Conflict losing its bite at Tribune

Scenes like this may soon be history at Tribune stations. (Multimedia Entertainment)
Scenes like this may soon be history at Tribune stations. (Multimedia Entertainment)

Attention viewers: baby mama drama time may soon be over.

As reported by TVNewscheck on Friday, Tribune Broadcasting may not renew its contracts for its three conflict talk shows from NBCUniversal Television Distribution, hosted by Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, and Steve Wilkos.

Neither Tribune or NBCUniversal had comment.

Tribune is developing programming for time slots in 2015 and according to TVNewscheck, none of it conflict talk.

Many Tribune stations carry all three talkers in a daytime block; other Tribune stations carry either one or two of the shows. In Chicago, Maury is carried on Tribune’s WGN-TV, while Springer and Wilkos are carried on Weigel’s WCIU. Other markets where the three are split up among Tribune and non-Tribune stations include St. Louis, Denver, San Diego, and Sacramento.

National ratings are respectable by current daytime standards, but all three are down from several seasons ago.

While a lot could happen between now and 2016, the future for all three shows on Tribune’s stations became questionable when the company named Larry Wert as president of its broadcast division. Shortly after taking over as vice president and general manager of NBC-owned WMAQ-TV in 1998, Wert pulled the plug on Springer despite high ratings. It came a year after Springer’s ill-fated stint as a commentator on the station’s late newscast, and continuous demonstrations led by the Rev. Michael Pflager and others.

This possible move by Tribune comes at a time as viewers are shifting away from the “conflict” talk show – pioneered in the mid-1960’s by Joe Pyne and made popular in the late 1980’s by Geraldo Rivera and Morton Downey Jr.  – to “conflict” reality shows on VH1, MTV, and Bravo, whose reruns of such fare now appears opposite those talk shows during the day.

In other words, viewers now prefer Kenya Moore yanking the weave off some woman’s head rather than an unknown talk show guest doing so.

Despite the popularity of the NBCUniversal conflict shows, recent efforts to duplicate their success hasn’t worked. Recent conflict shows hosted by Jeremy Kyle, Trisha Goodard, and Kirk Fox (The Test) failed to gain traction with viewers. Plans to launch another conflict talker by Tribune and CBS (hosted by MC Serch) was scrapped earlier this year after a three-week test of the show yielded poor results.

If Tribune decides not to renew, NBCU could find a new home on another large-market station group such as CBS or Fox, but that could be a long shot. In Chicago, Fox owned the rights to Springer from 1998 to 2009, first airing on WFLD and later WPWR.

Another factor is the trio’s lack of appeal among advertisers due to the saucy content, though Tribune executives insisted this wasn’t an issue.

And of course, there’s the age of at least two of the hosts. When their contracts come up, Jerry Springer would be 72 and Maury Povich would turn 77. If they wanted to, they could ride into the sunset and retire.

Tribune’s wavering renewal on the three shows also raises questions regarding the future of another conflict talker: The Bill Cunningham Show, which Tribune produces for CW.