Talking TV: Is ‘Daily Blast Live’ The New Model For Syndies?
For years now, the syndication market has been constricting, with studios redirecting their dollars and creative energies toward bets in streaming. Station groups are not overjoyed at the slim pickings left on the shelves.
At Tegna, executives feel they’ve landed on a solution with Daily Blast Live, an hourlong talker that pairs five hosts to gab about current events and celebrity news. The Denver-shot show is a lean production and, its producers say, a utility player in the daytime rota. They say it’s also a likely harbinger of shows to come — cheap, developed by station groups, rather than studios and staying away from the news territory over which the groups are zealously proprietary.
In this Talking TV conversation, Brian Weiss, VP of entertainment programming and multicast networks at Tegna and Burt Dubrow, Daily Blast Live’s executive producer, share why they feel the show works and where station groups will need to turn to fill syndication gaps left by the studios.
Episode transcript below, edited for clarity.
Michael Depp: Hello, and welcome to Talking TV. I’m Michael Depp, editor of TVNewsCheck. We all know that the syndicated TV market is shrinking, but what’s going to be left when the smoke clears?
My guests today are hopeful that their syndicated offering, Daily Blast Live, will continue to be one of the shows left standing. Daily Blast Live is a weekday hour now in its seventh season, produced and distributed by Tegna, that finds its five hosts riffing on current events with a heavy emphasis on celebrity news. My guests today are its executive producer, Burt Dubrow and Brian Weiss, the VP of entertainment programing and multicast networks for Tegna.
We’ll be talking about what makes this show a “sustainable option for broadcasters’ content needs” in Weiss’ words, how they see the syndication market continuing to evolve as broadcasters’ content needs widen but their budget budgets shrink. We’ll be right back with that conversation.
Welcome, Brian Weiss and Burt Dubrow, to Talking TV.
Burt Dubrow: Thank you, good to be here.
Brian Weiss: Thanks.
Burt, you launched The Sally Jesse Raphael Show and you helped to launch Jerry Springer into public consciousness — may your maker forgive you for that, perhaps, in some regards.
Burt Dubrow: What a way to begin! My goodness! OK, OK. My maker, yeah.
But Daily Blast Live is your baby. So, what’s the elevator pitch for it for those who are unfamiliar?
Burt Dubrow: Well, it is a live, topical show. I say it’s sort of like a contemporary version of The View meets the third half hour of The Today Show. That’s kind of what it is to help, you know, for someone to relate to another show. That’s what it is. We’re a very opinionated show, a point of view show. We talk about what our motto is. If you’re talking about it, we’re talking about it. And it’s true. It’s true. If you’re talking about something. Chances are when you put on DBL, we’ll be talking about it as well.
And topically, I said at the top, it was sort of celebrity oriented. Do you veer away from that patch at all?
Burt Dubrow: I don’t veer away, but it’s not celebrity oriented. I mean, we’re proud to say — not that there’s anything wrong with celebrities, but the show really revolves around the five people that are sitting at that desk. It’s really all about them. It’s about their chemistry.
And I will tell you there all the comments or many of the comments, most of the comments that we get are really just that. Some people have said that if Friends had a TV talk show, this would be it. And it’s real. And, you know, everything I say, and I hear it come out of my mouth when I say it sounds so cliche, but it really, in fact, is true. They really are friendly. They hang out after work, but they’re able to get behind that desk and really go at it, sometimes argue, express their opinion. But as we say at the end of the show, it wouldn’t be surprising for them to go out and have lunch together or drink or whatever. That’s really where the focus of the show is.
I want to talk a little bit more about the hosts in just a couple of minutes. But first, Brian, Tegna is behind this show. Where did the idea start? Did Burt come to you with the kernel of the show, or did you say, Hey, Tegna needs an entertainment magazine for its stations?
Brian Weiss: No, actually, in fact, Daily Blast Live has been around at Tegna actually before Burt or I were here. And actually, I can say this, and I sincerely mean this. I give our leadership — Dave Lougee, our CEO, in particular— a lot of credit for taking a chance.
You know, seven seasons ago, actually under a different moniker, I believe it was called Bold when it first launched and eventually evolved into Daily Blast Live. There was kind of a goal where Tegna basically said, I think we can do a show in the format that we take typically syndicated programing but build it on our own. Let’s build something really topical that makes sense for our stations that sort of blends this idea of news and opinion and covers the topics of the day that doesn’t compete with our news programing but is adjacent to our news programing, can be a really solid lead into our news programing. And let’s sort of take the reins on it.
We can also produce it, by the way, in Denver, where Burt is at KUSA, which is one of our flagship stations, and do it on a cost model that probably is substantially lower than certainly at the time we were paying for some of these sorts of A-list shows.
And so, it’s been really a labor of love and an investment for the company, a show that we continue to invest in. And we’ve added resources, you know, over its seven-year evolution, to really make it the show it is today.
And what I would say is, you know, Michael, we built the show seven years ago really as a show that would perform well on Tegna stations. And we’re really hitting an inflection point now where it is not just a Tegna show, it is really becoming a sort of national syndicated show that a lot of our broadcast peers are finally taking notice of. And finally sort of seeing the value of the show can present to them both in terms of audience, but also, as you mentioned in the lead in, this idea of sustainable economics.
Brian, what’s the time period that this tends to run in? And what is it typically up against?
Brian Weiss: Daytime. So, this is offered typically as a daytime show. We have different windows that we make it available. But typically, it is in the afternoon hours. You know, most Tegna stations carry it at either 2:00 or 3:00 in the local market. We do also offer a 30-minute access show that stations can use on delay. So, it’s been a really good sort of daytime utility player for our affiliates.
The relatively low production cost is obviously a key part of the value proposition here. You mentioned it’s shot at KUSA, a Tegna Station in Denver. Does it have its own studio there? And do you have to work around newscast production or shared space?
Brian Weiss: It’s got an amazing studio, which we’re really fortunate to have when the vision sort of came alive for Daily Blast Live and for recording it in Denver. There was a studio that was available for it. And luckily Mark Cornetta, our SVP of media operations and our general manager there, has been extremely supportive of it. But it’s a real operation. It is totally standalone and totally separate from what happens with the news product at the station. But it’s become sort of its own sort of standalone team and it’s really an amazing production. Burt, you want to just talk a little bit about, you know, the sort of operation that happens there?
Burt Dubrow: Yeah, what I was going to say is that, you know, I have I’ve been fortunate enough to do this several times the same way. For instance, you mentioned Sally. Sally started in Saint Louis, Mo., at KSDK, which is one of our stations, coincidentally. Jerry started at WLW in Cincinnati. So, I’m sort of used to working with a station like that.
I have to say that out of all the ones that I’ve done, Mark Cornetta is probably the most supportive person that general manager that we’ve ever had. So, we give him kudos because he’s really helped this show a lot. But as Brian said, we stand on our own. We’re our own production. News does their thing down the hall and we’re in a locked studio and we do our thing.
Let’s talk about the hosts, Burt, you brought them up before. Obviously, the chemistry that they have with each other seems to be … the show kind of lives or dies around that, doesn’t it?
Burt Dubrow: You know, each executive producer that does what I do, I think has probably different likes, dislikes, strengths. I’ve always been a talent guy. I’ve always been all about the talent. I’m not a big concept person. I’m more of a talent person.
And I’ll tell you, when I got here to Denver, it was a different show. It was a much softer show. It was a lot more trending, like you said, celebrity kinds of topics. And we changed that according to the people that are home available watching daytime television and these hosts, and here comes another cliche, but I’m going to say it are better than any hosts that I’ve ever worked with in my life. Or frankly, I would not be sitting here talking to you. They are that good. People come in the studio and watch the show and cannot believe that there’s no real teleprompter script. There is for intros, but that’s it. They just go.
Where are they coming from? What’s their background?
Burt Dubrow: Well, Sam Schacher, who’s the host, was actually one of my co-hosts on the Dr. Drew Pinsky Show for CNN that I did before I came to DBL. Al Jackson, stand-up comic, still standup comic. He tours on the weekends. Erica Cobb was on the radio all over the country. Tory Shulman did a little bit of stand up or she likes to say was working on an ice cream shop right before she got DBL. Who am I leaving out here?
Brian Weiss: Jeff Schroeder!
Burt Dubrow: Jeff Schroeder, Big Brother. That’s how everybody knows him. He was on Big Brother. Turns out that the lady that won Big Brother that year, Jordan, he married. They moved to Denver. They have two kids. And here we are. A lot of children have been born actually, since we’ve been since we’ve been doing the show.
And Michael, just one thing — I just wanted to say this about, you know, sort of our cast of talent. You know, they are able to have conversations that, to be honest, other networks, other shows have not been able to thread the needle in terms of having really good diverse dialogues about sometimes some prickly issues, different sides of the political spectrum, you name it, various cultural differences. They are able to have those conversations because they genuinely love each other in a way that never veers into the toxic. And that, I think, is something that we’re really proud of.
I’m curious about the direction of a show like this. Obviously, you have some pre-selected topics that you’re going to touch on in an hour. And then this is sometimes cut down to half an hour for some stations. Is the director kind of nudging this along or when the conversation lags a little or are they kind of flagging or let’s move on to the next topic, or is it all living with the host? The shot clock starts, and they just go to the end?
Burt Dubrow: Well, they’re not that good. No, here’s the way it works. At 6:30 in the morning, we do a call with myself and our executive producer and the producers, and we literally choose the topics that morning. So, at 6:30 this morning, we chose the topics. The producers pitched them to us, and then we decide what the show is going to be at that point. We’re off the phone. The producers get to work. We all figure out how we’re going to do this.
8:15 we get on a call with the talent. We tell them what it is. They throw their two cents in and then we have a production meeting a half hour before in person with everybody. And that’s how it works.
As far as on the air is concerned. Sure, we move it along when we feel we need to move it along. Absolutely. But generally speaking, it’s their thing up there. It’s not really our thing. But, you know, they’ll be the first ones to say, hey, tell us when you want us to move it along and get to the next topic. They’re a breeze that way. There is not a lot of ego there. And that’s very, very unique, very unique. And that’s how it’s done.
There are other shows in this kind of category, like The Talk, The View, where you have people having a conversation. Not to psychologize too much, but I’m also curious about what you think audiences are getting from this. Is it being a fly on the wall for a conversation happening among people who genuinely like each other and have good rapport? Is it something vicarious that they’re getting from this dynamic?
Burt Dubrow: The answer is yes. All of that. The fly on the wall thing is a good way to put it. But I think for the most part, based on comments and surveys that we’ve done, they’re tuning in to see what these people have to say. That’s really what they’re doing. And they’re tuning in to see the fun. They’re seeing them poke at each other. I mean, and they really do poke at each other. And, you know, it’s at the point now where the producers know what to put on there. So, we know how the poking will go, you know, we know them so well.
I would say that we’re probably the only show that’s been in development for six years. We’ve made our mistakes. And I think, as Brian said, the industry is starting to really recognize us. And again, that’s how a lot of those — the other two shows — that you mentioned that I did started the exact same way as this: slow build, slow build, make your mistakes, figure out who your audience is, boom. And then take off.
And Tegna, god bless them, have been nice enough — smart enough, too, I would say — to let this thing percolate, percolate and grow. And as Brian said, I know I’m repeating, but Dave Lougee and Lynn Beall are the ones really behind that that let us do what we do.
How, in that process of percolation, how important has social media become for the show to keep its brand vivacious?
Burt Dubrow: Oh, well, that’s a darn good question. And Brian and I are looking and laughing at each other. Brian should answer that. But I think you have to have social media today because it’s something that’s very relevant. It presses certain buttons and if you don’t have it, you don’t appear to be relevant.
But I’d have to say that social media did not drive the audience watching this show. Promotion, publicity and doing a good show and letting it grow on its own is what made it happen. Don’t get me wrong, we have a nice social media footprint, but it’s not … I would say the person who could figure out how to take social media and let it make the audience bigger on broadcast is going to be a trillionaire because it really it just doesn’t translate. They’re two different audiences.
Brian Weiss: Yeah, I’ll echo that, Michael. And we are laughing because this is a conversation Burt and I have quite regularly about where our resources go, what our priorities are.
What I would say is that the idea, the show as it was formed, it was this idea that it would be extremely interactive. It would use a lot of social media. We do things like right now, if you watch the show online or on YouTube, you’ll actually be able to interact with the hosts during the commercial break.
So, there’s definitely a social layer and a digital layer. We have a really good following on Instagram. We’ve actually had some really good, successful moments on TikTok, some really short, pithy interactions that are sort of hilarious and show our hosts sort of ribbing each other, which have gone hyper viral on TikTok, which have been great.
That said, we keep shoveling coal on the fire of social media with the hope that it’s going to drive a younger audience to tune in. And as Burt said, I think that remains elusive, not just for us, but for linear television in general. And it remains an ambition and sort of a priority. But no one has really cracked the code on how you deliver, particularly a younger audience, to tune in, you know, say, in the afternoon. It’s a hard equation, but important.
Burt Dubrow: I think one of the important things for this show, for me anyway, and for Brian, is that we know our audience. We do not hide behind anything here. We know who’s watching at daytime. You know, I can give you a long list of things that I do horribly and a pretty short list of things that I do decent.
I know this audience and I’ve known them for a long time, and they have not changed. A lot of them, maybe politically, it’s you know, they’re a little bit more aware. But we are not afraid to say who our audience is, and we speak to them. That’s probably the first thing I did when I joined the show was get the audience together.
And that audience being demographically?
Burt Dubrow: Fifty-plus women.
Burt Dubrow: Fifty-plus women. That’s who’s home.
Let’s take the last leg of this conversation into the wider realm of the syndication market overall, which, you know, to say that it’s constricting would be putting it very, very mildly. Are we done seeing that dynamic or does syndication still have further pounds to shed?
Brian Weiss: It remains a question that we ask ourselves as well. By the way, Tegna, a collection of 56 local news stations, needs to fill programing, right? We need to put compelling programing on the air every day. And as we look at the landscape, it’s no secret that the traditional Hollywood studios have canceled a lot of marquee shows. They’ve pulled back on some of the ones that are still around. They’ve gone sort of library or half library. And we’re waiting to see, just as the rest of the industry is, whether those studios are going to reinvest money in daytime talk shows, syndicated shows, that sort of thing. Or will they put it toward streaming or movies or whatever else it might be? We’re sort of waiting on that.
What I can say is. The days of station groups like ours and our peers investing huge amounts of money in a new show with a really top-tier name associated with it upfront before we really know if that show will perform and really drive audience, I think those days either are past or are slipping away.
If something really great comes, we’ll certainly be interested, we’ll certainly be open and talking about it. But I think shows more similar to Daily Blast Live that are produced affordably, that are topical every day and new every day, and also, they are adjacent to news, which remains our core product, I think those shows are really the ones that will be in it for the long run.
We’ll still evaluate everything that comes out. We’re in conversations with other groups about new shows and things that they’re considering to bring out a year from now. But I think that the days of us sort of betting in hopes that the audience will be there, that’s very unlikely.
And one thing I would just say is, you know, to use Denver as an example, Daily Blast Live does better numbers than Dr. Phil was doing, Drew Barrymore, the list goes on. It was beating the sort of marquee name shows. And so, if station groups are suddenly being offered compelling shows like Daily Blast Live that performed just about as well as those shows. And I want to be very transparent about this. Right now, we’re offering the show at no cost to station groups. That’s a much better equation than writing a seven-figure check. So, that’s where I think the landscape is really evolving.
Burt Dubrow: Can I jump in?
Burt Dubrow: Do you mind? Yeah, I have to say this because I really feel very strongly about it. It’s a bit personal, but if you look at these other shows and take the other two that I did, when I started those shows, nobody knew who those people were. No one knew Sally. I thought Sally Jessy Raphael was three people. I had no idea. Nobody knew Jerry.
If you make a list of these shows that were successful—name vs. no name — I think you’d be quite surprised. If I could snap my fingers and get in a room with every general manager and just explain to them that that celebrity thing works the first three or four weeks or even the first three or four weeks before you go on the air because you get all this publicity. But when all is said and done, that person has to know how to do a show, has to be compelling enough, and you must hire producers that know how to do talk.
And I think part of the reason that this is sort of eroding is a lot of it is these shows are lousy. They’re not good. I mean they don’t know how to compel an audience. I think there is a way to do talk that works. So, I think that goes into what Brian says. That’s all.
Well, the problem is there’s not very much in the pipeline anymore in syndication. I mean, I think few people would argue that the $25 million talk show has much of a life in front of it. I mean, they’re just not working out. They’re too expensive. Obviously, costs are winnowing down a lot. So, it’s interesting that a show like this or, you know, the shows, Burt, that you worked on before started as local shows where people are trying that again now. They’re trying local talk shows. They’re trying things to see, OK, this works in this market. Can we widen it out to the region? And if it works in the region, maybe does it have a chance for national play? But, you know, Brian, to your point about waiting to see what the studios are going to do, do you really have a lot of faith that they are going to take any of their chips away from streaming and reinvest in syndication?
Brian Weiss: Well, here’s what I would say. Do I have a ton of faith? I’m not sure I have a ton of faith. What I would say, though, is I think all of those studio groups are looking at their profitability statements. And actually, in many cases, the pendulum is swinging back to what has worked for them in the past, where streaming is not necessarily the profitability boon that they expected it would be.
And so, you know, a lot of them are shifting back to doing things like traditional licensing. And so, it’s possible. It’s possible. I don’t know if it’s probable, but it’s possible that some of them may say, you know what, linear television remains a force in viewership habits.
It may be changing, the landscape may be evolving, but linear television is here to stay and we’re going to invest but do it in a leaner way. Do it in a way that perhaps the talent isn’t paid, you know, an absolute fortune upfront, but benefits on the long tail. There may be different ways to think about those things.
I also think a lot of studios will begin to engage with their broadcast partners about doing these things, potentially as joint ventures, as partnerships, that sort of thing, where maybe two broadcast groups come in on a show and help them build it from the ground up. That, of course, is not the frothy economics that it used to be for a studio that gets to keep effectively everything, but it reduces their risk, and it encourages the parties to commit to have distribution for a long term.
We’re not doing that. I can tell you there’s nothing like, you know, that we’re prepared to announce, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s where the dialogue goes. And I just want to point to, you know, the news peg that we’re here today to talk about is the idea that our friends over at Sinclair — and we give them a lot of credit — they’re picking up Daily Blast Live in 20 markets. That is an example of broadcast groups collaborating with each other in perhaps a way that they have not before.
Well, I think there may be a scenario where if our friends out in Los Angeles aren’t as willing to create compelling television for our needs, we’re going to do it for each other. Now, we have not been keen to take other groups’ news programs, for example, but shows like Daily Blast Live, which are much more a topical opinion and talk show, do have sort of the characteristics that other broadcast groups are excited about. And so, I wouldn’t be surprised if more broadcast groups start to say, “You know what, maybe we should just lock arms together and develop programing like this for each other.”
On that front, Brian, so Sinclair, which is picking up this show across a lot of its markets, they’re working on syndicated material themselves. They’ve got Anthony Zuiker developing documentary material, a game show, other things. Are you receptive to potentially buying programing from them?
Brian Weiss: Definitely. And we’ll continue conversations about those things. I would say, you know, the game show example, you know, we have not had specific conversations with Sinclair about any of their game product. But generally speaking, we know that game shows work for our audience. They continue to be pretty stellar performers. And so, if there is a show that, you know, Sinclair or another group is producing that that’s sort of in that genre that doesn’t, you know, intrude on our news values, that has really total separation. That’s the type of thing absolutely we would at least consider, especially if the economics are right.
My last question to both of you, given a sort of inexorable winnowing down of the syndicated marketplace, what is going to survive? What do you see as the pillars of programing that will continue to have viability?
Brian Weiss: Well, let me take one stab at that. And I would like Burt, who, you know, has a lot of, you know, sort of sage wisdom for what he knows works on television. What I would just say is, you know, Tegna and broadcast companies, you have seen — and you will continue to see — us investing substantially in local and substantially in news. And I think you’re going to see that across our broadcast peers where, you know, sort of our moat remains, that we have a connection with the local community. We do very well in terms of their trust with our news. And by the way, advertisers really like news. And so, it wouldn’t surprise me if station groups really invest heavily in more news content, higher quality news content, more investigative news content.
And where we produce shows that are that are filling the void of syndication, it will be the sort of topical conversation that Daily Blast Live does. I’ll just use an example. We have a Mom Squad show that’s produced out of Cleveland. That’s a really good example of moms talking about local issues. That’s the type of programing that I think is going to remain, where maybe the A-list celebrity driven, expensive, high-polished talk show doesn’t or is dramatically reduced, we’ll fill it with that, which is topical programing that really genuinely matters in our communities.
Burt, I think you will have better perspective just in general about what will make good television, because ultimately, we want to put on great television.
Burt Dubrow: [Look, I think everything that Brian said I would agree with and would have said not as well, but I would have said the same thing. You know, game and news during the day is sort of a good thing, and it always has been a good thing. I don’t think the economics have changed, but I’m not sure people’s tastes have changed all that much. Give them something good and compelling with hosts that are likable, and I think you’ve got a good shot as long as the economics are right.
My good friend, who we lost a while ago, Bill Geddie, who created The View and was with Barbara Walters, called me, oh, gosh, about six, eight months ago and said: ‘Do you realize what you’ve done?’ And I thought, Oh, sure, what did I do now? He said: ‘Your model is perfect for what’s going on now, what you’re doing and the economics of it and the production quality and the production value is exactly what the market needs now.’
And I said to him, I’d love to let you know we planned the whole thing. We knew exactly what was coming. And of course, we didn’t. But I do believe he is right. And I think that’s what Brian was saying earlier. I mean, kiddingly, you know, just jokingly, I could look at a GM and say, look, we’ll give you just as bad a rating as any other show. It just won’t cost as much. You know, but the reality is we’ve got a quality program with five people that are brilliantly talented at what they do, and the price is right.
OK, well, we will leave it at that. Burt Dubrow and Brian Weiss, thanks for joining me today to talk about Daily Blast Live and the syndication market at large.
Brian Weiss: Thank you so much for having us.
Burt Dubrow: Thanks for having us.
Thanks to all of you for watching and listening. There’s a new episode of Talking TV most Fridays. You can catch our entire back catalog at TVNewsCheck.com and on our YouTube channel, also in audio version and most of the places where you get a podcast. And see you next time.