Ellen Reese has a problem. The attractive waitress from Northern California wants to remain a virgin until she is married, but is finding it increasingly more difficult.
And Teri Foster Brooks, an Encino, Calif., secretary, says she is too understanding, allowing her boyfriend to continually (sometimes four times a week) cancel their dates at the last minute because one of his old girlfriends called "with a problem."
Then there's Brian Hollman, a financial consultant, who can't stand the fact that his wife is a compulsive cleaner. She says he's a slob, and she cleans up ashtrays before the ashes have time to settle.
Those problems may be real to the people involved, but to Bob Stewart Productions they are grist for a budding new television show called "The Love Experts." The show will make its debut in the fall as the latest entry in a new wave of game/talk shows dominating much of the television air time being filled by syndicated (nonnetwork) programming.
And independent producers such as Stewart are earning a growing portion of the $80 million generated by television's game show industry. Sources say that game shows sold through syndication now earn $30 million annually.
The largest syndicator is Viacorn International Inc., and the president of its enterprises division, Hank Gillespie, says the key to the success of any show is that it gives people what they want, and stays up with the times, which in television "change a lot faster than, say, the clothing industry."
"The Love Experts," which Viacorn already has sold to about 25 stations (including ones in the all-important New York and Los Angeles markets) for the fall, "is really an Ann Landers of the air," Gillespie says. "It's a jocular, how-to, service-type show. That's what people want to see."
In the Love Experts, hosted by game show veteran Bill Cullen, three different people come on the air (one after the other) and explain their "love problem" to a panel of "celebrity guests" such as Soupy Sales, Joanne Worley, and Dehra Lee Scott.
After discussing the problem with each of the contestants, and occasionally coming up with some advice - usually in the form of a cute comment - the celebrity guest panel votes at the end of each show for the most creative problem. The winner gets a color TV or a trip to Hawaii.
To help Teri Foster Brooks, for example, Souply Sales recommended dropping her elusive boyfriend. "He just wants his Kate, and Edith, too," Sales quipped. "Dump him."
"The stress is on entertainment," said Bob Stewart in an interview during the first tapings of his show here recently. "This is really an advice show for young kids. Every human being falls in love sooner or later and has problems. It has the basic ingredients common to all of us love and human relations."
"But," he adds, "nobody dies of a broken heart, that's b - t. We try to show, through the humor of it all, that there is always a tomorrow."
One way to minimize the effects of any problem is to use only attractive contestants, a policy Stewart's staff strictly adheres to when seaking subjects through newspaper ad, interviews, or even at the supermarkets.
"When you see one of these gorgeous women up there talking about some kind of problem with her boyfriend, all you have to do is look at her and you know she can walk away and find a new boyfriend inside of a week," Stewart says.
But Stewart has observed a disturbing trend in the game-show industry.
"There is a diminishing IQ of the audience," Stewart contends.
"Now, we have to go with less information and more sparkle and lights," he said. "We even have to put the answers on the screen for the at-home audience, because we find people no longer like to watch shows where they, too, have to figure out the answer. They want to know the answer. They would rather be entertained than tested because they don't know the answers."
Syndication is the alternative to network programming in television. It involves the individual sale of a show or series to television stations in every major market, rather than the sale to a network which in turn distributes the show through its own affiliates.
"Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" was one of the first shows that "proved that a lot money could be made through syndication," says Viacom's Gillespie.
Now, Gillespie says, syndication takes over where the networks leave off.
"When the networks cut down on westerns, we picked them up," he said, "And the same thing happened with cops-and-robbers show. Wherever they slow down, we'll be there, because there is still a market for all kinds of programming."
In the case of westerns and police shows, that programming frequently involves buying syndication rights to reruns of former first-run series such as "Mod Squad," "Bonanza," or "Perry Mason."
These shows can be sold to individual stations for day or nighttime use, and just how they are used varies from city to city depending on the deal worked out between the syndicator and the individual station.
But an increasing number of shows are being produced by independent production companies and sold through syndicators - the way Norman Lear sold "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman." Depending on the city in which you lived, Mary Hartman appeared on the screen anytime from noon to midnight.
Many independent production companies - like Bob Stewart, Chuck Barris Productions, Goodson-Toddman, and Heatter-Quigly - have undertaken several ventures in the game-show area, which for years dropped virtually out of sight in network programming after a rigging scandal in the 1950s.
"They are easy shows to produce," Gillespie says. "They don't cost too much money, and at night they are an alternative to network programming, giving audiences a choice of something different to watch."
And the industry numbers prove that viewers want that choice.
He points to the success of such shows as "Hollywood Squares," "Family Feud" and "The Newlywed Game" - which, not unlike "The Love Experts," explore the inner workings of relationships between young - mostly attractive - men and women.
And the money to be made on such shows is big. For about a $70,000 stake, Stewart can start up a game show - up to and including the production of the first 10 shows (done during the weekend.) "To come up with the idea, the investment I need is $1.19 for a pen and a yellow pad," Stewart says.
But the profits can be enormous. If "The Love Experts" is a success as a five-day-a-week show in the fall, Stewart alone will make about $500,000 on it - and that is after the syndicator takes his 40 percent of gross. With 25 cities in the pocket already, Viacom's Gillespie says 10 more will make the show profitable, and 100 would make it a smash.
And Stewart does not worry about what the TV critics will do to his show when they see it for the first time.
"The critics has very little impact in television," he says. "People are curious about new shows, especially when they deal with topics of general interest. Everybody will take a look."
And, he adds, "By the time they find out that what they are watching is crap, they've already watched it."