With New Season Under Way, Who's Got Next?

Eyeing 2013 start, Fox picks up Bethenny and expands TMZ Live test

The new TV season just started, but syndicators and TV executives are already busy looking ahead to the future.

Last week, the Fox Television Group acquired Warner Bros.’ Bethenny for a 2013 debut, after the show’s successful six-week summer test in six markets. While Fox would very much like to premiere the show prior to next fall, the economics and logistics of launching a national show will probably make accomplishing that difficult.

Bethenny, which features reality star and Skinnygirl Cocktails founder Bethenny Frankel, will premiere on Fox stations in 17 markets, including WNYW New York, KTTV Los Angeles, WTXF Philadelphia, KDFW Dallas, KSAZ Phoenix and KMSP Minneapolis. The show will be produced by Telepictures Productions, the first-run production arm of Warner Bros. Television, and Ellen DeGeneres’ production company, A Very Good Production.

“Warner Bros. really approached the Bethenny test like winners,” said Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for Fox Television Stations. “What that means is that they didn’t pull any punches as far as the show’s production went. We’ve done tests in the past where you don’t go as far as you might if you were producing a regular series. But even though Warner Bros. had the benefit of Ellen’s production staff and Ellen’s stage, they still pushed it as far as they could. They treated this as if it was a national launch from day one, and the show reflected that.”

“This summer’s test proved Bethenny has a distinctive and unique appeal that women flock to,” Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, said in a statement. “No matter the time period or city, with no off-air support, and in the middle of the summer, daytime viewers made Bethenny Frankel appointment TV.”

While Warner Bros. was forced to test Bethenny over the summer after it couldn’t get the show sold into national syndication in fall 2011, the test worked out in Warner Bros.’ favor. Bethenny improved on May 2012 time periods in its six markets by 80% among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54. Fox is looking for the show to turn in that kind of performance once it’s up and airing on the national stage.

Warner Bros. is now out selling Bethenny to other stations across the country, from traditional affiliates to independents.

Meanwhile, Fox also is looking at other options to fill its stations’ daytime hours. On Monday, Oct. 1, the stations will start airing TMZ Live, a spinoff of Warner Bros.’ TMZ, in five more markets.

The Fox stations started airing TMZ Live, which features TMZ executive producer Harvey Levin chit-chatting with his producers and reporters about the news of the day, on KTTV Los Angeles at 3 p.m. on March 12. In June, Fox added KSAZ Phoenix to TMZ Live’s roster. TMZ Live got its start as a Web-only production, airing on sites such as Ustream.

Meanwhile, like the Raycom, Scripps and Meredith station groups, Tribune is also attempting to develop programming in-house in order to limit its dependence on syndicators.

Last week, Tribune shot a court show pilot starring popular syndicated radio personality Lionel—a.k.a. Michael William Lebron—who is a trial lawyer by trade. Lionel has been delivering radio commentary on Tribune’s WPIX New York since 2010.

The show, which is in very early development, is intended to complement Tribune’s block of conflict talkers as well as its court shows, including Warner Bros.’ Judge Mathis and People’s Court, in some markets.

Last year, Tribune launched its own conflict talker, Bill Cunningham, which now airs on The CW network at 3 p.m. in most markets. Tribune also is working with CBS Television Distribution to launch a new version of Arsenio Hall, which will premiere next fall in late night.

The Lionel pilot is being produced out of Chicago by ITV Studios America, which also produces Cunningham, Raycom’s America Now and Fox’s Hell’s Kitchen. Tribune has not found a distributor for Lionel yet, but it’s still very early in the process.

Lionel, 54, appears on WPIX’s morning show as well as its 5 and 10 p.m. newscasts. Prior to joining WPIX, The Lionel Show was nationally syndicated on the WOR Radio Network, originating from WOR 710 AM New York. Starting in May 2007, Lionel hosted a daily three-hour talk show on Air America Radio, which went off the air in January 2010. He got his start as a drive-time radio host in Florida, after his years as an attorney.

Finally, according to several sources, Sony Pictures Television is continuing to shop its new talker, Queen Latifah, to TV station groups for what is already shaping up to be a busy fall 2013 launch.

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