A little momentum goes a long way in daytime.
After a long slump, the first-run syndication market has come back to life this year with several high-profile new talk shows headed for this year’s NATPE conference in Miami, which runs Jan. 21-23.
Nick Cannon is extending his multimedia endeavors into daytime. So is actor-entrepreneur Drew Barrymore. Judge Lauren Lake of MGM’s “Paternity Court” will come out from behind the bench to host a half-hour show that is a throwback to the classic conflict-resolution format employed by Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael and yack pack stalwarts of a different era.
The spring in the syndie biz’s step comes from a better-than-expected performance this fall of “The Kelly Clarkson Show,” a big bet by NBCUniversal Domestic TV on a talk-variety vehicle hosted by the pop superstar and coach on NBC’s “The Voice.” Since its debut in September, “Kelly Clarkson” has logged impressive numbers for a freshman series. Disney also had a respectable talk show launch this past fall with a show fronted by former “Today” anchor Tamron Hall.
The green shoots in an arena that had seen mostly failure during the past decade has encouraged producers, distributors and station managers to take more swings for the fall of 2020. And there’s a renewed appreciation for what is possible with old-fashioned live linear TV at a time when the focus of the industry and seemingly much of American business is on the flotilla of streaming platforms coming from major media conglomerates.
Moreover, after yet another round of consolidation of broadcast TV stations, a handful of mega groups such as Nexstar (which absorbed Tribune last year), Tegna and Sinclair Broadcast Group are in need of hit shows to generate the ratings and advertising revenue they need to make all of those station acquisitions pay off.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of settling of audience levels,” said Sean Compton, Nexstar’s exec VP of WGN America and director of content acquisition for the company’s 197 stations. “So now we can look and say ‘OK if this is where we are, it isn’t so bad.’ “
Despite the focus on on-demand platforms, at a time of accelerating audience fragmentation, it’s impossible to dismiss the potential of a daypart that still draws millions of live viewers daily.
“We need new shows,” Compton said. “To see new content coming out the studios means they recognize that and talent recognizes the opportunity.”
Rich Iazzetta, senior VP and general sales manager for Disney’s direct-to-consumer and international wing, said he senses a willingness for stations to be patient with shows that demonstrate true potential.
“There has been a lift. The station community is really happy to see both shows performing as well as they do,” Iazzetta said of “Tamron Hall” and “Kelly Clarkson.” Disney is also investing in promotion and additional content for the show’s affiliates that can work well with a station’s local newscasts.
“We’re trying hard to enhance the local news image of the station without it being hard news,” Iazzetta said.
Cannon is already juggling multiple gigs as host of Fox’s “The Masked Singer” and host of a nationally syndicated daily radio show that originates from Los Angeles’ Power 106 station. He has numerous other business ventures as a musician, entrepreneur and social justice advocate. So when Cannon told Debmar-Mercury leaders Mort Marcus and Ira Bernstein that he wanted to add a daily TV talk show to the mix, the pair knew he was no stranger to hard work.
“He understands all sides of the business. He’s an entrepreneur,” said Bernstein. The show has been picked up by the Fox O&O group, a deal that paved the way for a national launch in the fall.
“From the very first meeting we were speaking the same language,” Bernstein said of Cannon. “He has a vision for the show but he also understands that we’re not going to be having anyone jump out of a helicopter in the first week.”
Barrymore is a widely recognized figure who grew up in the public eye starting with her days as a the 6-year-old star of “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.” Her appeal to women in the target daytime 25-54 daytime demo is off the charts, according to Steve LoCascio, chief operating officer of CBS Television Distribution, which is handling Barrymore’s show.
“She is relevant and likeable, and she really wants to do this,” said LoCascio. CBS’ O&O stations have committed as the launch group.
CBS was already in the market for a new first-run talk show, but the success of “Kelly Clarkson” gave them encouragement to invest in Barrymore’s show. The plan is to deliver a mix of lifestyle segments, celebrity interviews and heart-tugging human interest stories.
“Coming in on the coattails of Kelly is not a bad thing,” LoCascio said. “The stations know a syndicated show can work.”
MGM TV is setting itself apart by doing Lake’s show in a half-hour format. That allows the studio to offer its station partners the option of pairing it with another half-hour (i.e. “Paternity Court”) or running two episodes back-to-back.
Barry Poznick, MGM’s president of unscripted and alternative television, sees Lake’s second show for the studio as an engine to drive viewership of both shows. Lake has a strong social media presence after seven seasons (and counting) of her court show. “It will add to the 360 of her brand,” he said.
Lake’s talk show will be offered to stations on a barter advertising split basis for the most part. Poznick has high hopes that the show will blossom into a bigger piece of business for MGM over time.
“There’s renewed excitement around the syndication business,” he said. “Hopefully I’m right and we’re all looking at ways to make money off of content.”