Scripps Asked America, and It Said 'Yes'

A year ago, Scripps took a shot that viewers might want to try something a bit more homegrown when the station group premiered the series Let’s Ask America and The List in a limited number of markets. It turns out they were right: With both shows returning next season and expanding into other markets, the experiment has to be considered a success.

Overall, it’s a good time for locally developed shows, with Right This Minute and America Now also coming back next season.

Let’s Ask America is a half-hour game show developed for Scripps by Warner Bros.’ first-run production arm, Telepictures. The show features host Kevin Pereira—former creator and host of G4’s Attack of the Show—running the program’s multiple-choice polling game with at-home viewers who Skype in their answers. Each day, $50,000 is up for grabs among four players.

Scripps looked at more than 60 game show ideas before narrowing it down to a few, with Let’s Ask America finally winning out, says Bob Sullivan, VP of content for E. W. Scripps’ TV group.

Right now, Let’s Ask America airs as a strip in eight Scripps-owned markets: Phoenix; Tampa; Bakersfield, Calif.; Baltimore; Kansas City; Cincinnati; Cleveland; and Tulsa, Okla. This fall, the show will expand to two more markets: Detroit and West Palm Beach, Fla. All 13 Scripps stations already air the weekend edition of Let’s Ask America.

Also this fall, The List will join Let’s Ask America in access in West Palm, upping from six Scripps markets— Phoenix, Tampa, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Tulsa—to seven.

Scripps, in conjunction with Warner Bros. and Telepictures, is also looking at distributing Let’s Ask America in national domestic syndication as well as internationally.

Somewhat like America Now, the newsmagazine backed by station group Raycom and renewed last week for season four, The List combines the news of the day with pop culture and humor. The List is hosted by Matt Gallant, Jan Jeffcoat, Conor Knighton and Teresa Strasser and executive produced by Rick Joyce, a former news director at CBS Television Distribution’s Entertainment Tonight.

Scripps launched The List after conducting two years of research on what its stations’ viewers like to watch. “We just wanted to get The List going on our own stations,” says Sullivan. “All of a sudden, we have outside interest on that show. We’ll be moving it to some other broadcast groups as early as [this] fall.”

Scripps is also an investor in another locally grown show, Right This Minute, a viral video series that’s a joint effort with Cox and Raycom. Right This Minute currently airs on more than 50 TV stations and is distributed nationally by MGM Domestic Television.

“All three shows are doing very well,” says Sullivan. “They are a long-term play for us.”

Let’s Ask America and The List replaced syndication veterans Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! on the Scripps stations, a move that caused ripples in the marketplace. While neither Let’s Ask America nor The List is earning anywhere near the same revenue that Wheel and Jeopardy! were, Scripps is happy with the new shows’ ratings performances, particularly among key adult demographics.

Both shows are in positive cash flow, says Sullivan, and they both skew younger and cost less than the series they replaced. While Wheel and Jeopardy! bring in household viewers by the ton—averaging a 7.2 rating/12 share in households in February 2012 compared to Let’s Ask America’s2.4/4 and The List’s 2.9/5 this Feburary—the veteran games have the two highest median-age audiences in syndication. According to Nielsen data, the median age of Wheel viewers is 65 and Jeopardy!’s is 64.3.

Since October, Let’s Ask America is up 33% among women 25-54, to an average 1.2 from a 0.9, on its seven Scripps’ stations. The show also is up 43% among adults 25-54, to a 1.0 from a 0.7.

In Tampa, Cincinnati and Cleveland, “on any given day, Let’s Ask America and The List beat Wheel and Jeopardy! in those key demos,” says Sullivan.

Finally, the two newscasts that precede Let’s Ask America in Phoenix and Kansas City are up 38% for the year among women 25-54 and up 31% among adults 25-54, although households are down 16%.

The List leads out of local newscasts in all five markets where it airs in access. While household news audiences are down by 11% in those markets, women 25-54 is flat and adults 25-54 is up 6%.

“The next thing we have to look at is what’s going on with daytime,” says Sullivan. “We are trying to figure out what the future holds for us. We’ve never said we were getting out of syndicated programming. But we are going to at least blend in some of our own shows, and that will be true in daytime as well.”

Updated April 2, 2013, 9 a.m., PT

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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.