The presence of several new shows and their talent at NATPE next week should make for a livelier convention and reassure broadcasters about the health of syndication, one of the cornerstones of their business.
As the big Hollywood syndicators closed down their poolside cabanas at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach during the waning hours of NATPE last year, Hearst Television programming chief Emerson Coleman said not to make too much of the fact that for the second year in a row new, big-budget, first-run shows had failed to materialize to pump life into the convention.
Such “big stage” productions for Big Four network affiliates would be back, he said. Having spoken to the studios and talent agents, he was certain that there were still those eager to take a shot and land the big broadcast money. “The drought will not continue.”
It turns out that Coleman was right on the mark.
Just like old times, two top syndicators — Disney and NBCU — will set up shop at NATPE next week (Jan. 22-24) with “big stage” cash-and-barter shows to sell to network affiliates for fall debuts, having already cleared the major markets with their intra-corporate O&Os groups.
NBCU will be pitching The Kelly Clarkson Show featuring the pop singer who soared to fame by winning the first season of American Idol in 2002 and who now is a judge on NBC’s The Voice.
Meanwhile, Disney is betting on a talk show with Tamron Hall, who was bumped from her co-anchoring job on the third hour of the Today show last year to make way for the Megyn Kelly’s ill-fated hour.
Clarkson and Hall will lead a parade of somewhat less expensive projects in Miami Beach being made available this fall on a straight barter basis.
Most notably, Sony has unveiled a talk show with life coach, author and former radio personality Melanie “Mel” Robbins and signed up Tribune to be its launch group.
Fox has recruited well-known TV personality Meredith Vieira to host a game show, 25 Words or Less. Its clearances, of course, start with the Fox O&Os.
In addition to Hall, NBCU will also be shopping a court show with Jerry Springer, even as his NBCU-distributed conflict show continues to air in repeats.
CBS is in the middle of testing a talk show with controversial educator and motivational speaker Dr. Steve Perry on Fox stations in eight markets, including New York (WNYW) and Los Angeles (KTTV). The two-week test ends this Friday (Jan. 18).
MGM is bringing out two half-hour shows — The Drama and Personal Injury Court. The Drama features a cast of experts who hand out advice with a touch of humor to people with relationship, parenting, work, finance or fashion problems. On the court show, Gino Brogdon will preside over cases involving broken bones and such.
PPI Partners will offer another show from its Canadian pipeline, Bell Media’s true crime Forensic Factor, in either an hour or half-hour formats. “It’s a high-gloss production that looks and feels like a scripted procedural,” says PPI’s Ritch Colbert.
Bryon Allen’s Entertainment Studios will expand its array of offerings with The World’s Funniest Weather, weather-related videos compiled by TV stations, national news organizations and viewers.
“Compared with recent years, there is an explosion of content,” Coleman now says in assessing the current state of syndication. “Everybody is taking a swing. It’s a very, very busy year with healthy competition.
“There will be a lot of activity … going into NATPE, and right after NATPE too. Kelly Clarkson is going to be there and Tamron is going to be there and Mel Robins is going to be there and Meredith is going to be there. It’s is going to be the center of attention and it will be transactional.”
What’s more, Coleman says, he wouldn’t be surprised if another show or two were introduced at NATPE.
The opportunity for Clarkson arose when it became clear the move of Steve Harvey’s talk show to Los Angeles in 2017 after five seasons of success in Chicago was a bust and that its syndication run would likely end with this season. NBCU distributes the show and the NBC O&Os air it at 2 p.m.
Determined to hang on to the Steve time slots, NBCU came up with Clarkson, and the NBC O&Os were quick to accept the substitute.
The ABC O&Os are not yet saying what they will remove from their daytime schedules to make way for Hall, but speculation is that it will be the hour comprising Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Right This Minute. Both of those shows are distributed by Disney.
Clarkson and Hall are rivals for clearances, but they are not entirely mutually exclusive. Case in point is Hearst Television.
The station group announced last December that it had picked up Hall in 24 markets, pushing the show’s clearance to around 50% of TV homes. And Coleman tells TVNewsCheck that Hearst will carry Clarkson in at least 12 markets and that, when all is said and done, it may have both shows in as many as 10 markets. Coleman says he’ll make room for the second new show by shedding programs like Access Hollywood Live and double runs.
Jed Cohen, head of distribution for Disney’s syndication arm, says the Hall station lineup has expanded considerably since the Hearst announcement with deals with such leading groups as Cox, Sinclair, Meredith and Scripps. (Disney is promising details on clearances next week.)
Despite the long, long odds of success, the syndicators are undaunted heading into NATPE, believing they have the right talent, format and business plan to join the ranks of consistent and indomitable money makers like Ellen, Dr. Phil, Jeopardy and Judge Judy.
Cohen says the fate of daytime shows rests on the strength of the talent, and none is stronger than Hall, whose career has spanned small-market local news and the heights of network news at NBC. She has all the qualities it takes — “intelligent, authoritative, relatable, credible, warm and caring,” he says.
Although Robbins will not have the budget and lacks the TV experience of Clarkson and Hall, Sony is no less enthusiastic about her prospects.
John Weiser, president of first-run syndication at Sony, points out that she is the No. 1 woman motivational speaker in the world according to several speakers bureaus and Audible’s best-selling self-help author in 2017.
“Mel is unpacking people’s problems and giving them actionable advice right on the spot. That’s why so many people relate to her. It’s what her best-selling book 5 Second Rule is all about: get out of your head and start taking action.”
Fox Television stations programmer Frank Cicha says Vieira’s willingness to host 25 Words was key to the decision to go forward with it. “She fit perfectly with the game where you have a half dozen people trying to be the funniest person in the room.”
She and the show proved themselves in a 15-episode test last summer on the Fox stations, Cicha says.
(Cicha wasn’t ready to pronounce judgement on CBS’s Steve Perry show, which is still in its test run, although he said he was excited to be doing business with CBS and having original programming in January.)
A couple of syndication’s biggest names will be relatively quiet at NATPE, focusing on the renew rather than the new.
Warner Bros. failed to get traction with a talk show hosted by drag queen and TV personality and producer RuPaul. Debmar-Mercury is hoping to test a couple of new shows — one with Jerry O’Connell and another with Will Packer — on Fox later this year.
In any event, the presence of several new shows and their talent at NATPE should make for a livelier convention and reassure broadcasters about the health of syndication, one of the cornerstones of their business.
Says Disney’s Cohen: “I think it is great that that we are feeling this little bit of buzz and excitement about the business and about the fall of ’19. I think it is great for TV stations.”