Slate Is Settled for 2012: The Year of the Talk Show

Competition will be good for stations, stressful for syndicators

With Actions that seemed to happen, ultimately,
in one fell swoop, syndication’s fall 2012 slate has
been settled.

Warner Bros. managed to keep Anderson on the air in New
York by moving it from Tribune’s WPIX to Fox’s WNYW, further
announcing that show will return for season two. That
simple switch opened up 4 p.m. on WPIX for Twentieth Television’s
Ricki Lake, a move that still had not been officially announced
at presstime but has been widely confirmed behind
the scenes. With the market suddenly moving, NBC decided
to place its bet on CBS Television Distribution’s Jeff Probst.

Those deals mean that next fall, syndication
will see the launch of four new talk
shows: Disney/ABC’s Katie (Couric) and
NBCU’s Steve Harvey, and now Ricki Lake
and Jeff Probst. That’s more new shows to
launch in one season than syndication has
seen in years.

“It’s going to be the year of the talk
show,” says Paul Franklin, executive
vice president and general sales manager,
broadcast, at Twentieth Television.
“There’s going to be a huge amount of
buzz surrounding talk shows, and that
will rejuvenate the genre.”

Most in the industry, especially station programmers, agree wholeheartedly.

“Every year, stations need something to freshen up their lineups,” says Sean
Compton, president of entertainment and programming for Tribune Broadcasting.
“[We] want to do well ourselves, but across the board broadcasters need to
be healthy.”

“I don’t know what the cons would be if you are a station,” says another station
executive. “Having shows available to you and being able to put new programs on
the air is what you want.”

In fact, most execs were hard-pressed to find a downside to the onslaught of new
series. But from the syndicator point of view, there are a few.

It will be difficult for all of the new shows to find space as sales forces dive
deeper into markets. In mid-size and smaller communities, fewer outlets mean
less quality time slots. That’s one reason NBC might have felt pressed to make a
commitment to Jeff Probst: If NBC had waited too long to make a decision, CTD
wouldn’t have even had a shot at smaller-market slots.

This gives the early advantage to Katie and Steve Harvey. Both shows cleared the
top markets ahead of the pack, allowing their sales teams to head
into the hinterlands sooner.

“I would never underestimate my competitors,” says one syndication
executive. “Everyone will find their way on the air, by hook or
by crook.”

“By hook or by crook”
means a syndicator can boast
a national clearance, but it
doesn’t mean strong time periods.
That’s another point for
Katie: Disney/ABC opened up
an hour of afternoon time on
strong ABC affiliates for the
show; Katie largely has been
able to retain them.“The opportunity
to be on an ABC
affiliate in the afternoon is incredibly
desirable,” notes one
syndication executive.

Syndicators also acknowledge
that more talk shows also
mean more ratings fragmentation,
something that shows can
scarcely afford these days. But
fragmentation is the reality of
the business. “You have to assume fragmentation and then decide:
‘Do I still want to play, or do I give up?’” says Bill Carroll, vice president,
programming of Katz Television Group Programming. “If you
just concede, then you are never going to make big moves. And as
broadcasters, we have to make big moves. Will it be tougher to clear
these shows in smaller markets? Yes, but it’s not impossible.”

“If you are a distributor and a producer, you are in business to make shows,
and if you are a TV station, it’s in your best interests for them to try,” says Rick
Feldman, president of NATPE. “No producer is ever going to sit back and say,
‘I’m not going to fill those time periods.’ Fragmentation is the nature of the
beast. Now you want to create content that fits into these station groups’ various

Even though many syndicators are celebrating their early victories, there are
certain to be casualties.

The fate of NBCU’s Trisha Goddard, cleared on the Sinclair stations, is in question
because all of the top-market slots now appear to be spoken for. The same holds
true for Warner Bros.’ Bethenny Frankel, and NBC doesn’t seem to have a remaining
slot to continue with Sony’s Nate Berkus, although the group still has another year
on its contract for the show.

And when next season comes around, audiences quickly will make their preferences
clear. “All of these shows aren’t going to make it,” concedes a syndicator.

Even so, the attitude for most, especially at this point, is
“bring it on.”

Says Franklin: “Next year a lot of people will be talking about
talk as it relates to syndication. We took a year off from Oprah,
and now here they come. Let’s see what sticks.”

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