Tribune Broadcasting is premiering The Bill Cunningham Show in all 19 of its markets, and three others, on Sept. 19. The show is Tribune’s first shot at producing its own programming since its Los Angeles-based production company, Tribune Entertainment, exited the firstrun business in December 2007.
Cunningham, which stars the radio broadcaster from Cincinnati, has been crafted to fit easily into Tribune’s afternoon blocks of conflict talk.
“It’s a little bit old-school Donahue, a little bit old-school Montel, a little bit Maury and not as crazy or far-fetched as Jerry,” says Kim Brechka, Cunningham executive producer, who last produced CBS Television Distribution’s The Montel Williams Show.
It’s been a long road to air for Cunningham, which is shot at a studio housed in Manhattan’s Penn Station complex. The program started as a ! ve-episode test, produced at Donahue’s old studio in Chicago, in select Tribune markets.
The show’s initial ratings were not impressive, but Tribune liked what it saw enough to pursue the project. It went on to test more episodes at a new studio in Stamford, Conn., where NBCUniversal shoots Maury, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos.
Last spring, Tribune teamed with ITV Studios America and moved production to Manhattan. It has taken until the last few months for Tribune to see an end result that it liked.
“Right now, the bulk of our daytime shows in most markets are all produced by NBCU,” says Sean Compton, Tribune president of programming and entertainment. “Those shows—those conflict talkers— really do pretty well for us. That’s our audience, that’s our lane, but no one else is out developing those shows. We literally have spent the last 18 months planning, creating and building a show that fits exactly with our audience.”
For his part, Cunningham, who spends nearly 20 hours a week hosting talk radio, seems entirely comfortable with a microphone, an audience and any combination of guests. Like its Maury and Jerry brethren, the show will focus on a wide range of relationship-oriented topics.
“We’ll do addiction—sex, alcohol and drugs,” Cunningham says. “We’ll do topics such as freeloading family members who move into your home and won’t move out. We’ll talk to fame wannabes, who get tons of plastic surgery or behave a certain way because they are obsessed with being famous. We have an episode in which we look at a modern relationship in which a married couple has agreed to have an open relationship.” Cunningham, a former defense attorney, is married to a judge on the Ohio Court of Appeals.
While each episode is planned out, Cunningham says he works best when he’s allowed to head into the audience and work without a script.
“The content is up to me,” he says. “After 28 years in radio, I can’t believe I haven’t dealt with every conceivable topic that confronts humankind. I have a skill set that allows me to do that in a way that’s not being done anywhere else on TV.”
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