When Bill Cunningham, a longtime talk radio host in Cincinnati, decided to sign off from his five-year-old conflict talker, Tribune Broadcasting’s Sean Compton realized he had an opportunity: Put another show Tribune had been developing in its place, although a year sooner than planned.
“We knew that Cunningham was going to leave back in the early spring,” says Compton, president of strategic programming and acquisition. Compton has a long-standing relationship with the 68-year-old grandfather and knew the commute between New York City and Ohio was wearing on him. “He had made it clear a year ago that he wasn’t sure he wanted to push through to another season.”
But L.A.-based Tribune Studios had already been working with Food Network star Robert Irvine, who’s probably best known for his series Restaurant: Impossible, Dinner: Impossible and Worst Cooks in America. When Compton asked Irvine and his team to get started a year earlier, they jumped at the chance.
“I was about to do a live show in a Minnesota casino and I got the call from Sean Compton and [Tribune Studios and WGN America senior VP of unscripted content] Tom Huffman. It was pretty awesome to get that call at 6 p.m. and learn that the show is greenlit and I’ve got 165 episodes to do.”
The Robert Irvine Show will premiere on Monday, Sept. 12 in Cunningham’s slot at 3 p.m. on The CW, which is carried in most large markets by Tribune-owned stations. The show started production in early August and will remain in production through the end of January for season 1.
Distribution for The Robert Irvine Show is a syndication/broadcast-network hybrid with Tribune leasing the air time from The CW, selling the advertising in the show and keeping that revenue. Typical syndicated shows are licensed to TV stations across the country and aren’t tied to any one broadcast network.
Like The Bill Cunningham Show and the rest of Tribune’s afternoon talk line-up— which includes NBCUniversal’s trio of Maury, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos—The Robert Irvine Show will be a conflict talker, with Irvine talking to everyday people and giving them some tough-love in an attempt to resolve their problems. It’s something he already does in a live show that he’s been touring across the country for the past six years.
“This show will be about conflict—husbands, wives, kids, food exercise, obesity—all the things that we consider issues in our lives that we’re tackling,” says Irvine, who first shared the idea for the program with Tribune’s Huffman four years ago and shot a pilot two years ago.
“It’s like a mix of Dr. Phil, Ellen DeGeneres and Mr. Bean, because it’s funny in places with serious notes,” says Irvine. “Guests tell me their stories and I tell them my take on those stories.”
U.K.-native Irvine enlisted in Britain’s Royal Navy at the age of 15 and served as a chef over the course of his ten-year tour of duty. Throughout his career, he has maintained his close connections with the military, both British and American. His non-profit, the Robert Irvine Foundation, supports military personnel and their families. He also has a strong focus on fitness and healthy eating and has written two cookbooks and one guide to healthy eating, Fit Rule: A Chef’s Guide to Eating Well and Living Your Best Life.
The show is being produced by Tribune Studios in collaboration with Robert Irvine Productions and Irwin Entertainment and executive produced by John Irwin and Andrew Scher, who formerly executive produced CBS Television Distribution’s The Doctors.
“Robert is a workhorse. He could do six shows a day and not have a problem,” says Irwin, “but we want to maintain the integrity of being able to find great stories. We are finding really compelling, unbelievable situations so that audiences will be sitting there with their mouths open.”
While conflict talk is a standard format of daytime TV, Irvine hopes to bring his own matter-of-fact style to the genre. “Robert is a problem-solver, he’s going to course-correct a lot of these people,” says Compton.
“Robert comes from a military background and when I’m in the room with him, he’s an intimidating figure. There’s something about that physical presence that will come through. What makes Judge Judy so special is that there’s something about her personality that shines through. It’s the same with Robert.”