Featured player: Ryan Seacrest

TV host, radio personality sets up as syndie savior

As the New Year settles in, be prepared for a tidal wave of Ryan Seacrest.

The 29-year old, best known as the host of Fox’s “American Idol,” will get even more TV airtime thanks to the launch of his syndie strip “On Air With Ryan Seacrest” Jan 12. It will be the first syndie original to launch this year, and with clearances across 95% of the country, everyone involved has high hopes that Seacrest will be the Pied Piper that lures youth back to afternoon viewing.

Not content to stop there, Seacrest — who also is a “Tonight Show” correspondent, and host of the Billboard Music Awards and Fox’s New Year’s Eve broadcast — inherits Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” radio countdown crown come Jan 10. He’ll also take a turn in Larry King’s seat this month — even though King teased him during an appearance in August about being a metrosexual. Although the perfectly coiffed Seacrest likes to consider himself an ingénue, he’s savvy enough to cite his own idols, syndie heavies Merv Griffin and Dick Clark, as influences.

“On Air,” which will be distribbed by Twentieth Television, was born from a pitch by Seacrest that had been gestating since he was a teenager. Eight months and many millions of dollars later, a new live studio has been created at Hollywood & Highland for Seacrest’s talk/variety/newsmag hybrid. Seacrest bears an exec producer credit on the new show, as well as host duties.

“When I was young, I figured out what my show was going to be,” says Seacrest. “I’m not a comedian. I wanted to be a broadcaster. And when I saw what Ricki Lake did, I started to think about the next wave for a young audience.”

With 12 years of radio experience behind him, Seacrest plans to incorporate that knowledge behind and on screen. “On Air” will combine interactive elements of radio with contests, voting and charts.

The set has been rigged as a fishbowl, with cameras planted everywhere, except the restrooms. Besides the main studio, there will be concert spaces indoors and out. Show will tape early afternoons in Los Angeles and feed live. Many stations will carry the strip at 5 p.m.

Despite an exec producer wooed from MTV’s signature series, “TRL,” the aim is to appeal to a slightly older 16-36 audience. The age parameters aren’t a Nielsen sanctioned demo, but Twentieth TV exec Robb Dalton acknowledges that they make sense. “Our host is dead in the middle of it age wise,” he says.

“As a viewer, this is something I want to see on television,” says Seacrest who thrives on the energy of live broadcasting. “It’ll be the first of its kind, with the different formats, and risky because of all the moving parts, satellites and correspondents. That sort of vulnerability is important.”

Dalton likens the situation to a circus and Seacrest as the ringmaster. “He just wears you out with his ideas.”

Seacrest nixed the idea of a more mundane moniker for the strip, such as “The Ryan Seacrest Show.” His ambitions are more long-term, he explains, using Dick Clark as an example.

“I’m trying to do what he’s done for our generation,” says Seacrest. “Everything I’ve done since I’ve moved here has been strategic. I cross my fingers that some day those strategies will pay off.”

And, says the spiky haired swain with the conviction that makes NATPE attendees swoon, “I want to get people excited about syndication.”

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