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Syndicators See Opportunity In New ABC Time Slots

Katie Couric won’t be the only beneficiary of the new time slot that ABC is giving back to its affiliates to accommodate Couric’s new daytime talk show in 2012. Rival syndicators are already circling the hour.

“There are no guarantees that ABC affiliates will necessarily pick up the Katie Couric project,” says Bill Carroll, vice president, programming, Katz Television Group Programming. “When you give back an hour, that’s exactly what you are doing, giving it back. I’m sure all of the ABC affiliates will seriously look at the program, but that’s not necessarily their only option. I would have to assume other syndicators will be out there making offerings with that time period in mind.”

That assumption is correct. “Just because a contract is signed and in the door doesn’t mean you can’t make a better deal,” says one syndicator. “Just because a show is locked up until 2015, doesn’t mean I still wouldn’t work hard if I thought I could steal that slot. If I could upgrade a time period and get more money, I’d do it in a heartbeat.”

ABC already has committed to giving the 3 p.m. time slot on its eight owned stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Raleigh/Durham, N.C., and Fresno, Calif., to Couric’s talker. But it’s doubtful that every ABC affiliate will make the same move. ABC affiliates owned by other station groups—such as Hearst’s WCVB Boston or Belo’s WFAA Dallas—will have the option to upgrade a show that they own, acquire something else, expand their local news or produce an original local program.

Back at January’s annual NATPE convention in Miami, syndicators agreed it was time to take some big swings. This is the year that Oprah Winfrey ended her talk show, leaving a big hole in daytime TV. Meanwhile, TV-station revenue is on the rise, the automotive industry is making a comeback, stations are starting to reap the benefits of drastically increased retransmission-consent fees and a competitive presidential election year is on the horizon.

It’s into that upwardly-mobile environment that Couric is headed, and she is certainly the biggest name to take on daytime since perhaps Dr. Phil successfully spun out of Oprah in 2002. But the TV landscape that Couric faces is much more fragmented than the one Phil McGraw walked into 10 years ago. And syndicators are lining up competitors to take on the former anchor of the CBS Evening News.

This fall, Warner Bros. will launch Anderson, featuring CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. Warner Bros. has secured strong time periods for the show but only signed stations to one-year deals, so Anderson’s renewal will entirely depend on performance. Debmar- Mercury is bringing out British talk show host Jeremy Kyle, who is unknown in the U.S. but a proven performer in the U.K., with 1,000-plus episodes already under his belt.

Other first-run shows joining the syndication lineup are CBS Television Distribution’s Excused, Tribune’s Bill Cunningham (in select markets) and Entertainment Studios’ Who Wants to Date a Comedian. Warner Bros. is launching Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers with Dr. Drew Pinsky on the CW, a show that could move into syndication after a year or two on the network.

The field in 2011 is considered to be relatively weak, but those deals are done. Now all eyes have turned to 2012, when Couric will debut. Twentieth is marketing the return of Ricki Lake, who did a talk show produced by Sony from 1993 to 2004 and is now a divorced mother with new perspective to offer.

“You can compare it to the high-brow exclusive country club versus the public pool,” says one syndicator. “[Executive producer Jeff] Zucker and Katie have spent a lot of time getting what they want and doing it at a high level. They are the country club people. Ricki feels more at home being at that local pool with the regular people.”

Debmar-Mercury this summer is testing a talk show with Episcopalian priest and Spanish-language talk show host Father Albert Cutie, while Warner Bros.’ subsidiary, Telepictures, is developing a talk show with Bravo network personality Bethenny Frankel.

That’s likely to be just the beginning of a busy development season for 2012, when even more time periods could open up. Anderson is not guaranteed a second season, while both CTD’s Swift Justice—which just announced it will switch from Nancy Grace to Jackie Glass in season two—and Sony’s Nate Berkus will come to the end of their two-year terms in spring 2012. Both shows will have to demonstrate dramatically improved ratings to get renewed.

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