"Dr. Oz" is the man behind the curtain for Sony

In a major coup for Sony Pictures Television, the syndicator has picked up the new Dr. Oz project from Harpo Productions, which is Oprah Winfrey’s production company.

The program features Dr. Mehmet Oz, a heart surgeon who has made appearances on Oprah and on programs produced by Discovery Communications.

Many syndicators were bidding for Oz, but Sony came up big – despite the fact it lacks a connection with a major station station group like the other major syndicators.

On the plus side, it means Sony and Harpo can get more money from bidding wars between stations.

The daily strip is being planned for a fall 2009 debut.

Usually, Harpo’s productions are syndicated through CBS Television Distribution – a relationship that dates back to the mid-1980’s when Oprah Winfrey signed a deal with King World to syndicate her talk show. CBS bought King World in 1999, and merged their syndication operations with those of CBS Paramount in 2006 to form CBS Television Distribution.

CBS Television Distribution plans to launch its own medical strip called The Doctors this fall. Doctors is being produced by Dr. Phil McGraw’s production company. Dr. Phil is a protege of Oprah Winfrey.

Futility in first-run

Historically, the syndication division of Columbia Pictures – whose name would often change as much as Chicago’s weather – running the gamut from Screen Gems to Coca-Cola Telecommunications to Columbia TriStar Television – has never really had a major hit outside of Ricki Lake’s talk show. In fact, the entity didn’t even have a first-run division until 1985, when it produced What’s Happening Now (under the Columbia Pictures Television name with LBS Communications) and a short-lived half-hour nighttime version of The Price Is Right (under The Television Program Source name) with host Tom Kennedy.

Over the last fifteen years, Columbia/Sony only hit with Ricki Lake and Judge Hatchett in first-run and had marginal success with revivals of The Newlywed Game and Dating Game. But it also struck out with The Newz, Vibe, Donny & Marie, Pyramid, Shipmates, Life & Style, Moving In with Pat Croce, and Greg Behrendt. Currently, Sony is syndicating Judge Maria Lopez (whose ratings are iffy at best) and is set to premiere Judge Karen in the fall.

Sony is best known for off-network repeats of Seinfeld, which continues to be successful in syndication. But now with Dr. Oz in its’ corner, it gives Sony a bigger foothold in first-run it has not had in years.