The CBS Television Distribution show, hosted by rapper and former radio personality MC Serch, which today begins a four-week test on eight Tribune stations, including WPIX New York and KTLA Los Angeles, is meant to fit into the Tribune stations’ conflict-talk lineup.
In the first episode of the talk show Serch with host MC Serch, a troubled teenager with scars from three gunshot wounds is defiant and uncaring, particularly toward his desperate mother who’s trying to keep him out of trouble.
But by the end, the teenager is crying and hugging Serch, who promises to help him transform his life with the help of a mentor — music producer and entrepreneur Russell Simmons.
The CBS Television Distribution show, which today begins a four-week test on eight Tribune stations, including WPIX New York and KTLA Los Angeles, is meant to fit into the Tribune stations’ conflict-talk lineup.
But as the inaugural episode attests, Serch is attempting a fresh approach to the syndication sub-genre.
“I would like to think I am an anomaly in this type of show,” says Serch (real name: Michael Berrin), a rapper and former radio personality. “From the top down, all the executives at CTD and Tribune, to our executive producer Ethan Nelson, are trying to find people who want to fix their problems. We are not trying to find people who want to be ridiculed.”
And at least in the test episodes, there isn’t any hooting, hollering or egging on guests to pummel each other.
“The stories are conflict talk, but the focus is on helping people transform their lives,” says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, the former Telepictures president who is now president of creative affairs at CTD.
“The guests who are coming on have significant issues. Serch has a great way of connecting with them, to make the situation more positive. They feel inspired by him.”
The show is the third joint production of CTD and Tribune. The others are conflict show The Test and the latenight Arsenio Hall.
Serch is also notable in that it’s the first time CTD is involved in testing a show and first time Tribune is testing a show with another syndicator.
Tests give producers a chance to tweak shows and distributors an opportunity to guage the appeal among viewers before committing to national distribution. Production partnerships spread out the financial risk to more than one company.
“By partnering with us, syndicators position themselves well around the country,” says Matt Cherniss, president and general manager of Tribune Studios and the cable network WGN America. “That has value.”
For Tribune, the partnerships also give the station group more control over the content.
“I think we should have an active role in what goes on our air so we should be actively participating in crafting the show,” Cherniss says. “We have stayed close to this show throughout the process.”
If the initial test ratings are good, CTD and Tribune could decide to go national with the show within days and start hunting for additional stations to carry it.
CTD will have to move fast if it hopes to clear the show in most markets by the fall.
“Traditionally, you have more time to clear a show,” says McLoughlin. “I’m not sure anyone has done it this late, in January. But we are prepared. [CTD President of Sales] Joe DiSalvo is a very talented salesperson. He and his team are going to go out and get it cleared. And Tribune has a large footprint, which is great.”
“My expectation is that the majority of the Tribune footprint will carry the show,” says Cherniss. It’s a big footprint. With the acquisition of Local TV LLC last month, the group extended its reach to 44% of TV homes.
Tribune stations have room for the show, says Sean Compton, president of programming and entertainment for the Tribune stations. “We will find space for it.”
Meantime, Serch says he is proceeding as if the show will pass its test and is busy lining up guests and doing what he can to promote the show. (No decision has been made on whether he will attend the NATPE programming conference at the end of the month.)
“I’m going to use the model I used when I did my nationally syndicated radio show, which I did for five years,” Serch says. “I made sure each of our program directors and GMs felt the show had a local feel.
“I am going to use social media, local radio stations and local TV stations to bring in guests from local markets. We did a pretty good job with that in the 20 test episodes [we taped]. That way, there is an automatic connection in local markets.”
On Tuesday, Serch will be a guest on CTD’s Arsenio.