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Hosts Like Chris Hardwick Take on Gigs Across Networks in Peak TV Era

We live in the Peak TV era — also the Peak Chris Hardwick era. In March, AMC announced that it had expanded Hardwick’s “Talking Dead” into a year-round entertainment talk show, and had signed a first-look development deal with the host. A month later, NBC ordered a new unscripted series, “The Awesome Show,” which would be hosted by Hardwick — just as NBC’s recently renewed “The Wall” is. Those moves came in the wake of Comedy Central’s decision last October to re-up it’s own Hardwick vehicle, late-night show “@midnight,” through 2017.

But Hardwick isn’t the only ubiquitous personality on TV. He’s one of several who have extended their empires across multiple brands as the television landscape has broadened. Next month, Fox will launch a “Love Connection” revival hosted by Andy Cohen of Bravo’s “Watch What Happens: Live.” Steve Harvey is hosting “Little Big Shots” on NBC, and will appear on ABC this summer with “Celebrity Family Feud.” Viacom’s VH1 revealed in March that Tyra Banks would return to her erstwhile hosting gig on “America’s Next Top Model,” just four days after NBC announced that she would take over as host of “America’s Got Talent.”

“As long as one show never airs opposite the other show, as long as the show is not in the same genre, as long as the show wouldn’t take viewers away from the other show, then that’s probably why it’s happening,” says Barry Katz, a manager whose clients include Bill Bellamy and Jay Mohr.

When television was a smaller business, the Big Four broadcasters had strict rules about not allowing talent to cross enemy lines. But more channels are now programming more hours of original television than ever before. According to FX Networks research, 1,267 unique original series aired in primetime in 2016 — and only 362 of them were scripted.

The increased volume of programming has made fundamental changes to the TV ecosystem, and the rules governing it. High-profile hosts are in high demand. And it’s no longer only an outlier like Ryan Seacrest who can use leverage to take advantage of the abundance of opportunities.

Says Katz, “At the end of your deal, if you’re No. 1 and the network is relying on you, when you renegotiate, you can say, ‘Guess what? If I get offered to host a show that’s noncompeting, I’m allowed to do it.’”

The appeal for a network that lands a star who’s already established on a competitor is the potential for cross-pollination. Cohen comes to “Love Connection” with a devoted following among the same female viewers Fox hopes to court for the bawdy game show. In his post-“Walking Dead” talk show, Hardwick is exposed to the largest audience for an unscripted program on cable — exposure that potentially benefits “@midnight.”

Facing unprecedented competition, networks are placing a premium on talent whose star power they hope will help their series pop. Alec Baldwin is making $3 million per season to host ABC’s “Match Game,” as he impersonates Trump on NBC’s “SNL.”

But don’t expect lower-tier talent to enjoy similar freedom of movement. The reason is simple: “How would you feel if your wife wanted to see two other guys?” Katz says. “Are you going to be happy? No. It’s monogamy for television networks.”

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