With the Delta variant surging, nothing is back to normal, but syndicated productions are giving it their best shot. Debmar-Mercury’s Nick Cannon and Fox’s You Bet Your Life, starring Jay Leno, are debuting in September, and veteran shows, such as NBCUniversal’s Kelly Clarkson, are returning to live in-studio audiences.
To promote the shows, marketers are touching all bases — on-air, online and outdoor — to get the word out.
After a one-year delay, Debmar-Mercury is preparing to launch a new daytime
talk show, Nick Cannon, with the Fox Television Stations as the launch group in major markets. The show was supposed to launch in fall 2020 but was put off due to the difficulties of mounting production during the pandemic and due to a brief scandal that erupted after people felt Cannon made anti-Semitic comments on his YouTube podcast. Those comments caused Cannon to almost be relegated into the “canceled” category, but he quickly rehabilitated himself after meeting with leaders of Jewish groups and with the companies that aired his shows. Last fall, Debmar-Mercury started shopping the show again and it didn’t take long to get it back on track.
Fox stood by Cannon throughout, retaining the multiplatform performer and producer as the host of the network’s top-rated singing competition series, The Masked Singer. Debmar-Mercury wanted to appeal to the baked-in Masked Singer fan base for the first round of promos produced for TV stations.
“The first phase was just to capture The Masked Singer audience,” Adam Lewis, senior VP, marketing, Lionsgate-owned Debmar-Mercury, said. “This is a guy who is in your living room already, he’s not some random name you’ve never heard of. This is a guy you know.”
A Known Quantity
Most viewers have probably heard of Nick Cannon. If not via The Masked Singer, then through one of his many other gigs, including eight seasons of hosting NBC’s America’s Got Talent, 15 seasons of hosting and producing improv comedy sketch series Wild ’N Out on ViacomCBS’s MTV and VH1 and hosting his own syndicated morning radio show, among other things.
Debmar-Mercury sent that first round of Masked Singer-focused spots to Fox affiliates at the end of May, and then expanded them for non-Fox-affiliated stations to include America’s Got Talent and Wild ’N Out.
“Phase two was less about where you’ve seen him before and more about what we’re going to do with the show,” Lewis said. “We want to show everything he is capable of doing, which includes comedy, music and talk. The show is going to be fun, funny, energetic and inspiring. It doesn’t have to fall into any one category.”
Around Labor Day, Debmar-Mercury will start providing stations with tune-in messaging for the show, which premieres Monday, Sept. 27.
“In the coming weeks, I’d love to connect all of these elements to our set but we have to wait a little bit before we can do that,” Lewis said. The Nick Cannon production team really gets to work in the studio after Labor Day on Monday, Sept. 6.
In the meantime, Cannon is active across all of his social media platforms, pushing promos for the show on his established YouTube, Instagram and Facqebook channels and his growing presence on TikTok, a platform on which Cannon is focused.
“You can’t launch a show in this day and age without having a robust digital platform,” Lewis said. “Whether it’s clips, the whole episode, behind-the-scenes bonuses — you have to be able to service that digital audience. They are there, they are looking for content and that’s monetizable. Nick has a very big digital footprint and we will be harnessing all of that. Our ability to talk to those fans directly is our best way to market this show.”
Nick Cannon will be taped in front of a live audience at Harlem’s NEP Metropolis Studios at 106th and Park. All audience members will be required to show proof of vaccination prior to attending, which is becoming the norm for live TV audiences with Drew Barrymore, Kelly Clarkson and Wendy Williams following the same protocol along with the late-night shows such as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
New York City also is requiring people to show proof of vaccination before they will be allowed to enter indoor venues — including restaurants, bars and theaters — starting in September, so asking people to do the same before sitting in an audience will be the rule in New York. Los Angeles has made no such designation yet but it has mandated that people wear masks indoors.
Betting on Leno
Nick Cannon is one of only two new shows to premiere in syndication this fall and both of them will air on the Fox Television Stations. Jay Leno and his former Tonight Show band leader, Kevin Eubanks, are starring in a reboot of You Bet Your Life, which was famously hosted by Groucho Marx on radio and television from 1949 to 1960.
Fox started airing three sets of prelaunch spots for You Bet Your Life in June featuring Leno and Eubanks bantering back and forth. Those spots are running on stations throughout the summer.
Come September, once game footage is in the can, Fox will send out spots that “actually show the show,” Stephen Brown, executive VP of programming and development, Fox Television stations, said.
“We’ll show you the set, the game play and what the feel of the show is,” Brown said. “It’s a comedy show with a lot of game.”
Throughout the summer, Leno is doing satellite media tours and appearing on stations via Zoom “not only to drive awareness about the need for contestants, but just of the show in general,” Brown said.
Fox also has the benefit of owning its stations, simplifying the process of booking Leno on morning shows to hype the new program.
Fox also plans to bring back outdoor buys for You Bet Your Life and for veteran shows Divorce Court, Dish Nation and 25 Words or Less. Those campaigns will feature bus and subway buys in New York and likely some buys in Los Angeles, Brown said.
Like Cannon, having a live audience is important to You Bet Your Life, so it will also be taped in front of an entirely vaccinated live studio audience.
“The audience is mostly there to provide energy, laughter and applause. Because it’s a comedy show, you don’t want to fake that,” Brown said.
Also preparing to return in front of a vaccinated live studio audience is NBCUniversal’s Kelly Clarkson, returning for season three. Clarkson will still air mostly in 2 p.m. time periods across its launch group, the NBC Owned TV Stations, in major markets. But in 2022, Kelly Clarkson will take over the 3 p.m. time slots of Warner Bros.’s concluding Ellen DeGeneres.
“Daytime’s hard but COVID’s harder,” Alex Duda, executive producer of the Daytime Emmy-winning talker, said. “If we learned anything during COVID, it’s to present the reality to your audience and be real about where you are. This too shall pass. That’s what we’re going to do this fall — we’re trying to find the bright spots in the darkness.”
Keeping ‘House Seats’ Filled
Kelly Clarkson hasn’t entertained live audiences since the March 2020 shut down, but it has brought in virtual audiences, via individual monitors. While Duda and company are thrilled to have live audiences back, Clarkson also likes being able to see the on-screen faces of virtual audience members, so the show will reserve six of those “house seats” for people to attend the show from all over the world, Duda said.
Ahead of season three, Clarkson’s production team is considering which song the pop star will open with. Clarkson’s opening “Kellyoke” segment, in which an audience member selects a song for the pop star to sing, has been one of the show’s signature features, both on air and online. As the show brings back live audiences after a turbulent year and a half, Clarkson’s team feels this year’s selection needs to be extra impactful.
“We’ve been talking about what our opening song is going to be but a couple of months ago, we had a different song in our heads,” Duda said.
With things constantly changing during the pandemic, “we’ve gotten really good at having a quicksand picnic,” Duda said. “We eat our sandwiches fast, but no
matter what, there’s still hope. That’s the important message of our show — people want to feel hope and to see the light.”
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.