Grab Bag: NATPE edition

The National Association of Television Programming Executive – or NATPE convention begins Monday in Miami and as always, there’s syndication news to report on. Here’s the latest:

– CBS-owned WBBM-TV in Chicago and twelve other CBS markets have cleared TNT’s Leverage for weekend off-network syndication beginning next fall from Trifecta Entertainment, which acquires the syndication rights from executive producer Dean Devlin’s Electric Entertainment, which produces the show. The CBS deal puts the show in eight of the top ten largest markets. Earlier, ION picked up the rights to Leverage to begin airing this summer. TNT has picked the series up for a fifth season.

– Even though both shows experienced ratings erosion this season, Twentieth Television has renewed Divorce Court and Judge Alex for two more seasons, through 2014.  Divorce Court – which has been already been through three incarnations (1957-69; 1984-91; and 1993), is now in its thirteenth season while Judge Alex is in its seventh. Station groups renewing the show include Fox, Tribune, CBS, Local TV, and Sinclair. Both shows air locally on WPWR-TV.

– A brand new syndication company (at least I haven’t heard of them) is launching two new weekend half-hours this fall: Bellum Entertainment is bringing Unsealed: The Alien Files and Unsealed: The Conspiracy Files to market, presumably to run as back-to-back half hours. UFO and paranormal activities are the main focus of Alien; while conspiracies are the focus of the other show (hence the title.) Tribune Broadcasting (whose former syndication division used to air prime-time specials on these type of subjects in the ’90’s) has signed its 26 markets to carry the series this fall. Locally, both series are to air on WGN-TV.

– Can the first-run syndication comedy make a comeback? That’s what Byron Allen is hoping as he and his Entertainment Studios are planning two first-run sitcoms to air in syndicationThe First Family, which features an African-American family in the White House (no, it won’t be the Obamas) and Mr. Box Office, which features a disgraced celebrity whose community service includes teaching in the toughest high school in America. Entertainment Studios has ordered 104 episodes for both series and plans to air the series in both broadcast and cable syndication and on digital platforms (stations beware: the last time anyone made that type of commitment to an unproven first-run sitcom was when stations were stuck with three underperforming years of Harry and The Hendersons. And no, I wasn’t involved in the show.)

Since its heyday in the mid-to-late 1980’s with series as Small Wonder, Charles in Charge, Mama’s Family, and Out Of This World, the first-run comedy (not counting Tyler Perry’s sitcoms) have been dormant as HUT levels have plummeted over the years in those weekend time periods those programs formerly aired in. The last first-run sitcom to air in weekly syndication (at least to yours truly’s knowledge) was during the 1997-98 season when Canadian import Student Bodies was on the air.