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Against Expectations, Fox Stations Wild About ‘Harry’

The Fox-owned television stations’ acquisition of NBCUniversal’s Harry last week completely changed industry assumptions about what the syndication landscape would look like come next September.

That NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution was in development on a show with Harry Connick, Jr., was well known, and it was widely assumed that the show was being developed to replace NBCU’s Meredith Vieira, which is averaging a 0.9 in households in its second season, according to Nielsen Media Research. Several sources confirm that NBCU DTD had been trying to convince stations to swap Harry for Meredith in midseason.

That lineup also seemed to make programming sense because Harry would have led into NBCU’s Steve Harvey, which in turn leads into Warner Bros.’ Ellen DeGeneres, all of which have a light, comedic tone.

But the NBC owned stations ended up walking away from Harry—likely because the Fox Television Stations offered larger license fees—and industry sources are speculating that the NBC station group may opt to expand its local news offerings in a lucrative political year instead of picking up a new syndicated show.

“We thought the Harry pilot was very good, and we think the Fox stations and their time periods are great for this new show. The daytime lineup at our stations is fully committed,” said a spokesperson for NBC Owned Television Stations.

Connick is a judge on Fox’s American Idol in primetime, so there is some synergy in putting him on Fox’s daytime. That said, many observers feel that Harry is a bit of an odd addition to Fox’s daytime, which includes Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams, and Warner Bros.’ The Real, TMZ and TMZ Live, among other things.

Fox has not yet decided where it will program Harry, but it does have an opportunity in the afternoons, where it airs TMZ Live in many markets. In the past, Fox has been able to use new shows—Wendy Williams, for example—to create new programming blocks. That could be the case with Harry. Although Warner Bros.’ Ellen DeGeneres features musical acts, games and other performances, that show is still more talk than variety, while Harry is being touted as pure variety, something that doesn’t currently exist in daytime.

“In looking at the competition, we felt this was the right time for us to add a program like this to our mix,” said Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for the Fox Television Stations, in a statement.

Harry will be executive produced by the Stangel brothers, Justin and Eric, formerly EPs on CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman, and are known for creating the skits and man-on-the-street spots that Letterman is credited with originating in late night.

Meanwhile, Fox had tested two shows over the summer—its own Boris and Nicole and Warner Bros.’ Ice and Coco. Ice and Coco in particular performed well in the ratings, and Fox was widely expected to pick that show up.

The Fox station group has an Oct. 31 deadline to make a decision about Ice and Coco, and while both Fox and Warner Bros. say no decision has been made, it’s difficult for a station group to spend money on more than one new show in a season.

That said, Ice and Coco isn’t by any means dead, with Warner Bros. ready to take it out to other station groups, including Big Three affiliates.

Harry is the first show to get an official pick-up for 2016. Debmar-Mercury is currently out in the marketplace with T. D. Jakes, which was tested on Tegna-owned stations in four markets over the summer. Dr. Phil and Jay McGraw also are developing a show based on the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

Meanwhile, it’s still early enough that station groups and syndicators are weighing their options and waiting to see how shows perform in the November book before deciding to change their line-ups. Likely to return next year is Warner Bros.’ The Real, while Meredith looks like it will run two seasons and out. Disney-ABC’s FABLife also is off to a very slow start, averaging a 0.7 in households. That show has two-year deals, but that doesn’t guarantee its continued carriage.

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.