How Talkers Have Fought to Stay on Air

The beauty of TV is that viewers have no idea what it takes to bring a show from studio to screen, although the stay-at-home requirements of the pandemic have pulled back the curtain somewhat on the magic of television. For those producing daytime shows, it has seemed less like magic and more like hard work and ingenuity.

Candi Carter’s first day as executive producer on Disney’s Tamron Hall was Monday, March 16, just as New York City was heading into a weeks-long quarantine. Carter — who moved over from ABC’s The View, where she was executive producer — suddenly found herself having to remotely produce a day time talk show that she had never seen produced in the studio with a staff she largely hadn’t met and with no control room. Luckily, she has a host who’s ready to report stories at anytime.

Meanwhile, Kelly Clarkson, host of NBCUniversal’s The Kelly Clarkson Show, had headed up to her ranch in Montana. The only housing on the grounds is a small cabin that Clarkson and her husband intend to renovate. They were surprised when they realized they would need to remain at the ranch for the indefinite future. Still, the host has managed to gamely stay on the air and on social media — giving tours of the property and performing from her bathroom— hair, makeup and broadcast transmission quality be damned.

Over at Disney’s Live with Kelly and Ryan, things were somewhat less complicated but moved much quicker. Live barely missed a beat, even after everyone on the show retreated to their homes. Now, Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest call in most days to Skype with guests, and Michael Gelman executive produces from his home with the help of his daughter. One advantage: Live maintained the use of its control room, which allowed it to remain live on the air several days a week.

That control room is something Carter has been craving and she’s about to get it: “We found a pass-through control room that we’re going to be able to start using in the next two weeks, and that will make all of our lives easier,” she said. “We won’t have to produce every show from scratch.”

Hall is recording interviews and segments remotely — including a comfort cooking segment with Carla Hall and an interview with former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) — from her home using her iPhone and a ring light.

For Hall, taking the show remote is second nature. After she left NBC in 2017, she appeared frequently on Instagram Live, where she has accrued a following of 880,000 that calls itself the TamFam. Another 167,000 follow @TheTamron-HallShow on the platform. Returning there “seemed like the natural way to stay in touch with our audience,” Hall said.

As it became clear in-studio production wasn’t returning, Carter, Hall and the team made plans to return original production to the air, which they did on March 30. “We didn’t want to just occupy the air,” Hall said. “We wanted to show our value to the people who watch every day. We wanted to show the marketplace the value of a daytime show like ours.”

For Clarkson, the pandemic has proven her show’s brand premise of authenticity and relatability: As a mom stuck in a cabin with small children, no reliable internet and not even a blow dryer, her experience has been about as authentic as it gets. (She has better internet and a blow dryer now, after five weeks of quarantine.)

“The silver lining for us is that we built the show around Kelly Clarkson, which means it’s about positivity, connection and realness,” executive producer Alex Duda said. “She’s like a healing balm for the bruised world. That message had to get out however we could do it. It felt like it was needed.”

Still, it wasn’t easy, with Duda and her team having to create a new plan each week and then rip that plan up and start again as everything constantly shifted around them.

Meanwhile, Clarkson admitted in one of her “Messages from Montana” that she loves life without having to fuss over her hair and makeup, and has turned in footage from the ranch as well as in-cabin performances, including one featuring the show’s entire crew for Clarkson’s new single, “Just Sing,” from the animated movie Trolls World Tour.

The show also has been continuing to offer its “Good Neighbor” segments, which it launched with and now feature people doing good works during this trying time. Similarly, Live has a daily “Heroes” segment, featuring nurses, first responders and other essential workers, and Tamron Hall is featuring daily video diaries of people’s experiences during the shutdown.

More Watching, Interacting

For each of the shows, the extra effort has been rewarded with higher ratings and better digital presence. Tamron Hall has hit series highs during this time, while Live has been leading the talkers for the past month in both households and women 25-54. Kelly Clarkson has improved its digital presence with 16% subscriber growth, a 25% increase in video viewers and 40% growth in engagement across all of its social platforms during quarantine, said Betsy Bergman, senior VP, marketing and brand strategy at NBCUniversal.

The takeaway is that pandemic or no, what daytime syndication does best is stay steady and consistent for its viewers. “It reminds us of what we’ve learned over these 30-plus years of doing the show: That the basics are what people want most,” Live’s Gelman said in an email interview. “We all love the production values we have in the studio — they bring energy and excitement and the show looks great. But what people really want is that daily connection and relatable human stories and that’s one of the reasons we felt it was important to get back on the air.”

Paige Albiniak

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.