'Judy' gets two years



UPDATED 8:10 p.m. PT Jan. 28

LAS VEGAS -- Court show queen Judge Judy Sheindlin has inked a new multiyear deal with CBS Television Distribution to continue with her strip, "Judge Judy," and the CBS Television Stations group has renewed the top-rated court show for another two seasons, taking it through 2012.

The "Judge Judy" renewal was among a flurry of NATPE-related announcements made Monday, a day before the organization's annual Conference & Exhibition officially kicks off at the Mandalay Bay Resort here. A second-season pickup for game show "Crosswords" also is a "firm go," while ION Media Networks' acquisition of "Baywatch" and station clearances for Twentieth Television's "Bones" also were among Monday's deals.

" 'Judge Judy' is the unsung hero of syndication, consistently delivering fantastic ratings to our station partners, and we're really proud it's the only syndicated show growing year to year," CTD president and COO John Nogawski said.

The show, which launched in 1996, is executive produced by Randy Douthit and Timothy Regler.

There was further syndication news:

-- Program Partners' "Crosswords" is a "firm go" for Season 2 after having been renewed in 40 of the top 50 markets. The distributor has secured commitments from WNBC New York and other NBC O&Os as well as stations owned by Belo, Four Points, Gannett, Gray, Guardian, Hubbard, McGraw-Hill, New Age, Raycom, Sarkes Tarzian and Sagamorehill.

" 'Crosswords' ' ratings are building continuously and now hitting season-to-date highs," said Ritch Colbert, who heads Program Partners with Josh Raphaelson. "This renewal is a testament to our amazing production team and to the power of Merv Griffin's original vision."

Hosted by Ty Treadway, "Crosswords" is a half-hour game show in which five players compete against one another and the clock to solve a crossword.

"This vote of confidence from our station affiliates makes a nice start to 2008," said Ron Ward, head of Merv Griffin Entertainment and vice chairman of the Griffin Group.

Program Partners also hinted at more news coming later in the week. The company put out a media alert that it is making an announcement today about a new syndicated project with a "major star," though details were not disclosed. A clearance announcement on Program Partners' court show "Family Court With Judge Penny" also is said to be imminent.

-- ION Media Networks has acquired rights to "Baywatch" from Litton Entertainment. ION Television is set to launch "Baywatch" on March 3, with the David Hasselhoff starrer airing at 10 p.m. EST Monday-Thursday.

"This is another fun example of our strategy to offer upbeat, mainstream programming to our viewers," ION chairman and CEO Brandon Burgess said.

Added Litton president and CEO Dave Morgan, "This classic series features drama, action, romance, humor and a cast of celebrity icons."

The show, from FremantleMedia North America, premiered on NBC in 1989 and ran in first-run syndication from 1991-2001. It was executive produced by Michael Berk, Gregory J. Bonan and Douglas Schwartz.

-- Twentieth has cleared the off-Fox forensic drama "Bones" in 45% of the country, including all top 10 markets, for its fall 2009 debut in broadcast syndication.

Twentieth president and COO Bob Cook said the show has been cleared on stations including Fox's WNYW/WWOR New York, KTTV/KCOP Los Angeles, WFLD/WPWR Chicago and WTXF Philadelphia.

In other news, the Bennett Group said it is launching the MEN7 network, touted as the first multiplatform lifestyle and entertainment net targeting affluent males in the 25-54 demo.

Upon its launch in April, MEN7 will encompass a weekly flagship high-definition TV series; broadband site MEN7.tv; and daily episodes syndicated out to several broadband, IPTV and mobile distribution partners.

Bennett said that key to the launch of the network is daily distribution of segments to its global and domestic digital syndication network with such partners as YouTube, Joost, Veoh, Amazon, Vuze, blinkx, HP, Media Gateway, ROK-TV and Verizon. The idea is to have dedicated MEN7 channels within the sites; details still are being finalized.

For the flagship series, "The MEN7 Show," Bennett is in negotiations with two cable channels to air the men's lifestyle show but did not disclose further details. The series, hosted by Tava Smiley (ABC's "General Hospital") and Hoyt Christopher (E!'s "Wild On"), will feature seven segments every week revolving around the lifestyle categories of entertainment, discover, tech, action, living, self and women. Bennett is planning to showcase the series on the NATPE floor.

MEN7.tv, which also launches in April, will be the home to 10 high-definition series, including National Lampoon's "The Great American Run," "The Extremists," "Beyond the List," "A Day in the Life of a Mogul," "Bikini Destinations" and "Eventurer."

The Bennett Group, which has produced more than 500 hours of programming for various networks, has more than 200 hours of men's TV programming in its library to launch the network.

The network is being led by chairman Bob Bennett, former president of Metromedia Broadcasting; CEO Casey Bennett; and COO Darren Chuckry. Bennett Media Worldwide, headed by CEO Paul Rich, is handling distribution.

In other NATPE news, the seventh annual Brandon Tartikoff Awards were presented Monday night to WMA's Mark Itkin, CBS Paramount' Nancy Tellem, Warner Bros. TV's Peter Roth and former NBC Uni chairman Bob Wright.

In his remarks, Wright said broadcasting TV is at "a crossroads."

"We need enthusiasm and optimism in the face of industry adversity," he said.

Because of viewers' interest in mobility and portability, the TV business is going through "a difficult transition, but since the fundamentals haven't changed, there's no reason the industry can't succeed."

Elizabeth Guider contributed to this report.