled to hit airwaves next fall from Debmar-Mercury and Hasbro is Trivial Pursuit: America Plays based on the successful 25-year-old board game and hosted by Mark L. Wahlberg. With the feel of a traditional game, America Plays features an interactive component which relies on user generated content in the form of trivia questions supplied via video downloads by the home viewers technically referred to as America’s Team. This twist in format creates a synergy between the live studio audience, the viewers at home and local station websites."

"Debmar is seeking double runs and it is more likely that Trivial Pursuit will end up in daytime and some early fringe situations replacing a second run of a game or in a game block. Under those circumstances, Trivial Pursuit is recommended."


"Much of the alternative programming previewed last year and launched this season didn’t have the hoped for ratings impact," said Anthony Spirito, Director of Programming for Katz TV Group.

Spirito added, "The only stand-out performer seems to be TMZ on TV. The popular celebrity gossip website spawned a TV show that launched this fall in first-run syndication. As of the November sweeps, the program is the highest ranking first-run debut of the new season averaging 1.6 HH rtg in the metered markets."

"The cable arena has proved to be a vibrant source of new content for broadcast syndication over the last few years. Independent distributors selling off-cable programming to broadcast stations will have another banner season in 2008 and 2009. The balance of the off-cable titles coming to syndication next season is essentially split between two independent syndicators: Debmar Mercury and Litton Syndication."

"Debmar Mercury has a number of programs coming to syndication this year. The company is offering two of the Discovery Channel’s most popular series, American Chopper and the Deadliest Catch, to broadcast TV stations for the first time. Debmar Mercury is also considering a late night talk vehicle for comedian Tom Green, which will be adapted from his Internet talk show Tom Green Live."

"Litton Syndication is out in the marketplace with off Weather Channel half-hour episodes of Storm Stories. Litton is offering the program to TV stations as a strip or as weekly on an all barter basis. Litton Syndication has also gained access to selected titles from the off-MTV library and is offering Pimp My Ride and Cribs to the broadcast community."

"Regardless of overall performance, the pipeline of alternatively sourced content for broadcast syndication keeps growing each year. With dozens of cable channels now producing original programming and a burgeoning content engine called the worldwide web, this pipeline will continue to grow more vibrant in the future."


Greg Conklin, Senior Programmer/Director of Programming for Katz Television Group, said about the talk format: "Over the past three seasons there have been numerous attempts at launching new talk shows, but only Rachael Ray and Tyra Banks have been able to remain on the air. The normal development list that used to be five to seven titles long is down to a scant two and both of these are moving forward in fall 2008."

"It has been rumored for years that Warner Brothers has been talking about bringing Bonnie Hunt to the talk arena. This year it became a reality and The Bonnie Hunt Show has already been cleared in over 80% of the country. Her background and skills make her a perfect fit for a daytime talk show. For those who have already purchased The Bonnie Hunt Show, this is a solid move and the show could be a long term player, especially if she is paired with Ellen. For those still pondering a purchase, The Bonnie Hunt Show is a recommendation."

"An additional syndication option comes from CBS TV Distribution. The new talk format, The Doctors, features five dedicated doctors who are tops in their fields. The Doctors is led by Dr. Travis Stork, The Bachelor contestant from season two. Together these physicians will handle any medical topic thrown at them."

"Since there are no restrictions as to where The Doctors can air, we recommend the show for daytime and early fringe, especially before 4 p.m. We are concerned about the major market clearances for The Bonnie Hunt Show and The Doctors given the rating challenges faced by new shows in very competitive time periods. We urge you to keep a close eye on these developments," concluded Conklin.


"Weekend fare has become the domain of sixth and seventh day scheduling of weekday programming and broadcast airings of cable offerings," says Bill Carroll. "Like 2008, the roster of potentials for 2009 is thankfully substantial and diverse."

"When we turn our attention to new offerings, we remind you that 2008 is a season that is full of off-network programs shared with cable and available for weekly syndication. Extensively cleared and recommended are CSI: NY and another cycle of CSI: Miami, syndication weeklies #1 show."

"Recently added to the roster are the lawyers of the firm Crane, Poole and Schmidt of Boston Legal headed by Emmy winners James Spader and William Shatner. This is a solid choice. Also, the addition of the off-FX drama, Rescue Me, featuring Dennis Leary and the New York Firefighters of Engine 62 from Sony is anticipated. This is another opportunity for stations. Lastly for 2009, the highest-rated cable program, the LA cop series, The Closer with Kyra Sedgwick is an early recommendation."

In closing, Carroll stated, "Knowing that most of the programs we recommended for 2008 are already cleared in most markets, if you are still seeking weekend late-night fare we point to Boston Legal, Rescue Me and American Chopper as reasonable opportunities for weekend schedules."

Note: Recommendations are based on potential scheduling within each category. Individual market availability may cause stations to have to choose among others than on our recommended list. KTVG Programming does not imply that any program that does not receive recommended status has no utility. It is our judgment that the programs we do indicate have greater potential.

(Source: Katz Television Group (KTVG). It is comprised of Continental Television Sales, Eagle Television Sales and Millennium Sales & Marketing. Headquartered in New York City, KTVG is an operating unit of Katz Media Group)