Sister Circle, a panel talk show featuring black women, and Sing Like a Star, a weekly talent show, underscore the station group's commitment to developing its own programming. “We have to take control of our own destiny a little more,” says Tegna programming chief Bob Sullivan.
Tegna Readies Home-Grown Shows For Fall
An in-house program development effort at Tegna has yielded two shows that will debut next fall on an undetermined number of Tegna stations — and more pilots are in the works, says Bob Sullivan, SVP of programming at the Washington-based station group.
“We’re open to ideas from any station,” he says. “Last year, we did five pilots. Out of those five, we got these two that we are going ahead with [in fall 2017]. We are in the process now of doing pilots again this year for the fall of ’18.”
Like several other major station groups, Tegna’s push is intended to lessen its dependency on pricey syndicated shows from the major Hollywood studios. “We have to take control of our own destiny a little more,” Sullivan says.
“We want concepts that we think have value — to test them, pilot them, stand them up and try them out as opposed to waiting until next year [and the year after that] and in the meantime, we just keep re-airing the same shows that we’ve been airing that aren’t necessarily performing that well,” he says.
The two in-house Tegna pilots that made the cut and will premiere next fall are a home-grown singing competition show out of Tegna’s WWL New Orleans and a panel talk show for women developed at Tegna’s WATL Atlanta.
The Atlanta show is called Sister Circle. A pilot for the show had a group of four African-American women — at least one single, some married with children — and a DJ, Sullivan says.
The panel engaged in conversations on topics that would hopefully be of interest to other African-American women and other minorities — an audience Sullivan and Tegna feel is underserved in daytime TV.
The one-hour Sister Circle will premiere as a same-day-live, weekday strip next fall on WATL and Tegna stations in other markets that have yet to be determined, Sullivan says. It will likely air at either 9 or 10 a.m., he says.
Talent has not yet been finalized. Sullivan says Tegna has options on the four panel members but has not signed them yet for the show going forward.
The New Orleans show is called Sing Like a Star. While Sister Circle is being wholly produced by Tegna, the station group has a production partner on the New Orleans singing show, Quark Entertainment. It’s the only Tegna pilot coming out of its local station development pipeline to have an outside partner, Sullivan says.
The once-a-week Sing Like a Star is designed for weekend clearances. “The New Orleans model is Saturday night access live,” Sullivan says. The pilot for Sing Like a Star had a host and a panel of judges, he said, noting that talent for the upcoming fall version of the show is not yet signed.
The goal for Sister Circle and Sing Like a Star would be to nurture them to the point where Tegna may be able to sell them to stations other than its own, Sullivan says, adding there may be “potential outside interest for second runs on cable” for Sister Circle.
He notes that projects such as Sister Circle and Sing Like a Star, which originate at Tegna stations, are not the same as other Tegna programming initiatives, namely, the T.D. Jakes syndicated talk show, distributed by Tegna and produced in partnership with Jakes and 44 Blue Productions, and BOLD, the new live-streamed weekday news pop-culture strip produced by Tegna and distributed by Tegna and MGM Television.
Tegna has been soliciting show ideas — and encouraging the production of pilots — from its owned stations since at least 2014. Among the titles that have been previously reported were Fix This Fridays, a home fix-it and do-it-yourself show out of Tegna’s KUSA Denver that was tested for 16 weeks in fall 2014, and Breaking the News, a new take on a daily newscast under development at Tegna’s KARE Minneapolis. Fix This Fridays did not move forward, but Breaking the News is still seen on KARE.
“We have to take advantage of the talent that we have in our company as much as we do with ideas from all over the place that come over our doorstep,” Sullivan says. “So, it’s a dual-pronged attack — looking at external projects as well as taking full advantage of our internal talent.”