A panel of syndication executives at the PromaxBDA Station Summit explains the challenges of convincing viewers to watch — and stick with — a new program. “It’s critical to capture the essence of the host and define in simple terms what the show is about,” says Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of Telepictures Productions, which is currently testing Bethenny on six Fox TV stations. “Even if people know the host, but don’t what the show is, it’s confusing.
Primer: So You’re Launching A Talk Show
With five new daytime talk shows debuting on local TV stations this fall, the challenge for syndicators will be to successfully launch hits with marketing efforts that in some cases began a year ago and, more significant, effectively promote and market talk shows to keep viewers tuning in for the long haul.
That requires figuring out who the host is — their genuine personality and the content viewers will see, then create a program that delivers on both. Marketing and promotional efforts need to explain all that and, more challenging, explain on a daily basis why viewers should in, according to a panel of syndication executives speaking Thursday on the So You’re Launching a Daily Talk Show session at the PromaxBDA Station Summit in Las Vegas.
“It’s critical to capture the essence of the host and define in simple terms what the show is about,” said Hilary Estey McLoughlin, president of Telepictures Productions, which is currently testing Bethenny on six Fox TV stations.
“Even if people know the host, but don’t what the show is, it’s confusing. With Bethenny, the show is what we promised. She’s provocative.”
Working out what the show is takes time, but once it’s established the show needs to stay true to itself. “The hardest thing is figuring out what your show is,” said Lisa Kridos, executive producer of Ricki Lake. “You have to stay the course. Don’t panic. We know what our show is, and we have from the beginning. In later stages, with new executives coming in, you have to stay the course.”
Sean Compton, president of programming and entertainment at Tribune Broadcasting, shares that philosophy but also sees it in terms of one show flowing into the next.
“While it’s important to launch a show successfully, for me it’s about staying in the lane,” he said. “We have [NBC Universal’s] Jerry Springer, Maury and Steve Wilkos. You’re not going to put Dr. Oz on that lineup. Our audience wants to see a failed lie detector test — that’s just the way it is.”
His marketing when it comes to adding a new show to Tribune’s lineup is to emphasize that idea of staying in the lane.
“When we launched Bill Cunningham, we had him walk into a diner where Jerry, Maury and Steve Wilkos were eating,” said Compton. “That spot was very effective in recruiting the Wilkos lead in.”
The marketing efforts the syndicators and stations now have in place for this fall’s new talk shows include using social media to engage viewers in conversations.
“One thing we did is we had online production meetings where we let our viewers come in,” said Kridos. “I thought, ‘Wow, Ricki is the host of the show and she’s interacting with viewers.’ We had viewers submit videos. At least three of those pitches will end up on our show.”
Initial promotional spots for this fall’s new shows are primarily about introducing the hosts to viewers. Over the next few weeks, those marketing messages will start narrowing their focus on the show’s early episodes and guests.
“The closer you get to the show, you are really focusing on the show, including what will be on the first week,” said Michael Mischler, EVP of marketing at CBS Television Distribution, which is launching Jeff Probst. “You want to create excitement for that first week. And, with your marketing, you can do a scattershot message. But it’s more effective to target that viewer who will flip to the channel and stay on.”
It’s also critically important for stations airing the shows to effectively promote the shows, even with sometimes dwindling marketing budgets.
“You want the stations to like the promotional spots and advance the cause of the show in that market,” said Mischler. “I always remind myself how busy TV stations have become. They do it all, including selling the spots. So, our goal is to make it easier for them.”
Once a show is a hit, the challenge is to keep it a hit. Other shows can take a page from the Oprah Winfrey Show, which was No. 1 in daytime for decades.
“Oprah always had the sense that the show was about the viewers and her relationship to the audience,” said Jonathan Sinclair, EVP and executive producer of development at Harpo Studios. “Sometimes, we went off course and we were receptive to that feedback. So, the press [about the show] came and went but we stayed true to what the viewer wanted.”
Much of Oprah’s longevity is attributable to listening viewer feedback, but also giving them a reason to tune in.
“We always made sure that we had a tease,” Sinclair said. “It wasn’t enough to say that Tom Hanks would be on. You had to say why he was on and why this appearance would be different. That’s how we approached every episode. Viewers want to know why they should watch. We never lost sight of that.”