NBCU in Talks to Give "The Bodyguard" Wilkos a Talk Show

NBC Universal is in talks for a new syndicated talk show with Steve “The Bodyguard” Wilkos, the longtime director of security on NBCU’s The Jerry Springer Show.

Industry executives tell B&C that the Wilkos project, which has long been in development, has gained momentum in recent weeks since NBCU put a daily syndication version of the NBC hit Deal or No Deal on the back burner. The move is said to have come after NBCU encountered network resistance and a host of other problems, including finding the right host.

A Wilkos project may be seen by Tribune as being most compatible with the multiple runs of Springer and NBCU’s Maury that air on its large market stations in daytime. It could end up replacing the low-rated Sony/Tribune rookie talk show Greg Behrendt on the group.

Such a deal would put to rest industry rumors that Tribune Broadcasting, whose parent company is on the sales block, has frozen program buying for fall. And it also would likely set into motion a series of events at next week’s NATPE sales conference.

Sony, which has confidence in Behrendt despite its 0.8 household rating this season, would likely try to shop it to the Fox stations or elsewhere. Fox could potentially eye it as a replacement for Warner Bros.’ low-rated Keith Ablow if that syndicator pulls the plug.

NBCU’s syndication plans for Deal were understood not to have been greeted warmly by NBC, which already carries the game multiple times per week. It feared that Deal could burn out like an over-exposed Who Wants to Be a Millionaire did on ABC in 1999-2000.

Wilkos, 42, a Chicago police officer known for his large build and bald head, started moonlighting on Springer as a security guard in 1994 when it taped an infamous Ku Klux Klan episode. He has often filled in for Springer as host with his shows centering on “goodwill” assignments, like removing teen prostitutes from brothels.

Tribune has struggled over the years to find an upscale show to put into its daytime rotation that would work with Springer and Maury. A Wilkos talker could be done cheaper, sharing the same studio space and crew as Springer at NBC’s WMAQ building in Chicago, which would keep the extra production revenue in-house.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. is said to be considering ex-Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro as a judge for its proposed Celebrity Jury court show. A report in Wednesday’s New York Post stated Pirro was being eyed for a talk show but others say it is for the judge role.

The Fox station group is believed to be looking at the court show, which has already been cleared in some secondary markets. Warner Bros. is also trying to get Fox to commit to a new magazine show based on its popular TMZ.com Website.

If negotiations don’t stall this week, Warner Bros. could move ahead with a formal announcement on one or both projects before the start of NATPE next week. Warner Bros. has declined to comment on its potential syndication projects.

Should the Warner Bros. and NBCU series proceed, there would be six new first-run shows from the majors being shopped at NATPE for fall—a magazine, two court, two talk and one game show—versus seven last year.   

NBCU had no comment.