Fall 2008 syndication preview (or the best I can scrape together in such short notice)

The new syndication season begins next Monday, and its going to be tougher to launch a new show than ever before, thanks to the upcoming election and the exploding number of alternative choices available in the marketplace.

There are seven new first-run strips invading the airwaves this year, but all of them will have to face competition from cable news networks, who’ll no doubt siphon away the shows’ key demos of adults 25-54 as the election grows closer.

Plus, many promotional spots used to promote syndicated fare – old or new – are being tied up by campaign commercials.

It’s just another pain in the ointment for syndicators, who are not only dealing with the increased competition, but also tighter budgets for their programs.

In this brand new world of syndication, everything – from the production of the shows to the marketing of them – is now done on the cheap so it can turn an investment quickly. Gone are the days of a first-run launch with a massive price tag. Some examples: On September 16, 1985, Paramount launched a daytime talk show strip named America with a budget of $22 million. It was canceled four months later.

On September 12, 1988, GTG sunk an even larger amount of money to launch USA Today on TV. After underwhelming ratings, massive downgrades and cancellations by stations soon followed, and USA Today was canceled fourteen months later – going down as the most expensive flop in syndication history.

Of course, syndicators never learned their lesson and more and more big-budget bombs followed from the 1990’s through the early part of this decade. Today, syndicators are playing a whole lot smarter. They have to – the average rating to be considered a success has dropped all the way to a 1.0 household rating.

And as Local People Meters – with the ability to measure key demos on an overnight basis – are going online in more and more markets, household ratings are going to become even less important.

The new strips launching Sept. 8 include Deal or No Deal (Noon and 12:30 p.m., WMAQ-TV), Family Court with Judge Penny (WCIU-TV at 11 a.m.), Judge Karen (WCIU at 2 and 2:30 p.m.), The Doctors (WCIU at 5 p.m.), The Bonnie Hunt Show (WMAQ, 2 p.m.) and Trivial Pursuit: America Plays (WPWR-TV at 3 and 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 22).

Warner Bros. is launching Judge Jeanne Pirro on The CW Sept. 22 (weekdays at 3 p.m. in all time zones.)

Meredith Broadcasting is rolling out Better in more markets (including WPHL-TV in Philadelphia), while Montel and Judge Hatchett are only going to be available in repeats only (Hatchett is moving to WCIU at 9 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. beginning Sept. 8, while Montel is vanishing from Chicago airwaves entirely.)

As far as off-net strips are concerned, only Tyler Perry’s House of Payne is launching on Sept. 22 (at 7 p.m. on WCIU), while the second cycle of That’s ’70’s Show begins on Sept. 8 (airing locally over WCIU-TV at 11:30 p.m. “70’s” had been airing on WFLD-TV and WPWR-TV.)

Punk’d has also been picked up by WCIU, likely airing after midnight.

Weekends have Desperate Housewives, Monk, and American Idol Rewind on WPWR, and CSI: NY on WBBM-TV. WLS-TV has picked up Boston Legal. Two new shows – Legends of the Seeker and a sketch comedy show titled Bananas, have been picked up by WGN-TV and WCIU, respectively.

The casualty list

So far, these are the shows leaving syndication:

Confirmed: Temptation, Judge Maria Lopez (both canceled), CSI: Miami (to make room for CSI: NY), Soul Train (repeats)

Rumoured/Not confirmed: It’s Showtime at the Apollo, The Shield (but the program has been confirmed canceled on FX.)

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