Studios Shopping Shows Ahead of NATPE 2018

Updated: Monday, Dec. 18, 3:57 p.m. ET

It’s been a slow start to the syndie selling season, with studios waiting to see what will happen with Sinclair Broadcast Group’s pending acquisition of Tribune Media and uncertainty in the marketplace over which shows are going and which are staying.

But all of that is about to change heading into the annual NATPE conference in Miami on Jan. 16-18.

“It makes going to NATPE a little more exciting because you have some unknown things coming,” one buyer said. “It’s a late-breaking market and there’s nothing overly flashy on offer.”

Last week, Debmar-Mercury cleared the first nationally syndicated show of the 2018-19 season, selling Caught in Providence to the Fox Television Stations. The show features 80-year-old Municipal Court judge Frank Caprio, who currently stars in his own YouTube channel offering clips from cases he's adjudicated in his Providence, R.I.-based court. 

The YouTube feed, produced by his brother Joseph’s company, Citylife Productions, so far has amassed more than 1 billion views. Caprio’s philosophy is to hear cases with compassion and understanding, and that philosophy comes through the cameras.

“If there’s one thing the Fox TV Stations and Debmar-Mercury have always agreed upon, it’s that the last thing syndication needs is another court show,” Fox Television Stations senior vice president Frank Cicha said in a statement. “So, here comes one. This show is different, though. It’s a completely fresh approach. Just goes to show, never say ‘never!’”

Debmar-Mercury also is shopping a second show: Question Jury, which the company is bringing over from the U.K. and producing for U.S. audiences. The show is a hybrid between a stuck-in-a-house-together show, such as Big Brother, and a quiz show.

Fox, meanwhile, holds the key to a big question hanging over the syndication landscape: Will NBCUniversal’s Harry, starring Harry Connick Jr., return for a third season? The educated guess is no, but it’s also likely that Fox and NBCUniversal will keep their powder dry and make no announcements until later in the season. Since that show occupies key slots on Fox-owned stations, its departure will allow other pieces to drop into place.

What those pieces are remains unclear, although several shows are in the market.

Looking To Get the ‘Last Laugh’

As previously reported, Warner Bros. is shopping a comedic strip, Last Laugh With Jane Lynch, although it’s yet to announce a buyer. That show is targeted to 5 p.m.-8 p.m. time slots on independent stations or those affiliated with Fox, The CW or MyNet. Warner Bros.’ goal is to freshen up stations’ late fringe and prime access blocks as new sitcoms become harder and harder to come by — but as a result, Last Laugh is an expensive show to produce. Still, most industry observers expect it to find a home.

CBS Television Distribution, which launched DailyMail TV this year, is shopping a panel show from Dr. Phil McGraw’s Stage 29 Productions starring Vivica A. Fox called Face the Truth.

Face the Truth, a sort of panel conflict talker, has a good shot at going forward. CBS is reportedly looking for ways to accommodate it, along with Hot Bench, which was created by Judge Judy Sheindlin and made its successful debut in 2014, and The Doctors, which is executive produced by McGraw’s son, Jay, and Dr. Phil executive producer Carla Pennington. Jay McGraw and Pennington also executive produce Daily Mail TV.

Many decisions await the closing of the pending Sinclair-Tribune deal. Renewals for Tribune’s trio of conflict talkers — the NBCUniversal-produced Maury, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos — are due. Sinclair is said to not be particularly fond of the genre, so that could complicate any deal extensions, but those shows take up a fair chunk of real estate on Tribuneowned stations in top markets, and years of trying to produce shows to replace them has yielded nothing with staying power.

This year, Tribune is wrapping up production on its latest attempt, The Robert Irvine Show, which aired afternoons on The CW. That said, Springer is said to want to retire — and he had been considering a run for Ohio governor — so Sinclair is likely going to have some space to fill in the afternoons in big markets once the dust settles.

Another show that airs across Tribune-owned stations, Warner Bros.’ Crime Watch Daily with Chris Hansen, is on the bubble ahead of season four. Should it go away, that’s another hole Sinclair will need to fill, but need alone could help keep it on the air.

Besides deciding the fate of Harry, NBC is said to be shopping an urban panel show starring American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino, as well as working with production partner IMG on whether or not to bring back Steve Harvey vehicle Steve. This season, the show relaunched from Los Angeles with WMEowned IMG as the new producer. So far, ratings for the expensive show have not budged while costs have risen, putting its return in question.

IMG also is shopping a talk show starring TamronHall, who left NBC earlier this year when NBC brought on Megyn Kelly from Fox News and gave her the 9 a.m. time slot formerly occupied by Today’s third hour, where Hall was featured.

Finally, Tegna hopes to renew all three of its locally produced shows: Daily Blast Live, Sing Like a Star and Sister Circle, and the station group is working on two pilots.

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.