Monday, March 08, 2010

"Legend of the Seeker" seeking new outlets

Disney/ABC's weekly action-adventure hour Legend of the Seeker is going to have an adventure of its own - trying to find new outlets after a major station group carrying the show declined to renew it.

In a memo obtained by TV By The Numbers, Tribune Broadcasting said it would not renew the sci-fi/fantasy action hour after two seasons.

Tribune is the show's largest group clearance, with WGN-TV carrying it locally, as is WPIX in New York, KTLA in Los Angeles, WPHL in Philadelphia, and KDAF in Dallas - all in the nation's five largest markets.

Seeker is produced by ABC Studios, the same production company responsible for Lost, Grey's Anatomy, and Criminal Minds (which is a co-production with CBS Television Studios.)

But keep hope alive, Seeker fans - the show may come back for a third season thanks to a little magic called "synergy". The producers are shopping the show around for a third season, and there is an outside possibility the program could end up on ABC-owned stations for weekend late-night play - though this is a long shot.

ABC owns stations in the top four markets where it competes with Tribune. And even though ABC doesn't own a station in fifth-ranked Dallas (where Belo owns ABC affiliate WFAA), it does own KGO-TV in San Francisco, which along with Oakland and San Jose, make up the sixth-largest market in the U.S. Currently, the ABC O&Os air syndicated repeats of Grey's Anatomy and Lost in those weekend time periods, both of which are underperforming.

If ABC's owned stations don't take the show, then Seeker could be shopped to Fox's ten My Network TV stations (forget Fox O&Os, too many weekend sporting commitments) or basic cable outlets. But again, all of this is a long shot.

Disney-ABC has not said whether or not it renew Seeker for a third season. But with Tribune bailing out, the prognosis isn't good.

If Seeker does depart, it means there will be no scripted first-run action programming in syndication, which was plentiful in weekend time periods in the late 1980's and the entire 1990's with Xena, Hercules, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Baywatch, and more, than to the ability to sell these program in international markets, where the bulk of the financing came from. In the late 1980's, first-run sitcoms (such as Small Wonder, Out of This World, and Mama's Family) occupied these time periods as well.

In fact, there were first-run scripted programming airing in syndication dating back to the early 1970's when the FCC instituted the Prime-Time Access Rule, which prohibited network affiliates in the 50 largest markets from running network programming an hour before prime-time, before the rule was scrapped in 1996. First-run fare back then included Wait 'Til Your Father Gets Home, UFO, Police Surgeon, The Protectors, Space: 1999, and The Muppet Show - all of which were funded in part by foreign sales (in fact, all of those series - with the exception of Home and Surgeon - were produced in Britain.)

But this kind of financing dried up about a decade ago, and with HUT levels declining in weekend afternoon time periods (Saturdays in particular), stations found it more profitable to air off-network reruns, movies, and infomercials.

Legend of the Seeker hoped to re-ignite the genre, but since its debut, no syndicator has stepped forward with such a project. Outside of weekend versions of first-run strips, many large syndicators (mainly the studios) have bailed out of the first-run weekend syndication business long ago.

But the real shame is if Legend of the Seeker does go away, it will give viewers one less reason to watch TV on the weekends.

More Lost and Grey's Anatomy reruns, anyone?

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