TVNEWSCHECK FOCUS ON SYNDICATION

Up For Grabs: Syndies Scramble Toward 2012

Disney-ABC’s talker with Katie Couric has grabbed the headlines in the wake of Oprah Winfrey’s departure from afternoon syndicated lineups. But she’s far from alone in the race for station slots starting in fall 2012. As things now stand, Couric could be battling against talk shows featuring a defrocked priest (from Debmar-Mercury), one of those Real Housewives (from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution), the host of Survivor (from CBS Television Distribution) and the now-42 year-old Ricki Lake on a comeback bid (from Twentieth Television)..

Nature abhors a vacuum. And, apparently, so do broadcast syndicators. They are rushing to fill the space created by ABC’s decision to give back the 3 p.m. time slot to its O&Os and affiliates starting in the fall of 2012.

ABC’s intention was to make room for the new talk show featuring Katie Couric that its syndication division, Disney-ABC Domestic Television, is now pushing. The ABC O&Os have dutifully pledged to take the show, but the slot is wide open on some 200 affiliates.

The other syndicators have noticed.

As things now stand, Couric could be battling for the slot against talk shows featuring a defrocked priest (from Debmar-Mercury), one of those Real Housewives (from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution), the host of Survivor (from CBS Television Distribution) and the now-42 year-old Ricki Lake on a comeback bid (from Twentieth Television).

And that’s not counting whatever NBCUniversal and Sony Pictures Television might yet cook up.

One thing seems certain: stations aren’t stampeding to buy and syndicators apparently are taking their time selling these new talk projects.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

“We’re looking at a different time, not like how things were sold when Roger King was around,” says Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming at Katz Television, referring to the legendary King World syndication sales executive who muscled shows into existence and created overnight stars like Oprah Winfrey.

Carroll says ABC has been out with presentations about Couric’s show, but hasn’t put on a hard sell yet. And he supposes that unlike the recent past, station execs going to NATPE next January still won’t know which new shows will finally get made for 2012. They’ll wait to see how some of the 2011 entrants and sophomore shows perform. That is likely to open other holes in their schedules.

“This will be a little slower year,” he predicts. “There’s a lot of time. A lot can happen over 18 months.”

Couric would seem to be in a nice position. Syndicators think daytime audiences want a bifurcated host, one who is serious (like when Oprah interviewed Nelson Mandela) and one who’s fun able to laugh a lot (like when Tom Cruise jumps all over the furniture). Viewers get a version of that with Couric.

“I think Katie is a unique brand in television,” Jeff Zucker, Couric’s executive producer, ex-Today boss and former NBC chief executicve, said at last week’s PromaxBDA conference. “The mere fact that we can just say, ‘Katie,’ and everyone knows who you’re talking about is evidence of that fact. I think what people have missed for a long time is the Katie who was part of … the Today show and who is big enough to have fun and be serious all in one show. That’s really what you’ll see [on her talk show]. That’s what her brand is. It’s a brand that has credibility and fun. Our hope is we take that into that program. It’s a tremendous opportunity.”

And the new afternoon competition is a chance for everybody else, too. Warner Bros. is reportedly developing Bethenny Frankel for a show executive produced by Ellen DeGeneres, the star of her own Warner Bros. talker.

Frankel is a reality TV personality, perhaps best known for her stint on Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York. But so far the studio won’t confirm its interest in the show.

Other syndicators are more straightforward. CBS Television Distribution announced that it’s pushing Jeff Probst, torch-snuffer on Survivor, for his own talk show and comparing him to Phil Donahue, more or less the granddaddy of talk show TV. 

Twentieth Television wants to bring back an older, wiser Ricki Lake, who was syndicated by Columbia from 1993 to 2004. Back then, she was a decidedly “young” talk host. Now she’s solidly experienced the entire adulthood experience and Twentieth thinks that will make her a more compelling host. 

Also, the studio says it’s a more general talk show — not a medical or psychological  exploration, or a fight between spouses, or a daily issue-oriented show. That, the studio says, makes it general-interest Oprahesque.

Starting next week, Debmar-Mercury is testing Father Albert on Fox O&Os in six markets. A co-production with Fox, the show stars former Roman Catholic priest Alberto Cutie, who in 2009 was caught kissing a woman (now his wife) on a Miami beach. That cost him his Catholic stripes, but he found a new home with the Episcopalians. He’s hosted a Spanish-language talk show before — and some Hispanics call him Father Oprah.

If the five-week test is successful, Debmar-Mercury will start syndicating the show elsewhere, including possibly that 3 p.m. slot on ABC affiliates in 2012.


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