News Articles

Test Patterns For Summer

More new series are getting tryouts on path to airing 8/02/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

For syndicators, this summer has been all
about the tests. Debmar-Mercury kicked it off with
a test of Are We There Yet? on TBS, following a model
the company launched four years ago with Tyler Perry’s
House of Payne
. If TBS picks up that show, it will launch
later in syndication.

Twentieth is testing two shows: The Kilborn Files, starring Craig
Kilborn, and Huckabee, with former Arkansas governor and
presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, each in seven markets.

Tribune ran a four-day test of a new conflict talk show
starring Cincinnati radio host Bill Cunningham (Tribune last
week picked up the show for fall 2011), and plans another
test of a show featuring shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge.
Sean Compton, Tribune’s president of programming, says
more tests are in Tribune’s future, especially as the group
looks to expand its talk footprint.

“We produce hundreds and hundreds
of hours of news programs, FBI features
and specials in Seattle and San Diego,
and tons of sports programming in Chicago.
Why can’t we get into the talk
business?” Compton says. Much of Tribune’s top management
previously worked at radio company Clear Channel,
alongside top talent such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck
and Sean Hannity.

While tests may be more frequent in a time when neither
syndicators nor stations are eager to lose money on
concepts that quickly fail, testing a show before taking it
wide is not a recent idea. Mega-daytime talents like Oprah
Winfrey, Maury Povich and Rosie O’Donnell all got their
starts in local markets.

Many industry executives, however, believe testing is
the direction in which the entire industry should head.
“Wouldn’t it be a much more dynamic business if there were
15 to 20 tests each year in the marketplace?” says Mort Marcus,
co-president of Debmar-Mercury. The company was
one of the first syndicators to return to testing with shows
such as House of Payne, which first aired in a six-week test
run on TBS, and Wendy Williams, which the Fox stations
tested two summers ago.

“If two or three shows came out of that each year, you’d
actually find a hit,” Marcus continues. “The business would
be better, the stations would be healthier and the Hollywood
community would come out to participate. Instead
of a syndicator losing $15-$20 million on a show and stations
getting killed on it, it could be four weeks and out
and no big deal.”

While syndicators and stations look at the ratings that tests
receive, it’s just one part of the process, according to Joanne
Burns, Twentieth’s executive VP of research and marketing.
“It’s just as much about figuring out what works and what
doesn’t—is the talent right, are the segments right—as it is
about the ratings,” she says.

And not every show lends itself to testing. “We ask ourselves
the simple two-part question on every project that
comes up: Should we test this, or should we go national?”
Burns says. “If it’s a huge idea and a huge talent, the salespeople
will say, ‘Forego the test because I can really sell this.’
They are never going to take a huge name and say, ‘I want
to test this first.’”

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