Fox TV Stations Prep for Full Summer of Programming

Group to test ‘iWitness,’ ‘Watch What Happens Live,’ more

Why This Matters

Several of this year’s new syndicated shows evolved from last summer’s tests.

Summer is becoming one of the most eventful times of the year for the Fox Television Stations, which this summer will test seven shows on select stations.

Two of those have already been announced: game show iWitness from Judge Judy Sheindlin and Watch What Happens Live off NBCUniversal’s cable network Bravo. The group also will test five other shows. Two of those are local: The Jason Show, off Fox-owned KMSP Minneapolis-St. Paul, stars local talent Jason Matheson and enjoyed a summer run on four Fox stations last June; and The Q is produced by WTXF Philadelphia and stars Quincy Harris. That pair of shows will air from June 5-30.

“If you are in a crunch, it’s great to know that you have a show in one of your markets that you can produce for wide distribution if you need it,” said Frank Cicha, senior VP, programming, Fox Television Stations. “The end game for these is not necessarily national syndication. The end game is for us to have a functional show if and when we need it.”

The Jason Show will run on more than four stations this summer, although none of the stations involved in any of the tests has been confirmed yet.

Another show comes from the Fox Television Stations themselves: Punchline will be “a day-and-date news show dressed as a game show,” said Cicha. The show will pit two teams of comedians against each other to riff on a video clip or a photo out of the day’s news. A live audience will then vote on whose riffs were funnier.

“This is the only game show we’ve been pitched where if you are trying to be funny and fail, the show will still work — in fact, it may work better,” said Cicha.

‘iWitness’ News

iWitness, created and pitched by Sheindlin, is being coproduced by Lionsgate-owned Debmar-Mercury in partnership with FremantleMedia North America. The two companies also work together on Family Feud, starring Steve Harvey, and Celebrity Name Game, starring Craig Ferguson, which will end its run after this year.

The show, which will run for six weeks starting July 10, features John Henson as host, who’s also emceed ABC’s reality game show Wipeout and E!’s Talk Soup. “Judy pitched us on this show herself,” said Ira Bernstein, copresident of Debmar-Mercury. “Because of her experience on the bench and hearing this sort of thing over and over, she knows that people are not always reliable witnesses. In this show, the contestants and the audience will watch a video and then answer questions about what they’ve seen.”

For example, contestants will watch a 20-second video that could be pulled from the news or from a movie, and then have to rely on their recall to correctly answer questions about that video. While that seems like a simple task, people will find that they didn’t notice the guy in the back wearing a plaid flannel shirt or the art on the sidewall when they’re asked about what they watched.

“It’s really testing people’s ability to take it all in,” said Jennifer Mullin, coCEO of FremantleMedia North America. “There is usually more than one character to focus on in these clips.”

The show also will feature various rounds of gameplay, said Mullin. Contestants will play for more money in escalating rounds, and then in the final round, they’ll watch two clips simultaneously and then try to get five questions right to win $20,000.

“It offers really great play-along for the audience watching at home,” said Mullin.

Sheindlin won’t be on the show herself but she is expected to appear in promos for it this summer, said Bernstein.

All of the partners — Sheindlin, Debmar-Mercury, FMNA and Fox — hope that iWitness works well enough to offer it into national syndication for 2018.

“I don’t think people are crazy to be talking about national launches for 2018,” said Cicha, especially with Sinclair Broadcast Group buying Tribune Media and other changes likely coming to the TV station landscape.

Cohen’s New Connection

Bravo’s Watch What Happens Live, starring Andy Cohen, will air on Fox, Sinclair and other stations in a four-week test starting June 26. Cohen also will appear on the Fox network this summer as host of Love Connection, providing some synergy between the network and the stations.

“I’m thrilled our show has the opportunity to reach a broader audience at all hours of the day,” said Andy Cohen, host and executive producer, in a statement.

Off-cable shows have typically not worked well in broadcast syndication, including a run of Bravo’s Real Housewives that NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution tried in 2010, but Cicha said he’s willing to give the show a shot.

“I don’t think that anybody is so flush with hits that we can be so cavalier as to say someone else’s cable brand will not work,” he said.

Cohen was batted around as a potential cohost for Kelly Ripa on Disney-ABC’s Live with Kelly — a spot that was just filled by Ryan Seacrest — and is a talent that syndicators are eyeing as a possible host of his own daytime talk show.

Later in the summer, Fox will test a new court show starring Latina judge Ana Polo that will be eponymously titled, as well as a new show from Gordon Ramsay called Culinary Genius that will air later on ITV in the U.K. Ana Polo and Culinary Genius will air on select Fox stations from Aug. 7-25.

“The overall sentiment here is to get as much stuff on the air as we can in a way that’s economical for ourselves and our partners,” said Cicha. “I think we have that here with this slate. We have a lot of different shows and different formats that we’ll run across all of our markets.”