T.D. Jakes Preps for Aug. 17 Launch

Tegna, Debmar-Mercury partner for first talk show test, hosted by megachurch pastor
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Related: Pastor Presence Expands on Screens

In the last of three tests of new talk shows this summer, Debmar-Mercury and Tegna are launching the first project of their nascent partnership with a program starring Bishop T.D. Jakes in four markets.

T.D. Jakes will air on Tegna’s WFAA Dallas, WXIA Atlanta, KARE Minneapolis and WKYC Cleveland from Aug. 17-Sept. 11. The Fox Television Stations’ four-week test of Boris and Nicole started July 6 and aired on Fox, Media General and other stations, while Warner Bros.’ three-week test of Ice-T and Coco started Aug. 3 and is airing on select Fox stations.

Jakes almost starred in his own talk show five years ago, when CBS Television Distribution and Dr. Phil McGraw tried to launch a project. The post- 2008 economy couldn’t support it, however, and the series was put aside. Earlier this year, however, 44 Blue Productions’ Stephanie Noonan Drachkovitch revived the project.

“For me, it really started when I sat down with [Jakes] and got to know the depth and scope of who he is, what he’s built and how far-reaching and impactful his message is. I immediately went to the daytime genre,” says Drachkovitch, who worked in syndication for years before starting her own production company. “There’s no one in daytime with [Jakes’] point of view, who has the social impact he has, that can tell the stories he tells.”

“I heard this pitch in the first week I took this gig in late March, and we all liked it right away,” says Bob Sullivan, Tegna senior VP, programming, who joined the company from Scripps earlier this year. “It has a built-in message in a crowded marketplace of ensemble talk. If you are going to have a single host, you need to get your message through.”

While Jakes certainly revolves his own life around faith, that will not be the point of this show.

“There’s no question that’s who he is,” says Sullivan. “He’s a firm believer in a higher power. And our goal is to allow him to be who he is. But he’s much more than a minister. He cuts through the clutter and gets to the heart of problems.”

Part of the show’s plan is to also engage Jakes on issues of the day, and to work with the Tegna stations to help him tell those stories.

“We’re also working with Tegna’s news groups and morning shows,” says Stephanie Eno, who is overseeing the partnership between Tegna and Debmar-Mercury. “Whenever we have compelling stories, we’ll be servicing those out to their local morning shows or local newscasts.”

The Tegna stations also are helping to promote the show, with Jakes’ home station of WFAA Dallas shooting a package that will be used to promote the show on the other three stations.

Social, First and Last

The team around Jakes is so confident that this show will return next fall that they are calling this four-week run a preview rather than a test. And they are already mounting the social media with the expectation of keeping it running after the test concludes and before the national show launches.

Each day after the show airs in the four Tegna markets, Jakes’ social-media team will post the episode on YouTube to expose the program to a national audience. Leading into the launch, the team is posting videos on the T.D. Jakes show’s Facebook page and on other platforms. Both efforts are intended to build the show’s national audience in anticipation of a broader debut.

Debmar-Mercury, which will be distributing the show in national syndication assuming it goes forward, expects it to air on traditional affiliates in the afternoon. That’s why first testing it on Tegna-owned Big Three affiliates makes sense.

“It’s really more of a Big Three news lead-in type of show,” says Mort Marcus, copresident of Debmar-Mercury. “It’s a little more affiliate-friendly—it’s closer to Dr. Phil in tone than it is to Wendy Williams.”

“And having that Tegna brand on it gives it is a bit of a pedigree,” says Ira Bernstein, Marcus’ copresident at Debmar-Mercury.

While Fox’s other tests explore shows that fall between single host and panel talk and feature married couples, T.D. Jakes’ approach is a bit of a throwback to some of the most successful talk shows, such as Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey.

“It’s one of the reasons we’re so excited about this—there’s not a lot of programming like this in daytime right now that deal with relationships and conflict resolution in an informational and aspirational way,” says Alexandra Jewett, who shares executive VP, programming duties with Lonnie Burstein. “We’ve all been developing and taking out entertainment talk shows because that’s what’s been working, but this is a different type of show. Where there used to be a lot of shows like this on the air 15-20 years ago, there isn’t anything on like this right now.”

Related: Pastor Presence Expands on Screens

In the last of three tests of new talk shows this summer, Debmar-Mercury and Tegna are launching the first project of their nascent partnership with a program starring Bishop T.D. Jakes in four markets.

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