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The Changing Tide in Weekend Syndication

Part 3 in Our 12-Part Series

Once upon a time, escapist scripted syndicated action/adventure hours was a key programming choice on the weekend. “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” perhaps, was the originator of the one-hour scripted weekend format. It aired from 1987 to 1994. But then there was “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and its spin-off series, “Xena: Warrior Princess.” There were entries that ran the gamut of “V.I.P.” with Pamela Anderson and “Amazon” from Peter Benchley to “Relic Hunter,” “She Spies” and “T & T,” starring Mr. T. And, of course, there was also that little show set on the beach, “Baywatch,” that rebounded from a premature cancellation on NBC to another 10 seasons in first-run syndication, primarily in weekend time periods.

NBC, in fact, was in talks to reboot the Lucy Lawless action hero, but it never surfaced. And we all know that “Baywatch” ended up on the big screen.

It was a potpourri of this cheesy escapist fare back in the late 1980s through the early part of 21st century in weekend syndication. And there was also a barrage of anemic first-run sitcoms – “The New Monkees.” “Bustin’ Loose,” “The Dom DeLuise Show,” to name a few – that often filled weekend time periods.

TV historians will also remember NBC’s checkerboard sitcom strategy, a series of stripped sitcoms airing in access in the late 1980s (“Marblehead Manor,” “She’s The Sheriff,” “You Can’t Take it With You,” “Out of This World” and “We Got It Made”) that often ended up in weekend time periods.

Also visible, were weekend editions of first-run newsmagazines like “Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood” and “Extra.” There were random entries like “The Muppet Show,” “In Search of” and “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” There were – and still are – off-network scripted hours (including “Chicago Pd,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and “Madam Secretary”). There were – and still are – off-network sitcoms (such as “The Big Bang Theory,” “Modern Family” and “The Goldbergs” at present). And, just three years earlier, there was even a game show called “Millionaire Monopoly Club,” hosted by “Mike and Molly” star Billy Gardell.

The moral of this story: there was no shortage of original programming, scripted and non-scripted, that populated the airwaves.

“The difference back then was this was before there was UPN and The WB, and a few years prior to that Fox, so there were more opportunities for primetime airings on what we used to call independent stations,” noted media analyst Bill Carroll. “And there were also opportunities, in some cases, on traditional affiliates in prime access on the weekend. And, what had been the staple, which was movies, started to move to cable and that opened the door to more time periods.”

“Ultimately, things that might have aired on Fox, UPN and The WB in primetime during the week ended up on the weekend,” he added. “More and more sports programming – both network and local – became a more cost effective ingredient in daytime. And stations now have to meet the commitment of E/I (educational and informative) programming.”

“So, for a new project targeted to the weekend to standout, there needs to be something particularly unique about that series,” he added.

One such project takes an established name, Joe Brown, with his commanding presence as a proven syndicated court show judge, as the key ingredient in an unpredictable and unfiltered discussion in talker “Hot Topics With Judge Joe Brown.” Each weekly half-hour episode will feature a lively exchange between Judge Joe and his guests. Each episode will debate the trending issues in all subjects – pop culture, sex, health and breaking news, in particular. And each installment can certainly play in any daypart on the weekend against any applicable competition.

“Right now I don’t know of anytime out there that is comparable on the weekend, so that can be an immediate advantage,” noted Robert Russo, President, RNR, Media Consulting. “And what I particularly like is attempting something new instead of yet another court show. People certainly know him, and that can be advantageous.”

Next week, in my ongoing series, we delve into the origins of “Hot Topics With Judge Joe Brown.”