After several fallow years, the first-run syndication marketplace has come back to life with a half-dozen daytime strips on deck to premiere in fall 2019, including notably big-budget talk show efforts hosted by Kelly Clarkson for NBCUniversal and Tamron Hall for Disney.
This burst of activity — and what it says about the willingness by studios and station owners to invest in high-end daytime programming — is sure to be a hot topic as executives, producers and advertisers gather in Miami this month for the annual NATPE conference, which runs Jan. 21-24 at the Fontainebleau Hotel.
“There are so many opportunities to tell stories in this daypart,” says Alex Duda, executive producer of “The Kelly Clarkson Show.”
2019’s bumper crop marks the highest volume of new series from major distributors since 2012. That year, five syndie talk shows premiered in the race to grab ahold of Oprah Winfrey’s audience 12 months after Winfrey wrapped her 25-year run as the queen of daytime talk. Katie Couric was in the hunt, along with Ricki Lake, Jeff Probst, Trisha Goddard and Steve Harvey. Of the five, only Harvey’s survived more than two seasons, although his show’s future beyond the 2019-20 season is unclear.
In addition to Clarkson and Hall, female “life strategist” and author Mel Robbins has teamed with Sony Pictures TV and Tribune Broadcasting for a strip focused how-to and self-help issues.
CBS Television Studios and Fox Television Stations are in the midst of a two-week test of a show focusing on similar life-coaching themes toplined by educator Dr. Steve Perry. Perry made a name for himself as the founder and leader of Capital Preparatory Schools, which operates magnet schools in Harlem, the Bronx and Connecticut. The hope is to generate positive ratings momentum in a handful of markets to help sell stations on a national rollout of “Breakthrough With Dr. Steve Perry” in the fall.
The autumn slate includes two shows with high-profile talent that are not in the talk arena.
After 27 years, Jerry Springer is shifting his act from the raunchy mayhem of “The Jerry Springer Show” to a court format dubbed “Judge Jerry.” He remains in the NBCU family.
Meanwhile, Meredith Vieira is returning to the quiz show format with “25 Words or Less,” for Fox Television Stations. Vieira had a strong run as the host of the syndicated “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” from 2002-13. She did not fare so well in the talk-show format during her two seasons as host of “The Meredith Vieira Show” for NBCU from 2012-14.
MGM Television is testing the waters for two new half-hour strips: “The Drama” and “Personal Injury Court.” The Lion has been building a syndicated court and relationship show roster (“Couples Court,” “Paternity Court”) during the past few years under the direction of Barry Poznick, MGM’s head of unscripted television, and producer David Armour.
Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios aims to launch its 42nd and 43rd series in first run with two weekly half-hours: “World’s Funniest Weather” and “Trending Funny,” a comedy roundtable and clip show. “Weather” marks a natural tie-in with the Weather Channel cabler, which Entertainment Studios bought in 2018.
Having a wide selection of new shows to choose from is a welcome surprise for TV station owners this year. There’s been a growing sense, much discussed at NATPE confabs of the past two years, that broadcasters were mistakenly throwing in the towel, ceding daytime ground to cable and digital outlets as it’s become harder and harder to launch a show in daytime. A high-end national talk-show rollout can cost as much as $20 million for a distributor — more if the talent commands a big paycheck. The past few years have seen no more than two or three new strips on offer per year.
But with economic indicators looking positive, station owners are clearly ready to roll the dice on new shows again. There’s still a void for a daytime yakker in the classic Winfrey or Phil Donahue issue-oriented mode. Disney’s show with Hall, the former “Today” show anchor, is taking square aim at that genre.
The competitive dynamic in daytime could also change in the near future as Ellen DeGeneres has publicly mused about how much longer she will host “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” after 16 years and counting. Harvey is expected to call an end to “Steve” after losing his time slots in key markets to Clarkson’s show. While ratings for “Steve” have ebbed, Harvey’s fate was also likely influenced by behind-the-scenes tensions between producer IMG and distributor NBCUniversal.
Meanwhile, Clarkson is the biggest marquee-performer name to take a shot at syndication in some time, thanks to her visibility on NBC’s “The Voice” and her status as a top touring artist. On the NBC-owned stations in major markets, “The Kelly Clarkson Show” will air at 2 p.m., in tandem with DeGeneres’ show at 3, clearly positioning her as a possible successor to DeGeneres in the entertainment-focused talk-variety format.
Produced in Los Angeles, Clarkson’s hour will be a mixture of musical performances, interviews and segments involving everyday people, lifestyle segments and celebrity interviews.
“The show is going to be the essence of Kelly — fun, funny, upbeat, disarming. Equal parts humor and heart,” says Duda, a five-time Daytime Emmy winner who previously worked on talkers from Tyra Banks and Harvey, among others.
“Kelly has something to say to the daytime audience that is unlike anybody else in the daypart right now,” she continues. “She’s a 36-year-old mom living in a blended family. She’s living a big life right now at the top of her career trajectory. I think of this combined gives our show a really big advantage.”
Duda stresses that Clarkson has a special bond with her fan base because of her status as the first winner of “American Idol” back in 2002. “We chose her,” Duda says. “She’s so good at connecting with people.”
For evidence of how much the media world has changed in the multiplatform era, look no further than Clarkson’s plan to prepare for her new TV gig. The singer plans to sharpen her interviewing skills by selecting random fans from the crowds at her concerts to come on stage for a quick Q&A. She also intends to live-stream those interactions.
Clarkson’s creative approach to learning the ropes as a talk-show host has given Duda confidence that her star is aware of the immense commitment that it takes to host a Monday-Friday show.
“It’s going to be great advance promotion for the show and it’s going to make her stronger at interviewing all different types of people,” Duda says. “This is somebody who understands the workload and is finding fresh ways to approach it.”