"Oprah," "Hercules," "Xena," "Judge Judy"--these are some of television's most popular programs, yet you won't find them on a network or on cable. They are something else: syndicated shows, sold market by market to individual TV stations across the country.
It's a tough way to get a program off the ground, but it can be extraordinarily lucrative when you get a hit, because instead of just one customer from whom to extract higher fees, you may have several hundred. Just ask Ms. Winfrey.
The field of new entrants seeking those syndicated riches isn't quite as full this year as last, probably because the 1997 crop had an unusually high survival rate. Back for second seasons are "Pensacola: Wings of Gold," "NightMan," "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," "Conan," "Gene Roddenberry's Earth: Final Conflict," "S.O.F. Special Ops Force" and, in different genres, "Martha Stewart's Living" and "The People's Court."
Here are the newcomers to look for on the local broadcast stations this fall:
"V.I.P.": No stranger to syndication, former "Baywatch" babe Pamela Anderson Lee is both star and executive producer of this weekly series. She and the other producers promise a healthy dose of humor each week, which is evident in the premise: Lee is cast as an aspiring Hollywood starlet who stumbles into a job as head of a bodyguard company in Beverly Hills. Sundays at 5 p.m. on KTTV, beginning Sept. 27.
"Highlander: The Raven": "Hercules" spun off "Xena," now "Highlander: The Series" follows suit with a series starring Duncan MacLeod's sometime lover, Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen). One of the Immortals, she's a cat burglar who teams up here with an ex-cop (Paul Johansson) to continue the fight against evil. Sundays at 3 p.m. on KCOP, beginning Sept. 27.
"The Crow: Stairway to Heaven": It's "Touched by an Angel" with martial arts. Well, not quite, perhaps, but like the feature films from which it's taken, the series features the spirit of a murdered rock musician (Mark Dacascos) who has returned to Earth to help others in hope that he can be reunited in the afterworld with his true love. Sundays at 2 p.m. and midnight on KCAL, beginning Sept. 27.
"The New Adventures of Robin Hood": Moving to syndication from cable's TNT, the series sports a new actor in the leading role. John Bradley is the dashing English swordsman and archer, with Barbara Griffin playing Marion, who, in this version, is quite the fighter herself. Premieres at 11 a.m. Sunday on KNBC.
"Stargate SG-1": After running on Showtime, this science-fiction series, based on the 1994 feature film, will now be available to the rest of the world. It stars Richard Dean Anderson ("MacGyver") as an Air Force officer who heads a team charged with traveling to other planets through the Stargate portal to battle aliens bent on attacking Earth. Premieres at 5 p.m. Sunday on KTTV.
"Air America": Lorenzo Lamas, another syndication veteran ("Renegade") stars as a CIA agent who runs a commercial airline business in South America, where he handles everything from running covert missions to flying in guests for a luxury hotel. Sundays at 7 p.m. on KCAL, beginning Oct. 4.
TALK, GAMES AND REALITY
"The Roseanne Show": She was always a lively guest; now we'll see if Roseanne can keep things entertaining as the host of her own talk show, which she says will try to uplift and inspire viewers. Weekdays at 10 a.m. on KNBC. Already premiered.
"Donny & Marie": Another contender in the always-crowded talk field, this one features the Osmond siblings who, while teenagers, starred in their own variety show on ABC in the 1970s. Weekdays at 9 a.m. on KTTV, starting Monday.
"Maury": Same host, same genre, but Maury Povich says his new talk show will be more personal than the one he's hosted the previous seven years. It sports a new title, a new producer and a new distributor. Weekdays at 10 a.m. and 1 a.m. on KCAL. Already premiered.
"Hollywood Squares": Starting in 1966, this comedic game show takeoff on Tic Tac Toe ran for 14 years. Now it's being dusted off and stocked with a new generation of celebrities, including Whoopi Goldberg in the center square. Weeknights at 7:30 p.m. on KCBS. Already premiered.
"Match Game": Also getting dusted off for yet another revival is this game show, which in various incarnations has run on ABC, CBS, NBC and in syndication. The fill-in-the-blank competition will be hosted by Michael Burger, with Vicki Lawrence, Nell Carter, George Hamilton and Judy Tenuta as the anchor panelists. Weekdays at 3 p.m. on KCBS, beginning Monday.
"Living Better With Carrie Wiatt": From meal planning to exercise to decorating, Wiatt's goal is to "remove the stress from everyday tasks, making them easier and more enjoyable." Sundays at 9:30 a.m. on KNBC, beginning Oct. 4.
"Judge Joe Brown": Can't get enough TV justice from "Judge Judy," "The People's Court" or the month-old "Judge Mills Lane"? Then try this courtroom, featuring a native of South Central Los Angeles who is now a presiding Superior Court judge in Memphis, Tenn. Weekdays at 10:30 a.m. on KCOP. Already premiered.
"Oneworld Music Beat": This weekly series, hosted by Russell Simmons, is described as a showcase for the R&B; music scene, featuring interviews and performance footage of the genre's top stars. Saturdays at midnight on KCAL, beginning this week.
"Motown Live": Robert Townsend will host and invite a cross-section of R&B;, hip-hop and pop performers--including the Temptations, Chaka Khan and Mary J. Blige--to his series. Fridays at midnight on KCOP, beginning Oct. 2.