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High Hopes for 'Harry' Come Down to Earth a Bit

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As syndicated shows premiered their new seasons, all eyes were on NBCUniversal’s Harry, starring Harry Connick Jr. The program debuted Sept. 12 and is the only new first-run show to boast national clearance on local TV stations.

Whether Harry sinks or swims could have ramifications across syndication, with studios already hesitant to spend much money on big new launches headlined by famous names. In recent years, shows including Disney-ABC’s Katie, NBCUniversal’s Meredith Vieira, Sony Pictures Television’s Queen Latifah and Warner Bros.’ Bethenny and AndersonLive all have failed to gain traction. As a result, studios are producing less fare for TV stations and stations are less willing to take risks. That means there are far less at-bats for stations and far more hours of local news.

Harry’s first day offered some hope, opening at a 1.4 rating/4 share primary-run household average in the 56 weighted metered markets, according to Nielsen Media Research, up 27% compared to year-ago time periods. Among women 25-54, Harry premiered at a 0.7/4, up 40% compared to September 2015.

But that number fell off in the following days, and Harry ended its first week at a 1.1/3 household average, even with last year at this time. But more important than the national numbers will be Harry’s performance in top markets on the Fox owned stations.

“Harry has to do well on the Fox O&Os. That’s going to be the determinate,” says Bill Carroll, senior VP, director of content strategy, Katz Television Group.

On Sept. 19 on WNYW New York at 4 p.m., Harry turned in a 1.0/2 in households, even with last year when Warner Bros.’ TMZ Live aired in the time slot. The show came in fourth in the time period.

Among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54—who Fox would like to attract in greater numbers to its 5 p.m. newscasts—Harry turned in a 0.5/3, down 17% from TMZ Live’s 0.6/4 in the hour last year. That ranked Harry third in the time slot in New York, behind only CBS Television Distribution’s syndication leader Judge Judy and WABC’s Eyewitness News.

Now the question for Harry is can it grow—something that’s tough to do but not impossible as evidenced by shows including Warner Bros.’ Ellen DeGeneres and Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams. Still, that requires patience, and how patient NBCUniversal and Fox are willing to be depends on two things: how much Harry costs to produce and how much Fox is paying for it.

It’s early yet, however, and most shows need some time to find their voices.

“They are trying different things,” says Carroll. “They have a strong guest list. They have well-produced field segments and they are just trying to figure out the mix of those things. And Harry has a good rapport with the audience, whether he’s out in the street or in the studio with them. They are looking for the right mix of performances, interviews and comedy.”

While Harry is the only new nationally cleared first-run show to premiere, two other shows also made their debuts during the week of Sept. 12.

Tegna’s T.D. Jakes, which it tested in several markets in the summer of 2015, debuted in about 70 stations across the country as well as on cable network OWN. T.D. Jakes is only cleared in 33 of the country’s 56 metered markets, so it’s hard to gauge its overall performance based on early overnights. But the show averaged a 0.7/2 primary run, weighted metered market average in households and a 0.3/2 among women 25- 54 in its first week, down 30% from last year in households and down 25% in the demo from last year.

Tribune also debuted its new conflict talker Robert Irvine, which replaced Bill Cunningham on The CW. That show opened with 0.5/2 household average for week one, down 17% from year-ago time periods, and tied Jakes in the demo with a 0.3/2, even with last year.

Other syndication veterans premiered during the weeks of Sept. 5 and Sept. 12, including Disney- ABC’s Live With Kelly, Warner Bros.’ Ellen DeGeneres and NBCU’s Steve Harvey, with each premiere faring with different fortunes.