On July 14, the Fox Television Stations group launches six-week tests of two new strips: Hollywood Today Live and The Daily Helpline. The group will follow that on Saturday, Aug. 2, with a test of a new weekly program, Laughs, which comedian Steve Hofstetter will curate, produce and star in.
“We’re doing these shows so that if we decide we want to go ahead with them, we can, without having to roll them out in national syndication,” says Stephen Brown, Fox Television Stations executive VP of programming and development. “If they are successful enough for us, we don’t have to rely on a national model.”
It’s a model that’s worked for the Fox stations with Warner Bros.’ TMZ spin-off, TMZ Live. TMZ Live started as an Internet series and then was tested in a few Fox markets. Fox liked the show—and its low cost—so much that TMZ Live now airs in all of Fox’s markets. NBCUniversal does something similar with Access Hollywood Live. Other station groups— including Meredith with Better and the upcoming shows based on the AllRecipes brand, and Gannett and its new partnership with Debmar-Mercury—also are heading in that direction.
“If you are working on an old model and blowing out the budgets, and then you get a 1.0 national household rating, you are under water,” says Brown. “A bloated talk show will not fare well financially that way. It’s a new day, and we have to start thinking about how we are producing these things.”
To that end, Twentieth is testing three shows, all of which have a homegrown, under- the-radar feel.
Hollywood Today Live, which debuted online last November, airs at bitesizetv.com. The show has produced more than 5,000 segments from its new glassed-in studio at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles. Four hosts—Kristen Brockman, AJ Gibson, Tanner Thomason and Porscha Coleman— chat with celebs and cover Hollywood news daily. Hollywood Today Live will air in nine Fox markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Phoenix, Minneapolis and Charlotte.
“Because of the success of TMZ Live and Dish Nation, which are syndication’s youngest-skewing shows, we believe that our audience has an insatiable appetite for celebrity news,” says Brown. “And opposed to Dish Nation, which is comedy, and TMZ Live, which is snarky, this is respectful. These hosts are authentic in their fandom.”
Similarly, The Daily Helpline is a daytime advice program that’s going for authenticity rather than conflict. The show is hosted by Miles Adcox, CEO of therapeutic workshop firm Onsite, and personal coach Spirit, two people who have experience offering advice.
“We won’t necessarily have to take one case and drill down into it for an hour,” says Brown. “What distinguishes us is we cover a lot of different topics in an hour. This show has nothing to do with conflict. Issues like cheating will come up, but we’re sitting there to work through it.”
The Daily Helpline will air in nine Fox markets: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Austin and Charlotte.
Starting Aug. 2, Fox will test Laughs, a weekly comedy show with comedian-host Steve Hofstetter also curating content and producing. The show is expected to run 13 weeks, but it could stay on longer if Fox believes it’s working.
It’s a production model that the Fox stations have been toying with, says Frank Cicha, FTS senior VP, programming. “We’re seeing if one talented guy can go soup to nuts on a production and try to reinvent a format.”
Laughs will air on both Fox duopolies in nine markets, as well as on WDCA Washington, D.C., usually coming on after off-net comedy blocks. In most markets, the show will air on Saturdays on Fox and Sundays on MyNet, although that’s not the case in every market.
While the tests’ performances will be evaluated in the standard ways—compared to their year-ago time-period averages and lead-ins—Fox also plans to look at how they perform on social media. Fox recently signed a deal to use Rentrak data, including engagement metrics.
“We should be ready to evaluate these shows in other ways,” says Cicha. “The financial model for these shows revolves around the idea that you don’t have to be everywhere to make them work.”