Michael J. Fox may have quit "Spin City" at the end of the TV season, but he will be rolling in syndication heaven starting in the fall. And Stuart Weiss, president and founder of promotion agency Studio City, intends to make sure TV viewers are ready and waiting.

Companies like Paramount Domestic Television, which is distributing "Spin City" in syndication, turn to firms like Studio City to make their shows snap, crackle and pop in 10- to 30-second blurbs aimed at hooking viewers to their shows.

"What we try to do is (turn) every episode into an event," said Weiss, a former NBC vice president in charge of on-air promotions. "It is not just Heather Locklear and Michael kissing. It's 'Michael's First Kiss.'"

It's Studio City's job to distill the essence of an episode into fast-moving promotional spots. Like with movie trailers, most of the material comes from the show itself, though sometimes new material is shot. Music is nearly always added to heighten the impact.

"We brighten something," Weiss said. "We add energy if something has a hole. We add music to set up a joke and use dynamic cutting. We heighten the funny. If something isn't funny, we can add a sound effect like a cow bell or a horse whinnying."

The price of getting noticed

Clients of Studio City don't buy one or two promos, but a package of spots that vary in length 5-, 10-, 15-, 20- and 30-seconds. Prices for such a package range from $4,500 to $25,000 depending on the amount of work needed. If original material must be shot for a promo, the price could soar into six figures like the $185,000 spent on the package of spots for the late-night syndicated comedy "Change of Heart."

In the cluttered world of 500-channel television, a sharply pointed promo can make all the difference, and the services of well-known promo producers are highly in demand. But the industry that has sprung up to serve the $1 billion annual market is a highly competitive one, and only the strong survive.

Weiss and the 31 staffers at Studio City, which is located near the Studio City area of Los Angeles, are considered among the best at what they do, and have won numerous Promax Awards, sort of the Oscars of the TV marketing business. The company is currently a finalist in seven categories for this year's awards ceremony, which gets underway June 14 in New Orleans.


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