Why This Matters: Big stars give syndication a pop of excitement that boosts the entire industry.
Kelly Clarkson is the pop superstar everyone feels they know, in part because they grew up with her. After she was crowned as the first winner of Fox’s mega-hit American Idol in 2002, Clarkson climbed to the top of the charts and never came back down. American audiences have been with her — and behind her — the entire time.
Now, TV audiences will get to know her even better, and on a much more personal level than a stadium stage. The Kelly Clarkson Show has been cleared on the NBC Owned Television Stations where it will replace Steve, hosted by Steve Harvey, at 2 p.m. leading into Warner Bros.’ Ellen DeGeneres at 3 p.m. in top markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
“She’s one of us in a way that not other celebrities are,” said executive producer Alex Duda, the five-time Emmy winner who will produce the show. Duda has executive-produced The Steve Harvey Show for NBCUniversal and The Tyra Banks Show for Warner Bros.
Clarkson’s ascent into the celebrity stratosphere has had as much to do with her comfort and charisma onstage as the popularity of her hit songs. “I’m the girl who announces she’s pregnant on stage and hasn’t even told her husband, so my husband has had to sort of lean into that part about me,” Clarkson said. “I’m literally an open book. I’m totally imperfect and that’s why I think I’m relatable.”
This quality — a down-to-earth celebrity — is a unicorn in Hollywood, and NBC is betting she will be a breakaway star and bring some pop back into daytime television.
The Kelly Clarkson Show will include interviews and segments with both celebrities and everyday people, as well as field pieces in which Clarkson spends time in local communities.
“We’re aiming for half real people and half celebrities,” Clarkson said. In the pilot, the show featured Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Terry Crews, Chloe Grace Moretz, This Is Us’ Chrissy Metz and Josh Groban, as well as some real people sharing their lives with Clarkson. She also visited Los Angeles’ so-called Skid Row, including one of the few homeless shelters in the area that accepts children.
Last year, TV audiences got their real first taste of Clarkson on TV in more than a decade. Paul Telegdy, now co-chairman of NBC Entertainment, recruited Clarkson to join Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Alicia Keys as a judge on The Voice, the network’s musical competition series, putting her in a regular primetime slot for the first time since Idol.
“Honestly, they had been asking me for a while to do The Voice and I just kept being pregnant,” Clarkson laughed. Now she has two children of her own with husband and manager Brandon Blackstock, who also manages Shelton and Reba McIntire, and she’s stepmom to Blackstock’s two older kids.
Clarkson’s immediate charm on The Voice comes as no surprise if you take a journey down a YouTube rabbit hole and watch her original audition video for Idol. Back in 2002, you can already see that she was a perfect choice for The Voice.
After the just-turned-20-year-old Clarkson belted out immaculate a cappella versions of “At Last” and Madonna’s “Express Yourself,” she then encouraged judge Randy Jackson to audition himself, taking a seat at the judge’s table and quickly getting cozy with Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell.
From that moment, a star was born. Clarkson went on to win the first edition of the show before 23 million viewers with 58% of the call-in vote. Since then, she’s gone on to sell more than 25 million albums and 45 million singles worldwide, while winning three Grammy Awards, three MTV Video Music Awards, four American Music Awards, and two Academy of Country Music Awards. She’s been at the top of the Billboard chart more than 100 times.
Even with all of those accolades, she’s always remained true to herself, which is why she resonates with fans and viewers.
“When I was going to meet Kelly, Paul [Telegdy] said to me, ‘She’s exactly who you think she is,’ ” NBCUniversal executive vice president of creative affairs Tracie Wilson said. “That’s so true. I felt like I was her best friend. She is as down to earth as you can get. She’s also one of the most talented people on the planet. What I love about Kelly is that she hasn’t forgotten where she comes from.”
Being a mother only adds to Clarkson’s appeal to women-dominant daytime audiences, Valari Staab, president of NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations, said.
“Anytime I talked to syndicators about personalities I would be interested in seeing do a show, she was always at the top of my list,” Staab said. “She’s a mother of a blended family that includes teenagers and little ones. She manages a career and balances her home life incredibly well. She’s very real and honest. She doesn’t try to pretend her life and world is perfect. She’s a person I think women of all ages can relate to and enjoy spending time with.”
Pairing Up with Ellen
Clarkson is excited that the show is leading into Ellen. Clarkson and Ellen DeGeneres already have a great rapport, with Clarkson having appeared many times on Ellen, including right after she won Idol.
When Steve led into Ellen, Harvey and DeGeneres — who are also friends and production partners — appeared together in many promos. Staab expects that to happen again, schedules allowing.
“Ellen is amazing with us and really does just about anything we ask her to do,” Staab said.
“I grew up watching Oprah and Ellen,” Clarkson said. “Those are two women I have looked up to in the industry — they are humorous, they have a lot of heart and they do a lot of good for people.”
Unlike those two divas of daytime, Clarkson will lean into her main talent set, which is singing and music. “Music will be a big part of the show,” Clarkson said, with a few of her regular musicians joining her on stage every day.
Something Clarkson does when she’s on tour — and these clips are also all over YouTube — is take fan requests for her to cover songs by other artists. That’s something she plans to do on her show, letting audience members pick her opening song before getting into the heart of the program.
“I love other artists — learning from them, being inspired by them,” Clarkson said. “I want to lift them up.”
Ahead of the show going into production in Los Angeles, Clarkson is going on concert tour this spring. During that tour, she plans to take fan requests, as well as build up her interview muscles with live, on-stage interviews with local celebrities in the various markets she is visiting. She’ll also visit TV stations carrying her show, doing some promotional work with them while she’s in town.
Half Real People, Half Celebrities
Clarkson has an advantage in that she’s working with a very experienced executive producer in Duda, who NBC hand-selected to executive-produce The Kelly Clarkson Show after earlier signing her to a development deal.
“Alex and I are different people, but that’s what makes this a great partnership,” said Clarkson. “We share commonalities in that she and I both want to produce a show that will make a positive impact.”
NBC has faith in Duda, who has proven herself by producing other successful shows.
“Alex knows how to put a great staff together and Kelly is allowing Alex to produce her,” Wilson said. “It’s a collaboration, don’t get me wrong, but Kelly is really open to letting Alex and her team run these segments and get them from point A to point B. Alex is a great storyteller and Kelly is a great connector. The two of them together is a perfect combination.”
Can Clarkson overcome one of the the biggest sins of daytime talk show hosts: not listening long enough for an engaging conversation? “There are some people who aren’t comfortable in conversation and who don’t know how to ask you about you,” Duda said of Clarkson. “She can’t stop doing that. She does it all the time.
“She did it in the pilot with people on stage. The editors are walking out, hugging her. She does it on social media with her fans. That’s what we are building this show on because she has this super power that not very many people have.”
Having a strong social media presence is key in syndication — and on TV in general — and Clarkson already has that skill locked down, Duda said.
“She’s real real on social,” Duda said. “I want the show to feel loose that way. For her, it’s going to be in the pauses and the asides. Her point of view is so unique and funny.”
“A lot of people in my industry have their guard up,” Clarkson said. “But I’m not afraid of what will happen if I do something I shouldn’t have done or say something I shouldn’t have said. I’ll just get in trouble and move on. But I think the more open we are, the less trouble we get into.”
Along those lines, The Kelly Clarkson Show’s team plans to work closely with NBC’s digital division on digital shorts and other online content like viewers have grown used to seeing for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, Late Night With Seth Meyers, Saturday Night Live and other NBC programs. Clarkson is used to such collaborations, having appeared on the popular “Carpool Karaoke” segment from CBS’ The Late Late Show With James Corden that has so far racked up more than 12 million views.
“The entire company will come together in support of the launch of Kelly’s daytime show on-air, online and across social platforms,” Betsy Bergman, senior VP of marketing at NBCUniversal TV Distribution, said.
For Duda, it’s all about tapping into the core of Clarkson’s personality. “This show is something that’s going to lift you up, brighten your day, give you a laugh and bring you some truth,” Duda promised.
While Clarkson understands well that the percentage of success in daytime is extremely low, she’s still excited about giving it a shot.
“I like talking so maybe I’ll be good at this; I don’t know,” Clarkson laughed. “I want to make people laugh, and I feel like our nation is so divided that I want to bring out our commonalities.”
Filling Up Daytime
New syndicated shows still in the mix for in fall 2019
• Disney’s talker Tamron Hall, cleared on ABC, Hearst and other stations
• Fox’s game show 25 Words or Less starring Meredith Vieira
• Sony Pictures Television’s Mel Robbins in partnership with Tribune, featuring motivational speaker Robbins
• NBCU’s Judge Jerry, court show starring Jerry Springer
• Entertainment Studios’ The World’s Funniest Weather
• MGM’s The Drama
• MGM’s Personal Injury Court
• PPI Releasing’s Forensic Factor, from Canada’s Bell Media
SOURCE: B&C research
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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.