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Old Hands Bring New Stars to Syndication

Sherri Shepherd of 'Sherri'
Humor will be a key component of ex-‘The View’ panelist Sherri Shepherd’s new show. (Image credit: Debmar-Mercury)

This fall, something entirely new is happening in broadcast syndication.

Yes, three new talk shows will premiere, but daytime talk shows have come and gone before. What’s new is that all three of this year’s debuting shows have hosts who first got to test their chops on the show that they are ostensibly replacing, a word that syndicators don’t appreciate. They also are being produced by the teams that produced those prior shows.

“It’s such a historic time in daytime TV,” Jawn Murray, an executive producer on Debmar-Mercury’s upcoming Sherri, starring Sherri Shepherd, said. “We are inheriting Wendy’s team, Jennifer Hudson is inheriting Ellen’s team and Karamo is inheriting Maury’s team.”

What that could bring to this year’s new crop of shows — Warner Bros.’s The Jennifer Hudson Show and NBCUniversal’s Karamo join Sherri in launching in September — is stability, which is the name of the game in day-and-date TV. Well, that and the ability to make viewers feel like the host is someone they want to invite into their homes most days of the week.

“What makes a daytime host appealing is that they become a friend of the daytime viewer,” Murray said.

Each of the three hosts brings something different to the table. Shepherd is a stand-up comic and actress with seven years of experience on ABC’s panel talker, The View. Hudson is an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner who got her start on Fox’s American Idol. She finished seventh on season three of that show in 2004 but she’s now winning the awards race. Brown is a former social worker turned star of Netflix’s Queer Eye and now replacement for the iconic Maury Povich on his own show, Karamo.

Making Talk-Show Magic

The Warner Bros. talk show with Jennifer Hudson has been in development for many months. “We decided almost the minute we talked to her that she feels like exactly the right person at exactly the right time,” Mike Darnell, president of Warner Bros. Unscripted Television, said. Darnell already knew Hudson, since he was overseeing Fox’s unscripted TV division when Hudson was on Idol and Idol was at the height of its power.

“I knew we had one shot, one time, to take the best talk-show producers in the business and have them produce the next talk show for Warner Bros.,” Darnell said. “A lot of people do talk shows and a lot of people aren’t good at it. “It takes someone with magic. Jennifer got on that stage and she owned it — she’s great with the interviews and she’s great with the audience.”

Hudson will be produced by the producers of The Ellen DeGeneres Show — including Mary Connelly, Andy Lassner and Corey Palent — and shot on Ellen’s set at Warner Bros. But the show won’t feel like Ellen.

“Jennifer talks a lot about superpowers and she’s got many of them,” said Palent, who climbed from the ranks of talent assistant on Ellen to become an executive producer and showrunner on Jennifer Hudson. “One of her many superpowers is joy. What’s missing in the daytime landscape is the sense of joy. When you think about Jennifer Hudson, you think joy and how you can bring that joy to the daytime audience.”

The Jennifer Hudson Show

The Jennifer Hudson Show will inherit Ellen's staff and studio. (Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Jennifer Hudson Show — unlike the rival talk show of fellow Idol Kelly Clarkson — won’t necessarily open with a song of the day. But it will include music along with celebrity and regular-person interviews and more.

“If you have a conversation with her, one of the languages she speaks is music,” Connelly said of Hudson. “You’ll just be chatting with her and suddenly she’ll break into song.”

In some markets, Jennifer Hudson will run in the afternoons ahead of Kelly Clarkson. On Fox stations where the show will air in the country’s biggest markets, though, Jennifer Hudson is more likely to run in line with Sherri, taking over many of Nick Cannon’s former time slots while Sherri fills former Wendy Williams slots.

“The Sherri clearances are deeper than Wendy’s and Sherri is on better stations in many markets,” Debmar-Mercury co-president Ira Bernstein said. “I’d say we have at least the same lineup and maybe 20% of those are in better time periods.”

Shepherd starred on The View for seven years and guest-hosted The Wendy Williams Show for a time last year, prompting efforts to get her a show of her own for this fall.

“With Sherri, we realized that we really had something special that we saw resonating with our audience,” David Perler, executive producer of Wendy Williams and now Sherri, said. “We saw it in the ratings and in the feedback and just on our televisions, knowing what makes a show work.”

What producers expect to make Sherri stand apart is the host’s comedy.

“I have this incessant need to make people laugh,” said Shepherd, who has the added challenge of hosting the show live most mornings, like Disney Media Distribution’s Live with Kelly and Ryan. “I want this show to be fun, I want the energy to be up. I am a fan of all things comedy, especially stand-up, and I want that aspect to be on the show.”

Sherri is a daytime show with a bit of a late-night feel. “We’re bringing a nighttime comedy club to daytime,” Murray said.

Conflict With Empathy

Karamo Brown will be in a different lane than Jennifer Hudson or Sherri Shepherd. Like predecessors Jerry Springer or Maury Povich, his show will still be a conflict but with Brown’s empathetic twist. 

“This show is going to be a new, fresh take on daytime,” Kerry Shannon, executive producer of Karamo, said. “It’s going to be conflict resolution like all daytime viewers know and love but in Karamo’s voice. He brings so much to the table — he’s so unique in this space. He’s young, fresh, hip, cool and he really has a sincerity and genuineness about him. In the pilot, he thanked each guest for being vulnerable and I thought that was very unique in this space.”

'Karamo Brown' host Karamo Brown

Karamo Brown will pick up where conflict talker Maury Povich left off. (Image credit: Heidi Gutman/NBCUniversal)

What Brown has to do on stage is no easy feat. “I have to have people have emotional breakthroughs in a very short amount of time,” he said. “I have to keep them engaged, focused and there with me so they can have these breakthroughs while also having some fun. I know how to keep that guest engaged and with me in the moment.”

In addition to the three new talkers, Fox First Run, in partnership with CBS, is also introducing Pictionary, starring Jerry O’Connell, which first aired as a 20-episode test last summer. Game shows, much like court shows, also have an element of talk to them, in that it’s important for the viewers to want to hang out with the host — think Steve Harvey or the late, great Alex Trebek — and they include a bit of chat with the contestants. 

To that end, in season two, Fox First Run’s You Bet Your Life, hosted by Jay Leno, changed its opening sequence to feature Leno chatting with that day’s contestant instead of performing a few minutes of stand-up. 

“This is literally family game night come to life,” said David Hurwitz, an executive producer of Pictionary along with Noah Bonnett and Richard Brown. “All of the joy that anyone has ever felt playing this game transfers really well to TV but of course we added some stakes.”

Of course Pictionary includes celebrities, with such celebs as Melissa Peterman, host of current Fox test show Person, Place or Thing; Amanda Steel; Ross Matthews; O’Connell’s wife, Rebecca Romijn; and Orlando Jones joining both teams on every episode.

Fun and Games

Even though Team Pictionary is knocking out seven episodes a day en route to putting 180 episodes in the can, Hurwitz and O’Connell said everyone is having a great time and they expect that to translate to TV screens.

“The celebrities are calling their agents at lunch and saying, ‘This is the most fun I’ve ever had on a job,’ ” Hurwitz said. “The game just moves. It’s a joyful good time.” 

Pictionary started out being much harder to host than O’Connell expected.

'Pictionary' host Jerry O'Connell

Jerry O’Connell will host new game-show entry Pictionary(Image credit: Fox First Run/CBS Media Ventures)

“I came in here thinking this is going to be such an easy job, I’ll just read the prompter and bang it out,” said O’Connell, who also stars on CBS’s The Talk. “But when I tell you it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done — and I’ve been on Broadway on opening night — the first day of hosting Pictionary was more nerve-wracking than being on Broadway. You’re not just a host — you’re a coach, you’re the shoulder someone leans on, the rule-giver, lawyer and the standards and practice guy all at the same time. Meanwhile, you have to drive the show through the half-hour. It was too much for me to process.”

O’Connell is a quick study, though, and with good coaching from Hurwitz, Brown and Fox First Run’s EVP Stephen Brown, “I was coached into the most fun job I’ve ever had.”

With any luck, Pictionary — along with Jennifer Hudson, Sherri and Karamo — will also offer viewers some fun. Jennifer Hudson, Sherri and Pictionary all start on Monday, September 12, with Karamo premiering Monday, September 19. ■

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.