Searching for the Breakout Hit

At NATPE: 'TMZ' Seen as Most Promising

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LAS VEGAS ( -- At last year's NATPE conference, TV executives and programming directors were simultaneously blindsided by the news of the WB-UPN merger into the CW and stumbling over themselves to get a piece of 2006's breakout syndicated stars, Rachael Ray, Greg Behrendt and Megan Mullally.
Janice Dickinson made a splashy appearance at the Fremantle booth.
Janice Dickinson made a splashy appearance at the Fremantle booth.

Rosie rumors
Cut to 2007, with the CW struggling to recoup its networks' shared ratings losses, Mullally already canceled and no major personalities angling to make a dent in the talk-show market next season. Sure, there was no shortage of stars -- Janice Dickinson made a splashy appearance at the Fremantle booth with two briefs-clad male models, while the casts of future syndication hopefuls "My Name Is Earl," "How I Met Your Mother" and "Bones" roamed freely among the Mandalay Bay Hotel's hallways -- but none who could lend their wattage to the coming syndicated-TV season. The rumor of Rosie O'Donnell's possible split from "The View" was the only talk that approached Rachael Ray-like levels of buzz.

"Every year for the last five years we've had a hit program: 'Dr. Phil,' 'The Insider,' Ellen DeGeneres, Tyra Banks, Rachael Ray," said Mitch Burg, president of the Syndicated Network Television Association. "NATPE is getting away from what it was originally about -- announcing shows and selling them to stations."

Personality-packed days
Has the daytime landscape become too crowded to welcome any new personalities? Bill Carroll, VP-director of programming at New York station-rep company Katz Television Group, said it's all a matter of timing. With shows such as "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy" extending their contracts into 2010 and beyond, it's getting harder and harder to line up a hit when there's nowhere to put it right now.

Twentieth Century Fox's official addition of "TMZ" to its fall lineup is the best shot at a breakout hit in the fall. "It's a smart move because the website has the highest profile it's ever going to have," he said. "America's coming closer to viral videos, and gossip has become popular culture. They're also providing a 24/7 news service for stations, which will help at a time when local stations are trying to distinguish themselves."

'What they want, when they want it'
Another emerging local trend is the syndication of content on stations' websites, which will start with "Two and a Half Men" in the fall. Viewers will be able to stream episodes of the CBS show on their local affiliate's home page just days after its initial off-network airing, a long-awaited move into multiplatform programming for many markets.

"You're giving consumers what they want, when they want it," said Bill Hague, VP-corporate development at Iowa-based research firm Frank N. Magid Associates. "It's not going to have the tonnage of a Rachael Ray for local stations, but it's additive rather than dilutive."
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