Williams talkshow gets ‘sneak peek’

Fox stations, Lionsgate to produce show

Fox-owned TV stations in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas and Detroit have joined with Lionsgate’s Debmar-Mercury to produce what they call a “sneak peek” of a proposed five-a-week talkshow hosted by New York radio personality Wendy Williams.

The preview will encompass six full weeks of production of “The Wendy Williams Show,” a total of 30 one-hour episodes, to premiere July 14 on WNYW New York, KTTV Los Angeles, KDFW Dallas and WJBK Detroit. If the test is successful, Debmar-Mercury plans to sell the yakker to stations throughout the country for a fall 2009 start.

Debmar-Mercury has hired Rob Dauber, who was an exec producer of “Martha” and a supervising producer of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” to co-exec-produce “Wendy” along with Williams and her husband-manager Kevin Hunter. Dauber will produce the show in New York at a studio still to be named.

“There’s a need in the marketplace for new talkshows, particularly one with potentially strong ethnic appeal,” said Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for the Fox TV stations. And by doing only six weeks of shows, he added, “we’re limiting the risk for both Fox and Debmar-Mercury. The stations won’t be over a barrel for a 52-week contract.” A full year of production on a new syndicated talkshow can cost upward of $15 million. The sneak peek will cost less than a third of that.

Cicha said Fox stations throughout the country would buy “Wendy” for the fall if lots of viewers tune in for the six summer weeks. Mort Marcus, co-president of Debmar-Mercury, said the contract calls for stations to pay cash license fees and hand over four commercial minutes to the distributor to sell to national advertisers.

Ira Bernstein, co-prexy of Debmar-Mercury, said the partners chose the four test markets carefully to represent a cross section of the country.