Many local television news staffers dream of becoming rich and famous like network anchors. Even those who aren't "on-air talent" envision making an impact beyond their viewing area.
Changes in the industry have made it much harder to jump from local to network news. But there is another way to achieve notoriety and financial success in television news at the national level: syndication. It's still a long shot, but syndication continues to be a potential bonanza for those willing to spend the time, effort and money.
Syndication works in various ways. In news and information programming, syndicated material includes 60-second features for newscasts, 90-minute talk shows, and technological products, such as computerized weather maps and storm-tracking systems.
Syndicated material usually is sold exclusively to stations city by city and priced according to market size. Sometimes no money changes hands; instead, a station may give the syndicator an agreed-upon amount of airtime for its own commercials.
Syndicated products often originate from local stations. For example:
* Steve Crowley was an accountant in Providence, Rhode Island, when WJAR asked him 11 years ago to appear periodically on the local news to offer financial advice. Today, his thrice-weekly two-minute news inserts are syndicated through his Fort Lauderdale-based company to nearly 100 markets.
* Houston's KTRK is responsible for one of news syndication's most colorful folk heroes, Dr. "Red" Duke. Duke, who looks and talks like he just got back from a cattle drive, is a leading trauma specialist and a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center. KTRK began running Duke's health reports in 1982; today some 60 other local stations air the feature.
* Perhaps the most successful locally bred syndicator is Phil Donahue. Twenty-five years ago Donahue was a frustrated radio and television newsman in Dayton, Ohio, when AVCO Broadcasting tapped him to host a 30-minute talk show at its local station. AVCO later sold Donahue's syndication and production rights to Multimedia, which is currently trying to duplicate Donahue's syndication success with Jerry Springer, a newscaster from its Cincinnati television station.
The potential for new syndicated talk shows, however, is limited. Even with cable as an alternative outlet, there are only so many shows that can withstand the increasingly fickle whims of the public.
There's a much bigger market for syndicated newscast inserts. …