Tribune to go ahead with "Big Willie"

CBS to launch The Talk to replace As The World Turns

Despite anemic ratings, poor reviews, and Twitters unanimously dissing it, Tribune Broadcasting is apparently going ahead with Bill Cunningham’s new talk show, which is now targeted for a Fall 2011 launch.

During the four-day test, the program averaged an 1.1 Nielsen household rating in seven markets, including Chicago. While the number was down from its lead-in and underperformed year-ago time period levels, the rating is basically average for the fragmented world of daytime syndication.

Big Willie now clears all Tribune markets, including WPIX in New York and KTLA in Los Angeles and of course, WGN in Chicago, where the show is to be taped. The program’s title is also likely to change.

Cunningham hosts a weekday radio program on WLW-AM in Cincinnati. He plans to do a few shows per week in Chicago, while taping his TV talk show.

In a recent  interview in the Chicago Tribune, Cunningham states he would like to do a traditional talk show and not one with his political persona which he displays on his conservative radio talk shows.

The move comes as a shake-up in daytime and early fringe programming is upon us since Oprah Winfrey is departing her talk show next year. But the projects announced – Big Willie included – have been major yawners thus far.

CBS announced its own lackluster project in the vain of The Talk, featuring a panelists of six celebrity moms, which is basically a rip-off of The View (and even the name of the show isn’t original – the title of the show is used by NBC-owned WMAQ-TV for its Sunday morning public affairs show, hosted by Marion Brooks.)  The Talk debuts this fall, replacing long-time time occupant As The World Turns.

The show is the brainchild of former Roseanne star Sara Gilbert, who besides a few appearances on The Big Bang Theory, has been on the tube hardly at all.

The announcement of Big Willie and The Talk shows the lack of innovation that plagues this industry, and nowhere it is evident than it is in daytime (and prime-time for that matter.)

And there’s the predicament of how all of this gets on the air. It’s simple: Bill Cunningham used to work for Randy “Court Jester” Michaels and Sean Compton, both former employees of Cincinnati-based Jacor Communications, which was absorbed into Clear Channel Communications a decade ago. One of the hosts of The Talk (Julie Chen, who also hosts CBS’ Big Brother) just happens to be married to Les Moonves, who is the CEO – or Bishop – of The Church of Tisch. It’s the old-boy network where just like Chicago politics, cronies get what they want, when they want, and how they want (how else you explain why The Simpsons is still on the air and the horrid writing staff still have jobs?) The result? Safe, uninnovative projects that hit the airwaves.

As for Big Willie, the program’s launch still isn’t guaranteed. Tribune hopes to land a syndicator, likely a small distributor. Among the suitors being discussed include Litton, Program Partners, Byron Allen’s ESTV (I doubt it), Trifecta Media & Entertainment, and Debmar-Mercury, among others (Tribune closed its syndication business in December 2007.) Then it needs to clear at least 70 percent of the country to get on the air.

The strange thing about this – or maybe not so strange – is despite the poor performance, Tribune is still going ahead with this daytime show. Once again, broadcast television execs misread the market and air programs no one wants to watch. Compton claims the ratings weren’t important as what worked and said Big Willie “wasn’t a disaster”. Well, maybe he should have looked the words Big Willie up on Twitter and see almost unanimous poor reviews for the show. Television execs only use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social-networking tools to promote and shove their crap down our throats instead of monitoring feedback for a show while still relying exclusively relying on Nielsen ratings – which they completely misread.  And you wonder why the broadcast television business is in trouble.

And it may get worse. Lisa Wu Hartwell of The Real Housewives of Atlanta fame – a reality show known for catfights, hair pulling, and other Jerry Springer-like material, is leaving the show to pursue “other opportunities”.

Let’s hope one of them isn’t a talk show with Tribune. But I’m guessing Randy “Court Jester” Michaels already has a studio reserved for her at Bradley Place and has her on speed dial, since they may need a companion show for Big Willie. Yeah, I can totally see that happening.

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1 response to Tribune to go ahead with "Big Willie"


  1. murdoc

    I totally agree with this blog. I mean wheres the spirit of genius at when it comes to bringing in shows. I think the problem is they're scared to take risks! No one wants to do anything different on t.v.