Tribune signs on for new action hour

250px-Tribune_BroadcastingStation group plotting future without off-network fare in key time periods?

Tribune Broadcasting announced last week it has cleared a new weekend scripted hour series from Trifecta Entertainment titled Rescue 3, created by former Baywatch showrunner Gregory J. Bonann.

Clearances include WGN-TV Chicago, WPIX New York, KTLA Los Angeles, WPHL Philadelphia and KDAF Dallas.

As first reported by Broadcasting & Cable, Rescue 3 is basically Baywatch meets Emergency!: the show is about a task force consisting of lifeguards and emergency response personnel , including the Coast Guard. Like Baywatch and Emergency!, Rescue 3 is set in Southern California.

Rescue 3 is aiming to become the first scripted hour to air in syndication since Disney-ABC Domestic Television’s Legend Of The Seeker, which ran from 2008-10 and was cleared on Tribune stations.  In 2010, Tribune cleared a scripted action hour from Twentieth Television titled Pt. Dume on its stations, but never made the air. Ironically, Pt. Dume was also created by Bonann.

In Baywatch’s heyday, scripted action hours were a mainstay of local stations’ weekend schedules, but shifting viewing preferences (to DVD, on-demand video, Hulu, and Netflix) and declining international sales (as networks chucked them for cheaper reality TV shows)  dried up the market. Before Baywatch premiered, syndicated first-run sitcoms dominated the market (in the mid-to late 1980s), but those dried up as well.

This development marks the latest sign of original, scripted programming is returning to syndication: This fall, Entertainment Studios brought two first-run sitcoms into syndication for the first time in 15 years with Mr. Box Office and The First Family.

And speaking of sitcoms, is Tribune looking to exit the off-network business? A report in TVNewscheck last week suggested the station group is looking to steer away from off-network sitcoms and add more first-run programming in early fringe and prime access time periods. Already, Fox O&O stations (outside of My Network TV) are moving away from sitcoms, adding TMZ and Dish Nation in those slots the last few years.

Meanwhile, Tribune is adding Arsenio Hall to late fringe next fall – its first late night talk show clearance in 22 years.

But keep in mind Tribune won’t be exiting the off-net sitcom business anytime soon: the station group recently renewed Two And A Half Men for a second syndication cycle. However, with prospects for A-list sitcoms drying up (coming in syndication for fall 2016: The Mindy Project!), no wonder Fox and Tribune are straying away from traditional off-network sitcoms and adding more local newscasts and/or first-run strips.

Tribune is emerging from bankruptcy and the future of the company is still unknown, despite naming former FX head Peter Liguori as CEO.

But many industry insiders point out with the hire of Liguori, the company is in a position to stay in the TV business rather than liquidate, and that’s good news for syndicators. Tribune is likely to put its newspaper division and WGN Radio on the sales block as both desperately need new leadership – especially at the Chicago Tribune.