Skip to main content

Strong Summer Tests Mean 2016 Slots Are Filling Up Fast

At first glance, it seems like 2016 offers an opportunity for distributors to sell new shows to TV stations that could feasibly have open time slots. But dig a little deeper and almost all of the would-be opportunities are already spoken for.

What created a logjam in the marketplace was that all three of last year’s new shows—Warner Bros.’ The Real, NBCUniversal’s Meredith Vieira and Debmar- Mercury’s Celebrity Name Game—were renewed, limiting the number of available slots. This fall, only three new shows are debuting nationally: Warner Bros.’ Crime Watch Daily, Disney-ABC’s FABLife and NBCU’s Crazy Talk. Fox and Media General also are rolling out Hollywood Today Live on select stations, although that show isn’t cleared nationally.

The three shows were renewed, but they weren’t all especially strong. Meredith, which averaged a 0.9 in households in the week ended Aug. 2, is considered the least likely of the bunch to make it to season three, even though NBCU is revamping it by making the show live and adding a panel. In fact, industry sources are speculating that NBCU could pull the show early next year and replace it with a series starting Harry Connick Jr., which is in development.

“We are fully committed to Meredith Vieira. We have improved the format with an eye toward increased ratings. Harry Connick’s show is being developed for fall 2016 and the show is not yet greenlit,” says an NBC source. That said, NBC sources are high on Connick, adding that the pilot is one of the best they’ve seen in years.

‘The Real’ Deal

Warner Bros.’ The Real—which switched out its executive producer, Sallyann Salsano, for season 2, replacing her with Rachel Miskowiec—is more likely to come back for a third season than Vieira, even though the two shows are usually neck-and-neck in households. The Real performs better among young women and Fox, which owns the show in the country’s biggest markets, is happy with it.

“I assume The Real is going to be fine,” says Bill Carroll, VP, director of content strategy, Katz Television Group. “I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t come back unless it has significant declines this season.” The Real, like Meredith, has been downgraded in several markets, which will make improving its ratings challenging.

Meanwhile, Celebrity Name Game, starring Craig Ferguson, is showing slight but steady growth and its chief stakeholder, Tribune, is enthusiastic about the show.

“For July and the first week of August, Celebrity Name Game has been winning its time slots among adults 25-54,” says Sean Compton, Tribune president of strategic programming and acquisition. “In Los Angeles, Dallas and Denver it’s doing much better. We are happy about where that show is headed.”

Some veteran shows are showing weakness, including CTD’s The Doctors and Rachael Ray and Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz, but opinions are mixed on whether those shows will get nixed. For example, Dr. Oz, which has faced attacks from critics over the past two years and is down 30% season-to-date this year compared to last, is expected to remain on the air at least through its current contract, which runs through 2016-17.

CTD is prepping a new show for fall 2016, which is being developed out of a partnership between Dr. Phil McGraw and his son, Jay, and The Daily Mail out of the U.K. Where that show could fit on stations’ schedules remains unclear, due to its likely being an access play. Tribune could potentially have some space for it since that group has been backing away from off-network sitcoms.

Summer Testing 1, 2, 3

Distributors are lining up other replacement shows as well, and unlike years past when most development took place quietly in studio offices, the process now frequently unfolds on TV screens in select markets. This summer features three such tests alone, with good results so far.

The Fox Television Stations are currently in the middle of testing their second show, Warner Bros.’ Ice and Coco, in eight metered markets, including two Sinclair-owned stations. At presstime, the Ice and Coco test was only a week old, but it’s results so far are strong enough that it’s being considered a clear contender for a 2016 launch. And while Ice and Coco’s ratings are 50% better than Boris and Nicole’s, the latter shouldn’t be counted out either.

Whether or not there will be room for either show next fall depends on a few factors. One of those is whether The Real gets renewed, and the largest factor there will likely be if Warner Bros. sees the economic upside of keeping it on across the country; so far, it looks like Warner Bros. does.

That said, renewing The Real doesn’t mean that Ice and Coco and Boris and Nicole can’t come back next fall, but it does mean there will probably only be room for one of them.

Meanwhile, Tegna is prepping its four-market test of T.D. Jakes to launch Aug. 17, which would be shopped to Big Three affiliates if it works.

Another way time periods could open up next year would be if one or more of this year’s rookies fails to move to season 2. Early signs point to clear skies for at least two of the new launches: Tribune is high on Crime Watch Daily, which is premiering mostly as a news lead-in, while Disney-ABC’s FABLife has a two-year deal with stations. Crazy Talk is relatively inexpensive to produce and thus easier to keep on the air than its more costly brethren. All three shows bow Sept. 14.

With most of the space already locked down, distributors and station groups are starting to plan for 2017, when the contracts of several shows expire.