Sony Seeks Crowning MomentWith Its New 'Queen'

SPT feels timing is right for Latifah—a big, entertainment-focused talker
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Remember last year, when fresh talk-show talent kept going on about wanting to be your new best friend? Given the less-than-stellar success rate of those shows, Sony Pictures Television is playing to the strengths of its latest talk star, Queen Latifah, in an attempt to bring back the kind of upbeat, high-energy daytime mix made famous by the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Rosie O’Donnell (version one). It’s a persona they believe suits Latifah to a T.

“This will be a premium entertainment blend show,” Holly Jacobs, SPT executive VP of reality and syndicated programming, says of Queen Latifah, set to launch this fall. “It will be a big entertaining hour with a lot of heart.”

SPT is banking on the idea that if anyone can pull it off, it’s the Grammy and Golden Globe winner who has also been nominated for an Oscar and an Emmy. Latifah has been at the top of her craft in music, film and television.

“She really spans the entire range of entertainment, from comedy to celebrity to pop culture to true variety,” says Corin Nelson, the show’s executive producer, who has also helmed Rosie and Nate Berkus, among other shows. “This show will be built around her strong brand and reflected back in the content and the format.”

This is not Queen Latifah’s first shot at a daytime show: She starred in a talk show produced by Warner Bros.’ first-run production arm, Telepictures, from 1999-2001. But that was then, says John Weiser, SPT president of distribution, and “she’s grown since then.”

Weiser also makes the salient point that many other stars who ended up on wildly successful shows—including The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and Oprah Winfrey herself— didn’t start out on big hits.

Daytime has become an increasingly tough business. But if a company can launch a show and keep it on the air, chances are high that it will grow into a strong performer, much like Warner Bros.’ Ellen and CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil have done. In its 10th season, Ellen is hitting series highs, while Dr. Phil emerged from a low point in 2008 to claim the talk title and be in position to ask for license-fee increases as stations renew the show through 2016-17.

“I always say that syndication is a high-risk, highreward business,” Jacobs says. “There’s a big failure rate out there, but you have to take some swings. We all collectively decided that if we are going to take a big swing in this market, this would be the woman on whom we wanted to bet. We found her at a time in her life that seemed like the right moment to go forward.” By “we,” Jacobs is talking about more than just SPT. The company first identified Queen Latifah as a good daytime bet through its research, and approached her about doing a talk show. She liked SPT’s pitch, and an added bonus was that Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s production company, Overbrook, is also housed at SPT. Latifah has a long history with Will Smith, going back to both stars’ early rap roots.

“Overbrook is one of our biggest partners at Sony,” Weiser says. “They’ve been involved with everything we were doing. Frame by frame, through every development piece, they’ve been hands-on through the entire process.”

To launch Queen Latifah, SPT secured the CBS Owned Television Stations, which will give the talk show a shot on such big-market stations as WCBS New York, KCBS Los Angeles and KYW Philadelphia, where it is already expected to air at 9 a.m. “The show’s clearances are evenly split between morning and afternoons,” Weiser says.

Besides CBS, Queen Latifah is also cleared on stations in the Sinclair, Hearst and Belo station groups, with the majority of clearances on ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates as well as a few Fox and CW affiliates.

Another advantage the show could have at launch is that Queen Latifah already is a known commodity among top-shelf advertisers. Like Ellen DeGeneres, Latifah is a Cover Girl spokesmodel, with her own line of cosmetics for women of color called the CoverGirl Queen Collection. She also appears in ad campaigns for Pizza Hut and Jenny Craig.

In addition to her proven talents, Latifah plans to bring her irreverent sense of humor into the mix.

“I don’t think we’ll have any choice,” laughs Jacobs. “She’s a powerful, strong woman who has a real control over the room. She’s one of the funniest women I’ve met in a long time. That will be part of what we showcase in this show.”

Adds Weiser: “She’s definitely multi-talented, multicultural and multi-generational.”

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA

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