Tribune Finally Ready With Cunningham

After tests, syndicator is going out with first newly produced show since 2007

Tribune Broadcasting is premiering
The Bill Cunningham Show
in all 19 of its markets, and three
others, on Sept. 19. The show is Tribune’s first shot at producing its own programming
since its Los Angeles-based production company,
Tribune Entertainment, exited the firstrun
business in December 2007.

Cunningham, which stars the radio
broadcaster from Cincinnati, has been
crafted to fit easily into Tribune’s afternoon
blocks of conflict talk.

“It’s a little bit old-school Donahue, a little
bit old-school Montel, a little bit Maury and
not as crazy or far-fetched as Jerry,” says Kim
Brechka, Cunningham executive producer,
who last produced CBS Television Distribution’s
The Montel Williams Show.

It’s been a long road to air for Cunningham,
which is shot at a studio housed in Manhattan’s
Penn Station complex. The program
started as a ! ve-episode test, produced at
Donahue’s old studio in Chicago, in select Tribune markets.

The show’s initial ratings were not impressive, but Tribune liked
what it saw enough to pursue the project. It went on to test more episodes
at a new studio in Stamford, Conn., where NBCUniversal shoots
Maury, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos.

Last spring, Tribune teamed with ITV Studios America and moved
production to Manhattan. It has taken until the last few months for
Tribune to see an end result that it liked.

“Right now, the bulk of our daytime shows in most markets are all
produced by NBCU,” says Sean Compton, Tribune president of programming
and entertainment. “Those shows—those conflict talkers—
really do pretty well for us. That’s our audience, that’s our lane, but
no one else is out developing those shows.
We literally have spent the last 18 months
planning, creating and building a show that fits exactly with our audience.”

For his part, Cunningham, who spends
nearly 20 hours a week hosting talk radio,
seems entirely comfortable with a microphone,
an audience and any combination
of guests. Like its Maury and Jerry brethren,
the show will focus on a wide range of
relationship-oriented topics.

“We’ll do addiction—sex, alcohol and
drugs,” Cunningham says. “We’ll do topics
such as freeloading family members
who move into your home and won’t move
out. We’ll talk to fame wannabes, who get
tons of plastic surgery or behave a certain
way because they are obsessed with being
famous. We have an episode in which we
look at a modern relationship in which a married couple has agreed to
have an open relationship.” Cunningham, a former defense attorney,
is married to a judge on the Ohio Court of Appeals.

While each episode is planned out, Cunningham says he works best
when he’s allowed to head into the audience and work without a script.

“The content is up to me,” he says. “After 28 years in radio, I can’t
believe I haven’t dealt with every conceivable topic that confronts humankind.
I have a skill set that allows me to do that in a way that’s not
being done anywhere else on TV.”

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