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Tribune Nearing Deal With Craig Ferguson for Access Talker

Craig Ferguson is close to signing a deal with Tribune Media to host a daily half-hour talk show that would air in access across the company’s 42 stations, sources confirmed.

It's likely that the Sinclair Broadcast Group also is interested in airing the show, since the two groups have been quietly working together to clear programs. Tribune's stations cover nearly 43% of the country, while Sinclair, with its 162 stations, covers nearly 40%. Airing any show on both groups gets it automatically cleared in the top-three markets -- where Tribune owns WPIX New York, WGN Chicago and KTLA Los Angeles -- making the program’s syndie launch virtually assured even without further sales.

Tribune’s already launching another Craig Ferguson-vehicle, Celebrity Name Game, this fall. Debmar-Mercury is the distributor of that show, and it’s likely Debmar-Mercury would be involved in this project as well. Sinclair also has picked up Celebrity Name Game across many of its stations.

The last time syndicators and stations tried to launch a comedic talk show in access was Twentieth’s The Kilborn Files, starring Craig Kilborn, which the Fox owned stations tested for six weeks in 2010. Fox didn't pick up the show past the test, however. 

Last fall, Tribune, in partnership with CBS Television Distribution (CTD), re-launched Arsenio Hall in late night. Although that show won a second-year renewal in early 2014, CTD canceled it this spring after Sinclair decided to downgrade the show to middle-of-the-night time slots. Arsenio’s ratings already were low, and that number of downgrades would have made the program financially unsustainable.

Should Ferguson be able to establish a toe-hold in access, it would help TV stations who have less and less sitcoms from which to choose. Twentieth’s Modern Family premiered in syndication last fall, and there’s no other top-rated network sitcom on the horizon. Tribune has relied on Warner Bros.' Two and a Half Men in access and late-night slots since its debut in 2007, but that show is growing a bit long in the tooth and its ratings have dropped accordingly. Moreover, both Tribune and Sinclair would far prefer to run first-run programs, in which they have ownership stakes, in key timeslots instead of being dependent on studios for their programming, as they are with off-network sitcoms.

Variety first reported this story