Three Reasons To Bank on a Hit

It's syndication's season of hope, the time of year when slates start blank and executives cross their fingers that new 20-year hits are set to be born.

Some seasons produce more reason for hope than others, and this year’s three major first-run strips all come to market with circumstances squarely in their favor.

Warner Bros.’ panel talker The Real is sold into appropriate time slots on nontraditional affiliations, such as Fox and The CW, unlike Warner Bros.’ Bethenny, which was sold to the Fox Owned Television Stations and then to traditional Big Three affiliates in 80% of the country last year. While those are desired time slots, they proved not to be good fits for Bethenny.

The Real is the right show on the right stations with the right mix of people,” said Bill Carroll, vice president, programming, Katz Television Group. “And if somebody doesn’t work out, they can maneuver around that because the show isn’t built around one person. Bethenny worked or didn’t work because of Bethenny [Frankel] herself. If The Real isn’t working, they can just swap out panelists.”

NBCUniversal’s Meredith Vieira has a cushy afternoon slot waiting for her on the NBC Owned Stations, leading into established hits NBCU’s Steve Harvey and Warner Bros.’ Ellen. Although Vieira—like Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper and Jane Pauley before her—comes to daytime with a major news background, she brings something else those hosts did not have: daytime and syndication experience. Like Couric and Pauley, Vieira coanchored NBC’s Today, but she also hosted ABC’s The View and Disney-ABC’s Who Wants To Be a Millionaire. She knows the difference between anchoring a news program and chatting with the daytime audience—and she hopes to learn from the failures the other news anchors had in the space.

“The expectations for Meredith are nothing compared to Katie,” said Carroll. “The producers are going in looking at what happened with Pauley, Cooper and Couric, and going in a completely different direction.”

Making a ‘Name’

Debmar-Mercury’s Celebrity Name Game, starring Craig Ferguson, probably comes to market with the highest expectations, since it’s airing in access time slots on Tribune-owned stations in major markets. In markets such as New York, Celebrity Name Game will be competing with established programs, including CTD’s Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! and Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory, which could make it hard for Ferguson’s show to break out.

On the other hand, Sinclair Broadcast Group also bought Celebrity Name Game, which it’s airing in 58 markets. Sinclair is pairing the show with Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud in the afternoons, which may prove to be a smarter scheduling move.

All of which is cause for more optimism than usual in a season of hope.

“We could easily have two or three breakout hits on our hands,” said Carroll.

Beyond those three major entries, there’s a handful of smaller shows premiering, including three court shows—CTD’s Hot Bench, Trifecta’s Judge Faith and Entertainment Studios’ Justice With Judge Mablean— and three strips—Bellum’s Flip My Food and Fix It & Finish It and John Tesh’s Intelligence for Your Life.

Studios and station groups all have their fingers crossed that this year’s new syndication entries end up with better track records than last year’s batch.

Warner Bros.’ Bethenny and CBS Television Distribution’s The Arsenio Hall Show and The Test all failed to perform and won’t return for second years.

Sony Pictures Television’s Queen Latifah held on for season 2, after being sold in two-year deals, but it needs to show ratings improvement this season if it is to survive. Earlier this summer, SPT announced that Todd Yasui would be the show’s new executive producer, moving up from coexecutive producer in season 1. Yasui comes from a late-night background, making him comfortable in the world of comedy and chat.

“The combination of people who know Queen Latifah and like her is through the roof,” said Yasui. “I’ve never seen such a diverse mix of people who just adore her and love her and follow her. That relatability is her strong suit.”

To further emphasize this connection, Yasui plans to show Latifah interacting with the audience more often.

“When you hang out with a friend, you don’t feel pressure, you relax and be yourself. That’s the vibe people get from Latifah. That’s the money in TV,” Yasui said.

According to several sources, CTD is developing a new panel talker for next fall, tentatively titled Man in the Middle and starring Jerry O’Connell, with the intention of replacing Queen Latifah on the CBS Television Stations. In the meantime, here’s a look at what viewers will see on their local TV stations this fall.

‘The Real’

Warner Bros.’ The Real was the surprise of summer 2013. The panel talker was tested on seven Fox Owned Television Stations along with Twentieth’s Kris Jenner, and over the course of four weeks The Real kept growing and growing, while Jenner’s ratings faded out of sight.

The key to the show is the panel’s five lively women: Adrienne Bailon, Tamar Braxton, Jeannie Mai, Tamera Mowry-Housley and the hilarious Loni Love, who always has a funny quip to spice up the conversation. (Asked what kind of man she likes, Love replied, “I like for my man to be tall, and I like for him to be able to pick the United States out on a map.”)

“They are like teenagers,” said executive producer SallyAnn Salsano, who knows from teenagers, having also executive produced MTV’s Jersey Shore and CMT’s Party Down South, and previously worked on shows including Sally Jessy Raphael. “They are adult children. They are not set in their ways, which gives us a lot of latitude to try different things.”

The show is loosely scripted—meaning that the hosts start each taping with a list of things to talk about—but it will work or not work based on the chemistry of its hosts.

“That’s the blessing and the curse of this show for the audience, me and this cast—all of these girls were born with no filters. That’s a win for the audience every time,” Salsano said.

After last summer’s trial run, The Real gathered some loyal fans, and all five of the women are socialmedia animals. “They are all obsessed,” said Salsano. “They sneak their phones on the set. I’m always telling them ‘if you touch that phone I’m going to taser you.’”

Salsano is confident the style of the series will work well. “This is the Seinfeld of talk shows,” she said. “It is literally a show about nothing and in doing that we’re talking about everything we all think about every day.”

‘The Meredith Vieira Show’

Everyone knows Meredith Vieira. Whether you watched her as a correspondent on 60 Minutes, or were an ardent fan of The View during her ten years as that show’s middle-seat moderator or tuned in to her and Matt Lauer every morning during her six years on Today or played along while she hosted Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, she is a television fixture. That’s why NBCUniversal feels so confident about her new talk show.

“She listens to her heart and she is not afraid to tell stories about her own life and her own experience,” said Valerie Schaer, executive VP of creative affairs at NBCUniversal Domestic TV Distribution. “She’s the real deal—what you see on camera is what you get when you hug her.”

That’s clear just from the show’s set up. Vieira’s 30 Rock-based set is decorated just like her living room at home. It even would have included her beloved dog, Jasper, had he behaved well enough to remain a part of the program.

Vieira’s announcer/sidekick will also be a familiar face to the host—one of her best friends, Jon Harris, whose other job is head PR man for Hillshire Brands; her band will be led by percussionist Everett Bradley of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

“When you have the chair from your living room, and a band, you are going in a different direction than the rest of syndication,” said Carroll.

For Schaer, it’s about creating a “party in the afternoon” on the NBC Owned Stations, which also feature the still-growing Steve Harvey and established Ellen DeGeneres at 4 p.m.

“When you come home in the afternoon and turn the TV on, you’ll feel like you are hanging out with a bunch of great friends,” Schaer said.

‘Celebrity Name Game’

Celebrity Name Game from Debmar-Mercury is the biggest swing in syndication’s new season.

Originally developed to pair with Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud, which has turned into a huge hit with Steve Harvey at the mike, Celebrity Name Game changed directions when Tribune took a big interest in the program. Tribune became a financial partner in the show, and is using it to shore up access time periods in many markets. In fact, Tribune is so enamored of Celebrity Name Game’s host Craig Ferguson that at presstime the group was in the process of signing him to also do a 7 p.m. talk show for next fall.

First, however, Celebrity Name Game needs to work. Format-wise, it seems to have everything going for it. It’s a fresh new take on the game show, with celebrities and non-celeb contestants teaming up to play a game that’s a mix of twenty questions and charades. Ferguson’s job is to keep the game moving while interacting with contestants in a fresh and funny way.

“Craig makes each half-hour feel like a different show,” said Alexandra Jewett, Debmar-Mercury executive VP of programming along with Lonnie Burstein. “He really brings so much of his personality and humor into the game.”

“What I love about Celebrity Name Game is that it’s all about bantering and having fun. The show has that great play-along element and at the same time offers viewers both observational and situational comedy,” said Thom Beers, executive producer and CEO, FremantleMedia North America, which produces both Celebrity Name Game and Family Feud. “However, the show’s special sauce is Craig Ferguson. He is a genius, funny, incredibly quick and he relates very well to not only the celebrities, but the contestants.”

Court Shows

Court shows were once syndication’s most numerous— largely because they are much less expensive to produce than talk shows while still garnering ratings—but their popularity has waned somewhat. That said, three new court shows are coming to the air this fall, with one, Twentieth’s Judge Alex, departing.

Those three are CTD’s Hot Bench, which features a panel of three judges and was developed by Judge Judy Sheindlin; Trifecta’s Judge Faith, starring former Miss America runnerup Faith Jenkins; and Entertainment Studios’ Justice With Judge Mablean. Judge Mablean Ephriam previously starred on Twentieth’s Divorce Court before being replaced by Judge Lynn Toler in 2006.

Jenkins is both a beauty pageant winner and a New York City lawyer. She has worked as a litigator on Wall Street and then as a criminal prosecutor for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. Her show, which is cleared in more than 90% of the country, is coproduced by Michael Eisner’s Tornante Co. and Trifecta and is executive produced by Hank Cohen and Kathy Sapp.

Judge Mablean joins Entertainment Studios’ block of court shows, which include America’s Court With Judge Ross, Justice for All With Judge Cristina Perez and Supreme Justice With Judge Karen. Entertainment Studios sells the shows to advertisers as a block, allowing them to count ratings cumulatively.

Two Strips From Newcomer Bellum

Bellum Entertainment—a start-up led by Mary Carole McDonnell, formerly Raycom’s programming head—is bringing two strips to the air this year: Flip My Food, starring “Chef Jeff” Henderson, and Fix It & Finish It, starring Antonio Sabato Jr.

In Flip My Food, Chef Jeff takes someone’s favorite food and makes it healthier. In Fix It & Finish It, the first renovation show to come to syndication, Sabato travels the country, turning messy rooms into redecorated showplaces.

So far, both shows are cleared on the Raycom stations and others, covering approximately 25% of the country.

Bellum Entertainment’s goal is to produce content that it can distribute on multiple platforms, thus bringing in several revenue streams. It also tailors its content to local TV station needs, reflecting McDonnell’s long career as a TV station group programmer.

Both Flip My Food and Fix It & Finish It take their shows on the road, as their hosts interact with the local communities, giving the programs a regional feel. “Stations are seeking content with a local footprint,” said McDonnell. “They appreciate that we are creating product that is touching the hearthstones of their communities.”


(Dates listed are for series/season premieres)

Fix It Finish It, Bellum Entertainment, Sept. 8
(cleared in about 25% of U.S.)
Flip My Food, Bellum Entertainment, Sept. 8
(cleared in about 25% of the U.S.)
Let’s Ask America, MGM Domestic Television Distribution, Sept. 8
(first season to be cleared in national syndication)
Meredith Vieira, NBCUniversal, Sept. 8
Hot Bench, CBS Television Distribution, Sept. 15
Intelligence for Your Life, Tesh Media Group, Sept. 15
Judge Faith, Trifecta, Sept. 22
Justice With Judge Mablean, Entertainment Studios, Sept. 15
The Real, Warner Bros., Sept. 15

Forensic Files, Trifecta, Sept. 15
Hot in Cleveland, CTD, Sept. 15
Anger Management, Debmar-Mercury, Sept. 22
Cougartown, Disney-ABC, Sept. 22
Mike & Molly, Warner Bros., Sept. 22
Raising Hope, Twentieth, Sept. 22

Blue Bloods (off-net), CTD, Sept. 8
The Good Wife (off-net), CTD, Sept. 8
Scandal (off-net), Disney-ABC, Sept. 8
The Pinkertons (first-run), Rohr, Sept. 29

America Now (out of production but remaining in best-of episodes on Raycom stations), Trifecta
Arsenio Hall, CTD
Bethenny, Warner Bros.
Judge Alex, Twentieth
The Test, CTD
Trisha, NBCU
We the People With Gloria Allred, Entertainment Studios

Source: B&C research

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.