Twentieth Still 'Wedlock'-ed

Twentieth Television and Fox Television Stations are extending the test of their new first-run show, Wedlock or Deadlock, a Divorce Court spinoff, for another six weeks.

“This is a case study for how a test should be done,” says one Twentieth executive who was not authorized to speak on the record by the company. “We've meticulously looked at the show on a minute-by-minute basis, and we've looked at the way our schedules flow from one show to another.”

Fresh programming: A rare find

Seven Fox television stations premiered Wedlock or Deadlock, which the show's producers call a talk show about relationships, on July 20. It's not an out-of-the-box hit; in the seven markets in which it aired, the show averaged a 1.0 rating in households and a 3 share, and it did not improve time periods or lead-ins in any market.

Still, the show doesn't cost much to produce, and that's a selling point. With stations in a cash crunch, syndication producers are unwilling to invest in new shows, making fresh programming a rare find.

For the first six weeks, Wedlock or Deadlock aired on WNYW New York at 11 a.m., WTXF Philadelphia at 3:30 p.m., WAGA Atlanta at 11 a.m., KSAZ Phoenix at 2:30 p.m., WTVT Tampa at 2:30 p.m., WRBW Orlando at 5:30 p.m. and WHBQ Memphis at 2:30 p.m., The program did best in Phoenix, Tampa and Memphis.

For the next six weeks, beginning Aug. 31, those six weeks of episodes will repeat in New York, Phoenix, Tampa, Orlando and Memphis, but will move to different time slots. The show will premiere on KDFW Dallas at 11 a.m., leading out of Debmar-Mercury's Wendy Williams. It will go off the air, at least for now, in Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Fox has shown a willingness to pull the plug on tests if they don't show any juice. For example, on July 13, seven Fox stations began airing a test run of Warner Bros.' viral video show, Beyond Twisted. Three weeks later, the stations had made the decision to pull the show based on low ratings. On the other hand, last summer four Fox stations tested Wendy Williams. The level of success in those tests prompted Debmar-Mercury to proceed with the show's national launch.

Wedlock or Deadlock has been operating on a very limited budget. It has done most of its market research by closely monitoring the Twitter feeds of host Dr. Michelle Callahan and Lynn Toler, the show's executive producer, as well as the show's Facebook and MySpace pages.

'A push-pull relationship'

“This is a breakthrough for us,” says the Twentieth executive. “We've never used social networking the way we're using it now. It provides an instant focus group for us. We push out information, and the viewers send information back to us. It's a push-pull relationship.”

“We're finding that people enjoy having the ability to discuss Michelle's decisions,” says Toler, who's also Divorce Court's judge. “I didn't think people would get this engaged. That's been a really positive surprise for us.”

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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.