WHY THIS MATTERS: 2019 is shaping up to be the most crowded year syndication has seen in some time.
For the first time since 2012 — when Katie Couric, Ricki Lake and Charlie Sheen all had new series — stations can choose from several shows featuring recognizable TV stars headed into 2019.
NBCUniversal is offering The Kelly Clarkson Show, starring the judge from American Idol and The Voice. That show will replace Steve, starring Steve Harvey, on NBC-owned stations at 2 p.m. across the country. Disney-ABC is shopping a talk show starring Tamron Hall, with Hearst Television picking up that show in 24 markets and bringing its clearances to more than half the country. Fox-owned stations will launch new game show 25 Words or Less starring Meredith Vieira.
There is even enough room this year that Tribune Media is taking a shot with Sony on a talker starring motivational speaker Mel Robbins. And NBCU is launching a court show starring Jerry Springer, whose long-running The Jerry Springer Show continues to air in repeats in syndication and on The CW.
Why is the current market so crowded when new programming options have been so limited for the past several years?
Lots of reasons: Both NBCU and Disney identified a star they wanted to back. Stations have time periods to fill with Steve Harvey’s talker either ending, moving off of NBC or finding another home, and Fox having chosen not to fill the time slots that previously aired NBCU’s Harry. Sinclair Broadcast Group’s failure to acquire Tribune Media removed some uncertainty from the marketplace.
And with cable networks no longer reaching all of the country and cord-cutting the rule of the day, over-the-air television is making a comeback, offering advertisers the increasingly rare opportunity to reach an entire local market or the entire country.
“We think syndication is tilting high spirits, high energy and high end,” said Dave Noll, who, along with partner Cleve Keller, developed this year’s new panel talker, Face the Truth, for Stage 29 Productions and CBS Television Distribution. “People are looking for positive and advertiser-friendly shows.”
Entrepreneurial programmers like Noll and Keller not only see the opportunity to produce programs for local TV stations, but also to sell those shows and formats internationally, to cable networks and maybe even to streaming services.
“Why wouldn’t a streaming service relish the fact that it can get a show that’s produced for $25 million a year and there’s 250 episodes?” said one distribution executive. “That’s 10 seasons of one of their shows.”
One thing that’s becoming clear is that TV viewers are fragmenting into different audiences who watch on entirely different platforms. Younger viewers who never watch broadcast TV might find they like Judge Judy, for example, but they’ve never been exposed to it. That was the case when young viewers found Friends on Netflix. The sitcom is so popular that just the idea that the new WarnerMedia might pull it from Netflix set off a social media firestorm, forcing AT&T to confirm that the show will remain on the streaming platform, at least through 2019, in a nonexclusive deal.
First-run producers are finally starting to exploit streaming opportunities. For example, CBS Television Distribution launched 24/7 streaming service ET Live both to expand the Entertainment Tonight brand to younger viewers and to help fill out its burgeoning streaming platform, which includes CBS All Access, CBSN and CBS Sports HQ. And Sony Pictures Television cut deals with both Netflix and Hulu to air select episodes of Jeopardy!, which remains a top 10 show in syndication even after 35 years on the air.
Station programmers want even more options. Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for the Fox Television Stations, wants to offer new programming year-round. That’s why the Fox stations will run a two-week limited series of CBS Television Distribution’s Breakthrough with Dr. Steve Perry in January. Fox also is working with Debmar-Mercury to keep Wendy Williams in originals for 48 weeks a year, with a few weeks a year left open for Debmar-Mercury to test other show concepts.
Sources also report that CBS Television Distribution’s Rachael Ray has been renewed on ABC’s WABC New York, WPVI Philadelphia and WTVD Raleigh-Durham, N.C., making it likely that show will return for season 14 in 2019. With Tamron Hall’s talker launching on the ABC-owned stations this fall, that puts the continued run of shows Who Wants to be a Millionaire and RightThisMinute in question since there are limited syndicated time slots available on those stations.
While Millionaire might end or be moved on ABC stations next fall, many producers are turning their eyes toward game shows, like 25 Words or Less. Games are working well on broadcast prime, in syndication and on streaming services. They are inexpensive to produce and are often available to be refreshed as formats, owned by companies such as Sony, Endemol Shine and FremantleMedia.
“Game shows are definitely back,” said Noll, who with Keller also created America Says on GSN and Chopped on Food Network. “Why wouldn’t you try to break into that club?”