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NATPE 2019: A Sudden Surge in New First-Run Syndicated

Series is Forefront

By Marc Berman/Kevin Hayes

The overall theme of note at the annual NATPE Miami Marketplace and Conference (which took place at the landmark Fontainebleau Hotel from January 22 to 24) was how to balance the traditional linear platforms with the rising digital streamers.

NATPE stands for the National Association of Television Program Executives conference. Unlike those overindulgent gatherings from yesteryear, where extravagance was at every corner and stations buying syndicated programming was the primary reason to attend, the NATPE of today is also very digital and international driven. The location itself, Miami, was chosen to accommodate the international attendees. And, in a nod to those days past, there was no shortage of new first-run syndicated series vying for clearances. In fact, there are more new strips (a.k.a. Monday to Friday) in contention than in at least one decade.

“Broadcast television is not about to end anytime soon,” noted Armando Nuñez, President and Chief Executive Officer for the CBS Global Distribution Group and Chief Content Licensing Officer for the CBS Corporation at a international-themed session called “What the World is Buying.” “Like any linear platform, cable included, there are growing challenges in this era of OTT. But we certainly recognize the relevance – and the opportunity – in the digital world. And the challenge for us, and for everyone, is to figure out how to monetize it.”

“We must be aggressive in our programming acquisitions,” he added. “And we must continue to build our digital extensions.”

Nuñez cited the decision to offer “Star Trek: Discovery” as a streaming option on CBS All Access, which is now in season two and will launch a spin-off, still untitled, based on Michelle Yeoh’s character Phillippa Georgiou.

“With so much original content, on so many platforms our business continues to evolve,” he said. “And there should be room for everyone to capitalize on it. For us, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ was a win because it brought a slew of new subscribers to our digital extension and we did so without having to dilute our linear model.”

Peak TV

In this era of “Peak TV,” there is more original content across all platforms, both linear and digital, to consume. Just in 2018, over 500 original scripted series alone — a new record — were vying for eyeballs, and that number shows no signs of decreasing anytime soon. In other words, it should come as no surprise, perhaps, that there is a sudden surge in new original first-run product. But there is more to that assumption, according to leading syndication executives at a panel titled, “Syndication State of the Union: From Famine to Feast to the Future.”

So, why exactly is there a sudden rise in new shows in contention in syndication?

“There is still a real marketplace and, at the end of the day, we are still bullish on the linear model in syndication,” noted Mort Marcus, co-president of distributor Debmar-Mercury (which, among other shows, is the home of talker “The Wendy Williams Show” and game show “Family Feud”).

Marcus referred the estimated 94 percent of the target audience in daytime – women 25-54 and 50+ — as a real “boon” for syndication.


Naturally, veteran strips like “Wheel of Fortune” (now in season 36), “Jeopardy!” “Entertainment Tonight,” “Dr. Phil,” “Live with Kelly and Ryan,” and countless others, are not about to end anytime soon. And that inhibits available time periods (and, in particular, the key time periods; i.e. in access and early fringe). But for the first time in years several current shows on the proverbial fence. Think “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Page Six TV,” “RightThisMinute,” “Daily Blast Live,” “Daily Mail TV” and “Pickler and Ben,” hosted by Kellie Pickler and Ben Aaron, which could open time slots. And then there’s NBCUniversal’s “Steve,” hosted by Steve Harvey, who was canceled in favor of the arrival of a daily hour of talk hosted by Kelly Clarkson.

Ellen Degeneres, meanwhile, said in a recent interview with The New York Times that she hesitated to extend her contract into the summer of 2020 because she feels “boxed in by her reputation for kindness.” If she does indeed call it quits, that will open the floodgates for open time periods in daytime in 2020-21.

“We are fortunate that our company is willing and ready to invest in syndication and take big swings,” said Tracie Wilson, EVP of Creative Affairs at NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution. “We saw an opportunity on the NBC O&Os and Kelly Clarkson was just the perfect fit for that bucket. And ‘Judge Jerry’ (presided over by Jerry Springer) was sort of a natural fit. The time was right, Jerry Springer was ending production on his talk show, and we just saw an opportunity.”

New Entries in First-Run Syndication for 2019-20

Foremost on the docket is “The Kelly Clarkson Show” from NBCUniversal, which is a firm “go” for next season with confirmed clearances now reaching over 80 percent of the country. Kelly’s upcoming talker will lead into “The Ellen Degeneres Show” on the NBC owned-and-operated stations.

Also in new talk, Tamron Hall, formerly of “Today,” will host a daily hour on the ABC Owned Television Stations Group. Clearances, to-date, is over 70 percent of the country. And Sony Pictures Television is partnering with Tribune Broadcasting on a new possible one-hour talker hosted by motivational speaker, life strategist and author Mel Robbins.  

Two names with long-running first-run syndicated strips on their resumes – aforementioned Jerry Springer and Joe Brown – are back, each in different categories. Jerry Springer, whose self-titled trashy daytime talker ran from 1991 to 2018, will be featured in “Judge Jerry,” a new half-hour court strip from NBCU. Confirmed station groups clearing the series include Tribune, Sinclair, Weigel, Hearst, Cox, Sun Beam, Block, Raycom, Tegna, Scripps, Meredith and Capital and more. And Joe Brown, a staple in court in “Judge Joe Brown” from 1998 to 2013, is now heading to weekly talk in “Hot Topics with Judge Joe” from Pacific Lake Entertainment.

In game, Meredith Vieria, a daytime fixture a la NBC’s “Today” show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” syndicated talker “The Meredith Vieira Show” and, of course, ABC staple “The View,” is back in game show “25 Words or Less” from Twentieth Television. Clearances, to-date, is at 75 percent of the country (representing station groups Sinclair, Gray, Hearst, CBS, Scripps, Northwest and Tribune, among others). And Endemol Shine North America is teaming up with Michael Strahan’s SMAC Entertainment to develop a U.S. version of the game show “The Money Drop.” The series, which features a pair of contestants that are given their prize at the start of the show –real cash — has aired as a daily show in France, Uruguay and in Central and Eastern Europe (and multiple versions have aired weekly in Asia and Germany).

Other names rumored as contenders in talk include Angie Martinez, Jerry O’Connell and a combined effort with actress Jamie Pressly (“Mom”) and “Saturday Night Live” alum Finesse Mitchell from distributor Debmar-Mercury.

While Kelly Clarkson, who performed at her heavily attended party on Tuesday evening, seems to have the goods to attract those older females in daytime, let me warn you that four out of five new syndication talk shows do not succeed. Most recently, think “Harry,” hosted by Harry Connick, Jr., from NBCU. Then there were failed talk-themed hours before that hosted by…deep breath…Anderson Cooper, Tony Danza, Roseanne Barr, Howie Mandel, Megan Mullally, Bonnie Hunt, Jane Pauley, Queen Latifah (who tried, and failed, twice), and countless others. But if a syndicated talk show does work, it can last for decades.“If you don’t take chances, or at least try, you just don’t make inroads,” noted NBCU’s Tracie Wilson, who after six projects in contention chose aforementioned “The Kelly Clarkson Show” and “Judge Jerry.”

“If a show works, it can last for decades,” noted Wilson. “Just look at the number of veteran strips on the air.”

In off-network, A+E Networks and Trifecta Entertainment & Media have announced the broadcast syndication renewal of History staple “Pawn Stars.” Highlighted by the Tribune Station Group’s and CBS’ WCBS/WLNY renewal of the Monday through Friday strip, the series will return for the 2019-20 season with 100 new additional episodes. 

In Addition…

In other news from NATPE, AMC’s “The Walking Dead” was named the most in-demand TV show in the world for 2018 and “Stranger Things” the most in-demand digital original series at the inaugural Global TV Demand Awards, according to global metric firm Parrot Analytics. The winners were determined using Parrot Analytics’ global audience demand measurement system, which measures how much a TV series is wanted in 100+ markets around the world, across all platforms. The company captures over 1 billion new data points each day across the consumer activity spectrum, including video consumption (streaming and downloads), social media engagement (hashtags, liking, sharing) and research actions (reading about shows, writing about shows, etc.).

Viacom International Studios (VIS) and Chile’s Mega Media will co-produce new survival reality series “Resisitire.” The 95-part series is inspired by MTV’s “Stranded With a Million Dollars” and will be broadcast on Mega in Chile and MTV across Latin America.

Univision has unveiled a slate of new local news apps in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Miami and the Bay area. Available on Android and iOS, the apps give audiences for Univision in these cities access to news, weather and traffic updates.