Oct 23, 2000

Author/s: Melissa Grego

HOLLYWOOD "Xena: Warrior Princess," the top-rated firstrun syndie action hour, will conclude its run at the end of the 2000-01 TV season.

The show, produced by Renaissance Pictures and distribbed by Studios USA Domestic TV (SUDT), will wrap production on its sixth season this spring and continue to air through summer 2001.

It airs on 200 TV stations, reaching 99% of the United States.

The move does not mean SUDT is getting out of the firstrun hour business. The studio launched a block last year, "Back 2 Back Action," comprised of two half-hour shows, "Cleopatra 2525" and "Jack of All Trades." Block is undergoing major changes of its own.

`Jack' jolted

SUDT has decided to change the sophomore actioner to include only "Cleo"; it will be expanded to an hour format, and "Jack" will be discontinued starting in January.

The studio shot six hourlong episodes of "Cleo" that can take over for the previous incarnation of "Back 2 Back" once "Jack" concludes. Studio is in post-production on those six episodes.

Future SUDT hours are likely to be distributed under a different economic model than "Xena," "Back 2 Back Action" and the studio's former "Hercules."

"This company from its initial heritage has had a tremendous run in producing action hours," SUDT prexy Steve Rosenberg says. "We're going to continue to be in the hour biz, but it may not be in that once a week, syndicated action hour model as we have been. It's been more difficult to get traction in that."

Although "Xena," which is produced for well north of $1 million per episode, is the top-rated firstrun syndie action hour, ratings have progressively declined over the years.

Rosenberg said one reason that the show's ratings have eroded is that the pluck time periods in which it was launched are no longer available.

Since the advent of multinight programming on broadcast networks the WB, UPN and to a certain extent Fox, "Xena" and shows like it no longer air in primetime during the week as they once did. Instead, syndie weeklies are relegated primarily to weekend afternoons, when viewership is lower and the chances of preemption in favor of sports and other programming is high.

Int'l allure

Firstrun syndie hours are still a good business for shows heavily cleared and targeted for the international market. SUDT's primary focus, however, is on the domestic market.

Domestically, "Xena's" core station group clearance is with Tribune Broadcasting, whose sister company Tribune Entertainment is in the action hour business itself.

Rosenberg insists, however, that "Xena's" challenges domestically have not been a matter of having to play second fiddle on Tribune stations to in-house Trib product.

"Tribune is a great company. They're in the business of putting on quality product," Rosenberg says. "I'm sure they like it to be their own, but we never felt they gave their product more opportunity to succeed than ours."


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