Simple. In syndication, programs are sold one by one, station by station, across the country. There is no dead wood. If a show doesn't perform, it's gone - and quickly. Last fall, no less a personage than Bill Crosby got only a four-month run with his version of You Bet Your Life before the ax fell.
Syndicators already have taken big chunks of daypart away from the networks. Syndicated talk shows rule in the morning and late afternoon. Syndicators control a large piece of the children's market and helped open up late-night with Arsenio. The final frontier is primetime, and syndicators began a concerted assault there this season, spearheaded by action shows like Paramount's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Warner's Kung Fu. Of seven new action hours launched last season, six will be back, along with several new contenders.
While the two Star Trek shows pull network-level double-digit ratings, the other action shows draw from a 4 to 6 rating. That would be a flop on the nets, but by cutting out the middleman, reaping economies of scale and selling the hell out of foreign rights, these shows are considered moderate successes in syndication. Warner will add a third four, Babylon 5, to its parlay of Kung Fu and Time Trax. Rysher, which sells Highlander, is adding two action shows, Robocop and a Hulk Hogan vehicle. And All American is extending Baywatch's babes-on-the-beach formula to a new show, Acapulco H.E.A.T., that features - what else? - buxom undercover counterterrorists.
'I think prime is still vulnerable,' says Shaw, a senior vp at Buena Vista. 'There will be a concerted effort on Friday and Saturday nights, when two of the four nets are getting hammered. Wherever there's a weakness, we'll be there.'
Other syndicators sense weakness in the tabloid shows - A Current Affair, Inside Edition, Hard Copy - due to ratings declines, growing advertiser resistance and a glut of news programming on TV. And Warner, Viacom and Universal all have ad-friendly entertainment or lifestyle shows in the works.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)