Syndication back from vacation

Talkers, game shows, court strips among shows debuting

Monday marks a big day in first-run syndication this season, with no fewer than five new shows entering the competition for eyeballs.

Talkers "The Bonnie Hunt Show" and "The Doctors," the game show "Deal or No Deal" and the court strips "Judge Karen" and "Family Court With Judge Penny" are among the new shows debuting nationwide. They will be followed by the Sept. 22 launches of the game show "Trivial Pursuit: America Plays" and the court show "Judge Jeanine Pirro" (the latter of which is airing solely on CW stations nationwide) as well as the scripted weekly "Legend of the Seeker" during the weekend of Nov. 1.

While the failure rate in syndication is high, the talent and producers behind all the new series say they offer something unique for viewers. For his part, Howie Mandel, who hosts both the primetime and syndicated version of "Deal," isn't worried about viewers seeing too much of him.

"I'm with me 24/7, so why shouldn't the rest of the country be?" he joked, adding that the half-hour strip from NBC Universal will be "much faster" paced than primetime, with four fewer briefcases that contestants must choose from, meaning they have a better chance of winning the big prize of $500,000.

Christopher Knight, host of Debmar-Mercury's "Trivial Pursuit," believes that familiarity with Hasbro's board game as well as the opportunity to participate will appeal to viewers. "Pursuit" features an interactive component whereby viewers can submit questions via video, which, if selected, will air during the show.

"We have individuals sitting at home with the possibility of watching themselves on TV and an opportunity to win money for having participated," he said, adding that "it's a high-energy show."

Although Bonnie Hunt has played a talk show host before on her sitcom "Life With Bonnie," she now is taking on the role for real in her Warner Bros. talker. She's hoping to put a focus on storytelling and wants to bring elements of humor and spontaneity to the show.

The other new talker, CBS' "Doctors," will feature former ER doctor (and ex-"Bachelor" star) Travis Stork and his three physician co-hosts addressing health-related issues and letting viewers see medical procedures firsthand.

"We have an exam room on set that we can use for doing procedures in front of the audience," Stork said, adding that those will include an eyelash transplant. "Our goal is to be a very compelling and intriguing show but also extremely informative."

Meanwhile, the judges and producers behind the three new court shows insist they are bringing something unique to a genre that dominates syndication.

Judge Penny Brown Reynolds said what's special about her show, from Program Partners and 44 Blue, is in the name: "Family Court."

"Although we solve legal matters in a court, we're also concerned with getting to the issues and solutions involving the family," she said. "How I deal with them is a little different -- it's a combination of court and talk where I'm able to use my years of experience and struggles to provide wisdom, and many times we'll send people to counseling and follow up."

"Judge Karen" exec producer Rich Goldman said Judge Karen Mills-Francis' appearance -- she's a tall black woman with blond hair and wears a red robe -- is not the only unique aspect of the Sony TV show.

"Her aim is to run her TV courtroom just like she ran her courtroom in Miami," Goldman said. That includes sequestering witnesses until they are called, allowing the litigants to question the witnesses, letting viewers ask the judge questions via video and making use of telestrators.

Pirro, who hosts Warners' court show airing at 3 p.m. on the CW, hopes viewers will learn something via what she called the "Pirro Principle."

"The public tuning in will be entertained but also be educated," she said. "They are hungry to learn about legal principles."

Viewers also will be directed to the show's Web site, where they can find out how to make a difference on legal issues by contacting their legislators, for example.

On the scripted front, Disney's live-action action-fantasy-adventure series "Legend of the Seeker" from ABC Studios is poised to revive the syndicated action hour when it debuts with a two-hour premiere in November.

"There really hasn't been action or fantasy or genre stuff in syndication for a long time," executive producer Ken Biller said. "Hopefully, this is a resurgence of that. There is nothing like this on television, but it's one of those genres that is extremely popular."

Biller said the premiere is "cinematic in scope" with "high-quality action and effects." While the show is based on Terry Goodkind's epic fantasy book series "The Sword of Truth," "we used the books as a jumping-off point" for the show, which will feature some of the same characters and mythology but also expand upon it, Biller said, adding that the 22 episodes will be "stand-alone adventures" each week.
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