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Fox Prepares to Step Out on Central Ave

Why This Matters: Fox keeps testing talk shows in search of hits (despite misses) and for fresh content versus reruns.

The Fox Television stations, as part of their continued strategy to offer viewers more fresh day-and-date programming on a year-round basis, will debut a five-week run of entertainment magazine Central Ave on Nov. 4.

The magazine comes from Will Packer, best known for producing such theatrical hits as Girls Trip, What Men Want and Night School. Packer and his team at Will Packer Media are partnering with Lionsgate-owned Debmar-Mercury and Fox on the limited series, which, if successful, Debmar-Mercury will take into national syndication. It’s not Packer and Debmar-Mercury’s first partnership: Earlier this year, they launched drama series Ambitions on OWN.

On the Will Packer Productions website, Packer claims to understand the “New American Mainstream” audience in a way other media organizations do not. It’s that understanding that the partners are hoping to tap into with this show.

“On its face, it looks very different than anything you see in that space,” Packer said. “We’re the new kids on the block with new energy. We offer a different perspective than any other show out there.”

Added Debmar-Mercury co-president Mort Marcus: “There’s no need for another Extra, Entertainment Tonight or Access Hollywood. We believe there is room for another entertainment magazine but it needs to come from a different point of view.” Central Ave will be hosted by two women of color — BET’s Julissa Bermudez and Olympic track star Sanya Richards-Ross — both of whom will bring charisma and fun, Packer said. Packer, Kelly Smith and showrunner Monique Chenault will executive produce.

“Social media is where our audience is,” Packer said. “That’s where people are giving their unfiltered thoughts. This is not a gossip show or a mean show, but it’s a show that will be a little more edgy than the other shows out there. Our hosts will make sure we get unfiltered opinions from real people, celebrities and influencers. They’ll give [information] to the audience straight in quick, concise bites that are not overproduced.”

Historically, tests have aired in the summer when repeats used to dominate, although there have been tests in other times of the year. The partners opted to try November with Central Ave because they should get a lot of marketing runway from Fox’s World Series coverage. But they also acknowledge that November is traditionally a very competitive time of year.

“This is as much about how we can do creatively as how we can do competitively,” said Debmar-Mercury co-president Ira Bernstein. “If this goes forward with a full launch, I want to know that we can succeed at the toughest time of year.”

For Fox, it’s about trying something different. “The best thing about it to me is that we are [working with] a successful producer in Will Packer who has not previously done syndication,” Frank Cicha, executive vice president, programming, Fox Television Stations, said. “In a business where everybody’s copying each other, this guy is going to bring something different.”

Central Ave will air on eight Fox stations in access, late-night, daytime and primetime: WNYW New York at 7:30 p.m.; KTTV Los Angeles at 6:30 p.m.; WTTG Washington at midnight; KRIV Houston at 12:30 p.m.; WAGA Atlanta at 7 p.m.; KSAZ Phoenix at 12:30 p.m.; WJBK Detroit at midnight; and WFTC Minneapolis at 8:00 p.m.

Fox Television Stations has doubled down on tests in recent years, partly to see what works and partly to offer audiences fresh new programming instead of repeats. One test from last summer just went national: Game show 25 Words or Less, hosted and executive produced by Meredith Vieira.

Several other recent tests don’t appear to be going forward. Fox gave Warner Bros.’s RuPaul, starring RuPaul Charles of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame, a three-week test in June, but ultimately passed on the program. Fox also passed on Jerry O, starring Jerry O’Connell, which ran in August in a three-week test on Fox stations in the Wendy Williams timeslots. Debmar-Mercury still is shopping Jerry O, but with a talk show starring Nick Cannon also on its slate, chances of Jerry O going into national syndication are slim.

Debmar-Mercury also renewed Wendy Williams — the star of which is coming off a tough year in which she got divorced and relapsed into substance abuse — through its 14th season in 2022. Assuming Cannon goes forward, he will join CBS Television Distribution’s Drew Barrymore in the rookie talk class of 2020. CBS stations already have agreed to launch Barrymore next fall.

Still Early in the Game

It’s early yet in this year’s syndication cycle, with NBCUniversal’s The Kelly Clarkson Show and Disney’s Tamron Hall just finding their footing, along with new shows such as Fox’s 25 Words or Less, Sony Pictures Television’s The Mel Robbins Show and NBCU’s Judge Jerry.

Clarkson is averaging a solid 1.4 in households in its first six weeks on the air, and performance and chat clips from the show are doing well on YouTube and other social media. That show is sold in two-year deals in some markets, so assuming its ratings hold steady —or, ideally, climb — it’s expected to return next season.

Tamron Hall is averaging a 1.0 in households nationally, but performing well on ABC-owned stations in big markets. Moreover, both Kelly Clarkson and Tamron Hall are produced and distributed by their launch stations’ parent companies, which gives NBCU and Disney, respectively, an interest in keeping them on the air.

Mel Robbins, which Tribune, Nexstar and other stations acquired on an all-barter basis, is struggling at a 0.4 in households, while daytime viewers welcomed back Jerry Springer in his new role as a daytime TV judge with a steady 1.0 in households.