What’s this? A scripted series in first-run syndication?

For the first time in many years, a major syndicator is offering a first-run scripted, original action hour in syndication.

Disney-ABC Domestic Television announced at NATPE today it will launch a new offering in first-run syndication from producer Sam Raimi called Wizard’s First Rule. The program has cleared the Tribune station group, covering 35 percent of the country. The deal of course, includes WGN-TV in Chicago.

The one-hour weekly series is based on Terry Goodkind’s best-selling epic fantasy series, The Sword of Truth, which contains eleven epic novels, with Wizard’s First Rule the first novel released in 1994.

The series is being produced by ABC Studios, marking their first venture in first-run under that name.

First-run, hour long scripted series were long staples in syndication dating back to the 1970’s, with U.F.O., Space: 1999, and the mega-bomb Starlost (which was shot on videotape.)

But the bar was raised significantly in the 1980’s, with higher-quality programs including Fame (a NBC castoff), the cult hit Friday the 13th: The Series, and the big budget Star Trek: The Next Generation, with the latter two practically making Paramount’s syndication division a hot commodity.

In the 1990’s, the action hour scene exploded, thanks to international financing, and mega-hits Baywatch, Hercules, Xena: Warrior Princess, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Relic Hunter. The forerunner to Disney-ABC Television Distribution (Buena Vista Television) itself syndicated two first-run syndicated weeklies in the 1990s with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Land’s End.

But since 2001, international financing dried up, and scripted hours in syndication dwindled. The last first-run scripted series sold in first-run syndication was MGM’s She Spies in 2002. Today’s move by Disney-ABC hopes to rekindle a once hot business.