'Jerry O' Hopes to Bring Stations Its Brand of Funny

Why This Matters:Jerry O is the biggest syndicated test Fox has run yet, and it’s setting the standard for similar tests in the future.

When Fox’s latest test — Jerry O, starring Jerry O’Connell — premieres on Monday, Aug. 12, it will mark several syndication firsts.

It’s the first time Fox is running a test in the time slot occupied by The Wendy Williams Show, which has been performing in the post-Good Day spot for the past decade and is entering its 11th season after first premiering as a test in 2008. Wendy Williams airs mostly in originals, but ratings plummet when it goes into repeats.

Jerry O is getting one of the broadest test runs that Fox stations have ever aired, with the show taking Wendy time slots on WNYW New York at 10 a.m., KTTV Los Angeles at 10 a.m., WFLD Chicago at 10 a.m., WTXF Philadelphia at 10 a.m., KDFW Dallas at 11 a.m., WTTG Washington, D.C., at 11 a.m., KRVI Houston at 10 a.m., KTVU San Francisco at 10 a.m., WAGA Atlanta at 11 a.m., WTVT Tampa at 11 a.m., KSAZ Phoenix at 10 a.m., WJBK Detroit at noon, KMSP Minneapolis at noon, WOFL Orlando at 10 a.m., KTBC Austin at 10 a.m. and WRBW Gainesville at 11 a.m.

“It’s exactly the kind of thing we’ve been looking to do — to be in 52 weeks of originals, Frank Cicha, executive VP of programming at Fox Television Stations, said. “That’s a huge breakthrough in what we do, not only in testing but in the entire business. Ultimately, we’d love to have all of our successful hours be as close to 52 weeks of originals as possible.”

It’s also the first time that production company Funny or Die will try its hand at daytime. Funny or Die is best known for producing viral videos but has gone way beyond that, producing 600 episodes of late-night series @midnight, starring Chris Hardwick, for Comedy Central, and many other shows.

“[Producing @midnight] allowed us to stretch our muscles making high-quality comedy content day in and day out,” Funny or Die CEO Mike Farah said. “We started thinking about how Funny or Die could add value in the daytime talk-show space. Jerry is truly the perfect vehicle for that — he’s such a great guy and a great actor. He can move quickly and he loves pop culture — he’s a consumer of life in a way. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel but just to put our stamp on it. This feels like it’s going to be a very funny and inclusive show.”

The partnership with Funny or Die also is the first time, at least in recent memory, that a daytime talk show will kick off each episode with a sketch. Those will star O’Connell and be produced by Funny or Die.

“It’s an SNL-type cold open with Jerry doing something that showcases his talent and makes the audience feel comfortable,” Ira Bernstein, co-president of Debmar-Mercury, said. Lionsgate-owned Debmar-Mercury is co-producing Jerry O with Funny or Die and distributing it to the Fox stations. Last week, Talking Dead executive producer Brandon Monk was named showrunner.

Skits Aid Sociability

Producing those skits gives Jerry O an opportunity to make a splash online during its three-week test period, something that’s become increasingly important to all day-and-date shows. Once the show gets past the opening skit, it will move into guest chat and other standard daytime talk tropes, with an aim to keep the audience laughing. The skits will be pre-shot but the rest of the show will be shot live to tape in New York and air live on the East Coast.

“This is not a skit show, but we wanted to take advantage of his ability to be funny,” Mort Marcus, co-president, Debmar-Mercury, said. “By adding Funny or Die, we’ll get some digital segments and things that could go viral. We’re going to take a risk — not all of them work, but you try. That’s why it’s a co-production.”

O’Connell — who has a long history in entertainment, starting when he starred in movies such as Stand by Me and Jerry Maguire, through several appearances on TV and Broadway — made an impression on Debmar-Mercury in subbing for Williams last March.

“When Wendy took a sabbatical, I couldn’t believe the Debmar people called me up,” O’Connell said. “That was the scariest thing I had ever done in my career and I am not joking. I’ve opened Broadway shows and that was about half as scary as having to do Wendy.”

O’Connell plays down his experience but he’s been kicking around the daytime space since he started subbing for Regis Philbin on Live with Regis and Kelly in 2011. Both times Live has been looking for a new co-host, O’Connell has been high on the list of possible replacements, even though he ultimately lost out to Michael Strahan in 2012 and Ryan Seacrest in 2017.

“[Guest-hosting on Live] was like getting a doctorate in live daytime syndicated television,” O’Connell said. “I was not savvy to that world. I had been a frequent guest on The Tony Danza Show, on The Ainsley Harriott Show, I had done Bonnie Hunt a few times. I was a guest and I was a good guest too — I always brought a funny story or a picture from home. But sitting next to Kelly is like playing with Michael Jordan.”

Even though O’Connell did not end up with the full-time gig at Live, that exposure proved valuable because other syndicators started seeing him as a possible star of his own vehicle. In 2014, he and his wife, Rebecca Romijn, shot a pilot with CBS Television Distribution, Man in the Middle, that did not go forward due to economic considerations. He also starred in a test late-night show on Bravo titled Play by Play. But even with all that behind him, this upcoming three-week test is O’Connell’s best shot at landing a national show.

Said Cicha: “Jerry’s a great talent, and he did a great job filling in for Wendy. We’re comfortable with him being able to do this.”

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.