NBC Stations in the Spotlight Yet Again

Just weeks after NBC stations were cited as a major reason the network pulled the plug on The Jay Leno Show, they are top of mind once again in the syndication world, thanks to Martha Stewart’s abrupt switch from syndication to cable at the end of last month.

Ever since Oprah Winfrey announced her show was ending, all eyes have been on ABC’s owned stations and affiliates, which predominantly air the top-rated Oprah and now must decide how to replace it. But Stewart’s decision to move her show to the Hallmark Channel shifted the syndication business’ focus to NBC, which now has a daytime hole to fill as well. NBC’s local media group includes stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia—all top markets that syndicators must clear to get shows on the air.

Martha’s surprise move played right into the hands of Sony Pictures Television, which promptly landed a deal with NBC for the Harpo-produced Nate Berkus. NBC’s purchase of Berkus has syndicators speculating that the group also will want to pick up Sony’s other Harpo-produced show, Dr. Oz, which is sold through fall 2011, though both sides say no talks are in the works.

“This [Berkus] deal had nothing to do with Dr. Oz, but we think and hope that when [Oz] comes up for fall 2011, it’d be [a] sweet [addition],” says one NBC station insider. “If we have Ellen, Nate and Oz, all of a sudden NBC is a real daytime player.”

Warner Bros.’ Ellen DeGeneres is the only syndicated show that pops a significant number on NBC’s daytime lineup. Ellen is up for renewal in fall 2011, and Warner Bros. is hoping to leverage Oprah’s departure to upgrade the show’s time slots and license fees.

But if NBC wants Oz, considered the rookie breakout hit this season, it would cost them. Oz currently plays on the Fox stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston. NBC owns stations in all of those markets except Boston, so it would have to pay enough to steal the show from Fox. “Giving up Oz would be a mistake for Fox,” says one syndication executive.

Meanwhile, NBC still has that hole to fill in daytime. Besides Martha, two other syndicated shows will depart NBC’s daytime this fall: its own Deal or No Deal and Warner Bros.’ Bonnie Hunt. Two of these three slots are already filled by Berkus and NBCU’s own off-Bravo Real Housewives. But every syndicator shopping a show is now knocking on NBC’s door to secure that third slot.

NBC may try to go in-house. Sources confirm that NBC’s news division and Access Hollywood are working on a hybrid celebrity news hour, although details on that project are slim and NBCU declined comment.

Another option is Warner Bros.’ MomLogic, which the syndicator is offering in all-barter one-year deals. NBC previously turned down that show, forcing Warner Bros. to push it to 2011 even though the syndicator had already cleared it on 82 stations.

Michael Malone contributed to this story.

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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.