In an Unusual Market, Stations Try DIY

Heading into NATPE last week in Miami Beach, it looked like only two new shows were being offered in national syndication, both from the Fox Stations and Twentieth Television: Page Six TV, an access magazine produced by Endemol Shine North America, and Top 30, which covers the 30 biggest trending stories of the day.

But as the annual conference got underway, a few other shows came to light.

Tegna announced Jan. 16 that it is shopping a new daily strip, Bold (“Broadcast Online Live Daily”), and during NATPE, Scripps said it is selling a new talk show starring Kellie Pickler and WNBC’s Ben Aaron. MGM, via its Orion Television production unit, is offering a new court show, Couples Court, which will join the company’s other court program, Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court. And Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios has a new comedy game show, Funny You Should Ask.

Meanwhile, none of the typical producers, besides Twentieth—CBS Television Distribution, Debmar-Mercury, Disney/ABC, NBCU Universal, Sony Pictures Television or Warner Bros.—are bringing any new programming to the syndication marketplace for 2017.

Warner Bros. had been shopping a talk show starring Drew Barrymore, soon to be seen in Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet, but hopes of launching that show next fall were killed when neither Steve Harvey nor Harry looked like they were going away, locking up those time periods. Moreover, all of the highest-rated shows have been renewed out for years and even low-to medium-rated shows are getting long-term renewals. That’s making it tough for any new shows to come to market.

As a result, station groups that need programming but don’t necessarily want to buy a show from another station group, or just don’t need one of the formats currently being offered, are being left a little in the lurch.

“There are seven large traditional content providers and six of those seven did not have a show. I would like to buy something and actually have a budget to buy something. Two of the non-traditional content providers, station groups, did have programs. Is that the shape of things to come?” asked Emerson Coleman, Hearst Television VP, programming, during a panel at NATPE on Jan. 18.

“It’s a weird time,” said Mort Marcus, co-president of Debmar-Mercury. “ABC, CBS and NBC stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago don’t seem to need any shows, yet there are plenty of ABC, CBS and NBC stations in the marketplace that do need shows.”

“The dynamics are unusual,” said Greg Meidel, president of Twentieth Television. “I’ve been doing this a long time and we’ve never seen anything like this. It’s kind of a gridlock.”

Still, it demonstrates why station groups are producing their own programming in order to control their own destinies. Beyond Bold, which is just coming to market, and T.D. Jakes, which airs on Tegna stations in about half the country and may head into a second season, Tegna also is working on a singing-competition show that will air on its New Orleans station, and an African-American-targeted talk show that it will first test in Atlanta.

“Dave Lougee [president, Tegna Media] said let’s look at our markets, let’s see what they are doing,” said Lisa Kridos, Tegna Media executive producer, development. “So we shot five live local pilots and two will go forward. That was something different we started this year.”

Similarly, Fox has The Jason Show, which airs on KMSP Minneapolis-St. Paul. Last summer, Fox tested The Jason Show in four of its markets, and it plans to do that again with the show this summer in more markets.

“We want to let it grow and become better,” said Stephen Brown, Fox Television Stations executive VP, programming. “Philadelphia is developing stuff, DC is developing stuff, all of our local stations develop good local programming.”

Executives agreed that the main weapon the industry has in its arsenal to combat lack of product is to always be developing and always be testing new shows.

“Even though you know many of these shows have been renewed through 2020, you can’t just sit and wait,” Kridos said. ”You have to keep developing.”

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.