Magazine article Variety

Debmar-Mercury's Bernstein Takes Syndication Temp

Magazine article Variety

Debmar-Mercury's Bernstein Takes Syndication Temp

Article excerpt

Ira Bernstein has been a player in the syndication business since the days when Sinclair owned about a dozen stations and the NATPE conference was a make or break moment for prospective new shows.

Bernstein joined forces with another syndie veteran, Mort Marcus, to form indie distributor Debmar-Mercury in 2004. The company is home to "The Wendy Williams Show" and "Family Feud." Debmar is heading to NATPE with a new court show, "Caught in Providence," featuring a colorful judge dispensing plain-spoken justice in Providence, R.I.

Bernstein spoke with Variety about the state of the first-run business, the impact of broadcast TV M&A, and why he and Marcus were taken with an 81-year-old New England jurist.

How has the pending SinclairTribune merger affected the business climate for firstrun syndication? Everybody's talking about what a difficult market it is with many renewals still up in the air and few new shows on offer.

There are some shows that have good auspices and look to be good productions but nothing has jumped off the page, so to speak, where [station owners] say "I have to have it." That's the difference this year. Then you have this consolidation going on and the fact that Sinclair and Tribune have delayed their decision-making both with renewals and new shows. Everything seems to be taking longer. But this year we're going to be learning a lot about the shows that are and aren't available and what is coming back at NATPE. That makes it a bit of a throwback.

What sold you on "Caught in Providence"?

It's one of the few things we've ever seen that as soon as you press play everybody watches him and after three minutes you're smiling. Almost every person we've shown it to looks up and says "I love this guy." Judge Frank Caprio has something special about him. When you have that, it's a really good start. I'm not saying this show is going to rewrite the industry but the magic that this guy clearly has - it's hard to get that. You can't cast for that.

Can you make money in daytime TV with the audience so fragmented and ratings so low?

Absolutely. When people say there isn't cash in the market right now, it depends on the show. …

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