JESSELL AT LARGE

NBCU’s ‘Harry’ Could Be Last Of Its Kind

NBCU has a lot riding on Harry with Harry Connick Jr., but so does the broadcasting business. If it fails, I fear that Hollywood may finally give up on the big-budget, first-run syndicated show. And broadcasters need such shows to prop up their daytime schedules. Along with local news and a smattering of network fare, they distinguish TV stations from the great unwashed masses of cable channels that fill daytime with endless repeats of shows.

With NBCU execs Ted Harbert and Ed Swindler sharing the hosting duties, NBCU threw an elaborate launch party yesterday evening in Manhattan for Harry, its new afternoon variety show starring Harry Connick Jr. It debuts Monday in daytime syndication all across America. Check your local listings.

I suppose NBCU chose the venue, the Bryant Park Grill, because it has a lovely outdoor courtyard, but the weather didn’t cooperate. It was way too warm and humid. Even so, Connick, a charming fellow, dutifully posed for pictures outside with guests.

If enthusiasm at the party translated into viewership, I could declare Harry a winner right now. Not only were Connick and NBCU execs pumped, but so were broadcasters like Hearst Television’s Jordan Wertlieb and Citadel’s Phil Lombardo who have agreed to carry the show.

The Fox stations were well represented, too, since they are serving as Harry‘s launch group. Lew Leone and Patrick Paolini, general managers of Fox’s New York and Washington duopolies, respectively, were there, as was the group’s programming head Frank Cicha.

(To the surprise of many, the NBC O&Os decided not to pick up the show. They wanted to go with more news at 4 p.m. rather than entertainment. That opened the door for Fox.)

Connick and NBCU have been pitching the show as “a party right in the middle of the day.” By that, they mean it will not be tightly scripted and will try to make full use of Connick’s talents as a musician and singer. It will mix music and comedy in with the talk — a true variety hour. For more on the show, I refer you to David Bauder’s AP story here.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

As the party attested, NBCU has a lot riding on Harry, but so does the broadcasting business.

If it fails, I fear that Hollywood may finally give up on the big-budget, first-run syndicated show. And broadcasters need such shows to prop up their daytime schedules.

Along with local news and a smattering of network fare, they distinguish TV stations from the great unwashed masses of cable channels that fill daytime with endless repeats of shows, many of which aren’t worth repeating.

From what I can gather, daytime accounts for just around 10% of broadcast revenue. But each daypart builds on the one that went before. If one slips badly, the whole 24-hour infrastructure could begin to crumble.

People have got to know that when they turn to a TV station there is something fresh and well-produced there.

But the studios are not in business to make life better for broadcasters; they are in it to make money. And it’s getting really hard to make money in first-run syndication, at least at the high end where you have to commit tens of millions to produce and market a show — where NBCU is with Harry.

Yes, the rewards are great. Ask Judge Judy, Dr. Phil or Ellen. But so is the risk. Several years ago, former Warner Bros. syndication chief Dick Robertson did the research and calculated the chances of any one show making it are one in 15 or something like that.  And that’s when the broadcast daytime audience was a lot bigger than it is now.

The odds have not improved in recent years.

NBCU had a winner with Steve Harvey, which debuted in the fall of 2012, and then Warner Bros. scored with The Real in 2014.

But otherwise it’s been mostly a killing field. Three other shows premiered with Harvey in 2012, and they all failed: Katie (ABC), The Jeff Probst Show (CBS) and The Ricki Lake Show (Fox).

Other prominent flops since include The Queen Latifah Show (Sony) and Meredith (NBCU).

There is less opportunity for the studios, too. Rather than share in the risk of the shows through the payment of license fees, broadcasters have been opting to air more local news or home-grown shows. Also debuting next week on Tegna stations and some others will be Tegna’s very own T.D. Jakes.

Given the recent history and dwindling shelf space, I don’t see the studios mounting many, if any, high-priced shows with top talent in the years ahead, especially if Connick craters.

Perhaps NBC tries once more to fill the hole that will be left when the network finally gets around to scrapping Days of Our Lives. But maybe not. NBC station head Valari Staab might just go for more news again.

If Dr. Phil or Judy ever decides to retire, CBS may try to replace the shows. For what it’s worth, Les Moonves told me last April that he is still ready to spend the big bucks it takes in daytime syndication.

The same goes with Warner Bros. and Ellen. I don’t expect anything from ABC and Sony anymore.

Last January at NATPE, Connick’s was the only major show being promoted for this fall.  As things now stand, this coming January at NATPE there will be no such show being promoted for the fall of 2017.

TV may be a zero sum game, but broadcast TV isn’t. Harry’s success doesn’t have to come solely at the expense of other broadcasters. If Harry does his job, he could bring them back viewers who have been disappointed in broadcasting and strayed to cable.

In a sense, the big broadcasters are in this together. Harry’s being produced at CBS Broadcast Center in New York, distributed by NBCU and aired in the big markets by Fox.

So, root for Harry. Hope that the show is unique enough and good enough to capture a rating point or two and demonstrate that broadcast daytime is still a thriving TV platform.

I had a nice time at the party last night. I don’t want it to be my last.

Harry A. Jessell is editor of TVNewsCheck. He can be contacted at 973-701-1067 or [email protected]. You can read earlier columns here.


Comments (8)

Leave a Reply

Gregg Palermo says:

September 9, 2016 at 3:36 pm

Broadcasters have perfected the idea of doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.

megan dickey says:

September 9, 2016 at 3:51 pm

I am rooting for it. I really am. But I’m not optimistic. Remember Tony Danza? And Wayne Brady?

    Linda Stewart says:

    September 11, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    The list of flops is very long.

Teri Green says:

September 9, 2016 at 4:06 pm

It will fail. Harry isn’t cut out for the job.

Angie McClimon says:

September 9, 2016 at 5:02 pm

Bring back the game shows. Daytime talk shows hosted by big names (and little experience) just aren’t cutting the rope these days.

Andrea Rader says:

September 9, 2016 at 6:45 pm

Our local Tegna station is using Harry as the lead-in to TD Jakes. Talk about ratings disaster…

Ellen Samrock says:

September 9, 2016 at 7:06 pm

Harry Connick Jr. has done shows in Las Vegas for years. He’s had no problem carrying the show and entertaining audiences. Whether that translates to TV, we’ll have to see. But the other part of the equation is the format for the show itself. Is it suited to his style and what his fans are familiar with? Can he win new fans with it? Is he comfortable with the format? I’m a little skeptical of the talk/comedy aspects of the show. I don’t think these are his forte. But who knows? Maybe Harry will be great.

dave rawson says:

September 9, 2016 at 10:59 pm

The reason there’s only a “smattering” of network programming in daytime these days is because the local affiliates killed all but the hardiest daytime network shows to put on syndie stuff during the “what hath Donahue wrought?” era. NBC was especially hard-hit; game after game died at the hands of the affiliates who wanted nothing to do with them, and now all they have left is DOOL and a 4-hour “Today” show.


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