Everything old is new again. Or so syndicators hope.
This year and next, several former stars of syndication will make their return to the medium, among them 1990s talk-show queen Ricki Lake, late-night star Arsenio Hall and multi-hyphenate performer Queen Latifah, who had her own daytime talk show from 1999-2001.
Whether viewers will embrace the return of these personalities is unknown, but syndicators are betting on their name recognition and know-how to attract audiences.
“You are always looking for a known quantity,” says Bill Carroll, vice president, director of programming for the Katz Television Group. “The chances for getting sampled are greater, because these people are already known to audiences. It’s much more difficult today to introduce a local host from Baltimore and Chicago with an unusual name—Oprah Winfrey—than it used to be. It’s less difficult to convince the audience to at least take a look at someone they already know. Once they do, then the show has to deliver.”
Remaining in the public eye has also been important for all three of these talents as they head into their launches, says Carroll. Twentieth will premiere Lake’s new talker this fall, CBS Television Distribution has already sold Hall’s show in more than half the country for 2013 and Sony is in development with Queen Latifah for next fall.
In May, Hall won NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, getting him out in front of audiences again, even though CBS and Tribune both say they had been kicking around the idea of bringing him back to late-night long before he agreed to give Apprentice a shot. Lake went on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars under similar circumstances. She already knew she was planning to return to daytime talk when she agreed to do the primetime reality show, and her appearance on DWTS put her right back in the spotlight.
“There’s no substitute for Ricki’s experience,” says Greg Meidel, president of Twentieth Television. “She’s done 2,400 shows. She knows the mechanics of doing a talk show.”
Twentieth is also working hard to update Lake’s image, branding the current Ricki as a divorcee, newlywed, mother of a blended family and a woman who has had struggles with her weight, just like so many of the women who will be watching the show.
As for Hall, “Eighteen years later, we’re going to re-light lightning in a bottle,” says John Nogawski, CTD president. “The generation that watched him when they were 18-34 is now 35-54, and no one is really satisfying them. Arsenio should appeal to those 35-54-year-olds that are right in the sweet spot of the demographic of those Tribune-owned CW stations.”
Queen Latifah has remained in the spotlight with starring roles in movies The Dilemma and Joyful Noise, along with a high-profile voice role in Ice Age: Continental Drift. She is also starring in a remake of Steel Magnolias for Lifetime that features an all-black cast.
“There’s a familiarity there,” says Brad Adgate, senior VP and director of research for Horizon Media. “If those shows get the number of viewers today that they got when they were originally on, they would be megahits. I think that’s what [the syndicators] are hoping to recapture. The threshold for having a hit show in syndication is a lot lower now than it was back then.”
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