SallyAnn Salsano’s freshman panel show is posting encouraging ratings, good enough that distributor Warner Bros. is lining up stations for a second season. “I think we’re like a fungus,” says Salsano of 495 Productions. “We’ll grow and grow and take over. We’re reaching the [young] demographic that’s the hardest to reach in daytime TV. But, we know we have to grow the ratings. We need the word of mouth to spread.”
SallyAnn Salsano is best known for bringing Jersey Shore and its spinoffs to television. But these days the founder of 495 Productions is fine-tuning her Los Angeles-based panel talk show The Real to strengthen its appeal to its sizeable core audience of young women while reaching out to attract broader viewership.
The Real was sold last year to stations in one- and two-year deals, including launch group Fox Television Stations. A spokesperson for distributor Warner Bros. says the company is now actively securing renewals for the show.
On The Real, co-hosts Tamar Braxton, Loni Love, Adrienne Bailon, Jeannie Mai and Tamera Mowry-Housley offer viewers a View-style conversation on pop culture, relationships and everyday life, but with a decidedly younger vibe.
The Real so far this season is tied with Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams at No. 4 among all talk shows in the women 18-34 demographic with a 0.7 rating. But it’s in a three-way tie at No. 7 among women 18-49 with NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution’s Steve Harvey and Jerry Springer. And it’s tied at No. 10 among women 25-54 with CBS Television Distribution’s Rachael Ray.
Salsano says she’s taking some inspiration from Wendy, which initially had a small audience of young women, but broadened its base over a few years by polishing its look, tightening its structure and building on its opening segment about celebrity gossip. Wendy now ranks No. 5 among talk shows in the key advertising demographic, women 25-54.
Salsano, who has produced episodes of Sally Jessy Raphael in the early 2000s, spoke with TVNewsCheck‘s Contributing Editor Kevin Downey about The Real and efforts to build the ratings.
You’re known for producing reality TV shows like Jersey Shore and CMT’s Party Down South. Has it been tough to switch over to daytime talk?
I was a talk show producer. It was my first job. This is how I learned how to be in this business.
For years, people have been asking me to do a talk show. But none of the shows were something I believed in as strongly as The Real. It took me a bunch of time to get back into this, but I’ve always known I’d do something again in daytime.
But daytime is a beast. You put your heart and soul into a daytime show, so you have to believe it has a chance. There are talk show producers who take a show just because they need the paycheck. For me, I already have a job. I really wanted to do this show.
Why? What is it about this show that you believe in?
I was involved in the casting, which is a huge deal for me. I love putting people together and predicting what their chemistry will be.
I’m a huge fan of multi-host shows like The View back in the day, The Talk, Live with Kelly & Michael and I love Kathie Lee and Hoda [on Today]. I love the chemistry between these people.
But no one is speaking to my generation, at all. No one is speaking to our audience. Believe me, what I talk about with my girlfriends at Sunday brunch is not what is happening on Monday on daytime talk shows.
When I put this group of girls together on The Real I thought, “Wow, they sound like me.” They’re like our peers, rather than someone we’re learning from. They are growing and learning along with us.
Why are panel shows hot in daytime TV?
It’s a lot of pressure for one person to launch a talk show. Back in the day, when there was Donahue and Sally, people loved them. But they watched the shows for the guests.
Today, because of reality TV, viewers want to hear about [hosts’] lives and they want to hear their opinions.
There’s also a little something for everyone. Think of the cast of Jersey Shore. Some people watched because they liked Ronnie. Some people tuned in for Pauly. Some people showed up for whoever.
It makes you feel like you’re part of the conversation when you’re listening to five girls talk.
And, sometimes, co-hosts are good second bananas. I mean that in the best way possible. Some girls are great at giving reactions. They key up the first girl. That’s what’s working on The Real.
What are you learning about the five co-hosts and how they work together?
At the top of the show with Girl Chat you can tell they are actually friends and like hanging out with each other. When the show isn’t on, they hang out together.
That makes a big difference on the show. Even when they’re debating a topic, it stays friendly. It doesn’t go to a bad place.
I’m not saying I happened to find five friends and put them on TV. We put them together and the truth of the matter is that they really like each other.
What isn’t working on the show?
We had an opportunity to figure out the show with our summer test. That’s like having a cheat sheet. Other shows go on the air and figure it out on the air. We didn’t have to do that.
But it is still a new show, so we’re learning and finding our groove. The thing that is working for us is fun. I always tell the girls, “We do dumb better than anyone.” We laugh about it. But it’s true.
We’re not a news organization. Like, I recommend viewers go somewhere else if there’s a breaking news story. That’s not our bag.
When The Real got a test run in summer 2013, it quickly found an audience. Its ratings in some markets were really strong. Why?
It filled a void. There’s a void of young people who are hip on daytime TV. Some other shows try to appeal to everyone.
Our thing is we want to attract people who want to hang out with these girls. If you watch it, you can relate to at least one of them. It’s not an age thing. It’s a state of mind about how you want to go about your life.
And if you have a daughter or a niece or a granddaughter and you want to know what’s going on in their world, watch this show.
From speaking with station GMs, it sounds like The Real will be back for a second season. If so, do you anticipate making any changes to the show?
Everyone is still growing in their roles, and that will continue.
I like the look of the show. It looks like a primetime set with all the lights turned on. That was a conscious choice. We didn’t want to look like anyone else.
The girls also don’t dress like they’re on a daytime TV show, which is a conscious effort. They’re dressed like it’s Friday night at 11:30 p.m. and we’re heading out. There are enough blazers and sweater sets out there; the other shows have that covered. I like that look, too, but it doesn’t represent our audience.
What do you think of your ratings so far?
I think we’re like a fungus. We’ll grow and grow and take over.
What’s interesting, though, is that we’re reaching the [young] demographic that’s the hardest to reach in daytime TV. We are reaching the people we set out to reach.
But, we know we have to grow the ratings. We need the word of mouth to spread. We’re staying humble. And we are staying true to who we are and hoping that each day more and more people find us.
But how do you broaden The Real’s reach while holding onto the younger viewers?
I think Wendy Williams has a really good lesson for us. At the beginning, people were so shocked that she was up there talking about gossip. But she hung in there. She stayed true to who she is.
With new shows, you need time to grow. It takes time for people to hear about you. We’re not on the back cover of People magazine or on billboards. So, we have to grow by word of mouth, which is happening.
How are you promoting this show? A lot of talk shows put their hosts on local affiliates’ morning shows or on newscasts. Are you doing any of that?
Warner Bros. has an affiliate marketing team that handles most of that. But I do communicate with the guys at the stations.
The girls did a big tour at the beginning. They divided up the country for a tour for about two months.
And we also do shout outs on the show to local markets. At the top of the show, we have whiteboards where we give shout outs to people on Twitter. We give shout outs to our stations and to our fans.
Do you have any specific plans to drum up ratings?
We have a bunch of stuff planned, but I’m not really sure I want to talk about it.
There’s a lot of stuff we do all the time to bump up the ratings. But the only thing you can really count on is what makes your show different. In our case, our messengers are different, more current and they’re unafraid to be who they are.