The state of syndication in 2017

MGM introduces “BOLD”.

Few first-run series being offered this year as veteran shows – even low-rated ones – continue to roll along

As the National Association Of Programming Executives gathering began Tuesday in Miami, stations are firming up their schedules for next fall as first-run and off-network series are being rolled out onto the marketplace. But what has been the norm in previous years, the shelves are quite bare with only a handful of shows being offered.

On the upside – more shows are being offered than they were last year when Harry Connick Jr.’s talk show was basically the only major entry.

In the last week, there has been increased activity on the development front – particularly from MGM. The syndicator introduced a new strip called Couples Court, a show where two married judges (Dana and Keith Cutler – and before you start, they have no relation to Bears QB Jay Cutler) counsel couples whose marriage and/or relationship could be in trouble. According to a press release, officials behind the show noted: “In the search for truth, the Cutlers will use technology including GPS, DNA, deleted emails, video surveillance, cell phone forensics and surprise witnesses to confirm or dispel accusations of cheating and deception.” In other words, think of it as a high-tech Divorce Court. Couples Court has already been sold to 18 big-market TV stations.

MGM also introduced a new syndicated strip BOLD on Monday. Standing for “Broadcast Online Live Daily”, the series features the day’s top headlines and trending topics on social media with viewers submitting viral video clips and with live, updates feeds throughout the day (this reminds yours truly of a similar effort in 1995-96, CBS’ Day & Date.) The series is being produced in association with the Tegna station group, owners of 46 stations across the country.

Already, Twentieth Television has rolled out two new first-run strips for next fall: Top 30 and Page Six, both were tested on select Fox stations last summer.

Also making an impact is Megan Kelly’s new NBC show, as no decision has been made on when or where in the schedule it will debut.

In the off-network arena, two off-network sitcoms are being rolled out for this fall: Sony’s The Goldbergs and Warner Bros.’ Mom as both were snapped up quickly by Tribune Broadcasting, whose WGN-TV in Chicago needed to fill some much-needed holes in its weeknight prime-time and late fringe lineups. And look out for potential late entries: last year, Disney-ABC quietly brought out Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D  in weekly syndication and Twentieth launched ABC sitcom Last Man Standing – the latter being a surprise success.

One potential late entry could be Twentieth’s animated sitcom Bob’s Burgers, currently airing as a weekly hour with back-to-back episodes. It could replace The Cleveland Show, whose contracts with stations are expiring.

The challenge for many of these shows are landing time periods – veteran programs snapped up the best slots years ago and are locked through 2020 in some cases as they continue to do well. Even low-rated programs – including a few court shows and celeb mags – are being renewed as the shows continue to be profitable for the syndicators who distribute them.

On the air since 1999, “Millionaire” is back for another season in syndication.

Just last week, Disney-ABC renewed veteran game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire for a sixteenth season and Right This Minute for its fifth. PPI Releasing (formerly Program Partners, the syndicator behind DaVinci’s Inquest and Merv Griffin’s Crosswords) renewed Canadian import Just For Laughs: Gags, a Candid Camera-type program for two more seasons despite subpar ratings and being slotted in several late fringe and overnight time slots.

Of course, the economics always doesn’t work out: Debmar-Mercury canceled Celebrity Name Game after three seasons last December despite respectable ratings. And Harry Connick Jr.’s expensive talk show is on the bubble – there were reports surfacing that the show had trouble booking high-name guests (known as “A” celebrities) as ratings continue to struggle.

Sixteen-ton gorilla CBS Television Distribution is perhaps, the main reason why time periods continue to be locked up. Seven of the ten most-watched syndicated programs come from the former CBS Enterprises/Viacom/Paramount/Worldvision/Eyemark entity with Wheel Of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Dr. Phil, and Judge Judy, among others. Their success is one of the reasons why CTD hasn’t launched a new show in three years, the last being Hot Bench in 2014 (CTD had their share of strikeouts too, with the failure of The Jeff Probst Show and Arsenio Hall’s ill-fated comeback in 2012 and 2013, respectively.)

And it too, is renewing some low-profile programming, including The InsiderThe Doctors – which at this point could outlive the former NBC soap opera of the same name, and Rachael Ray – all of which have aired or continue to air in late-night graveyard slots in Chicago (Rachael did move to a more suitable noon slot last fall on The U Too after a few years in late-night on WLS-TV.)

Despite these challenges, syndicators – many of them small outfits – will try to get their shows in the door somehow. In addition to those mentioned above, other shows being offered at NATPE this year:

Foothill 7 TV is producing a new series The Sheriffs Of El Dorado County, already on the air at Tribune’s KTXL in Sacramento. In the style of the early episodes of Cops, the show features the men and women of Sacramento-area law enforcement, dealing with everyday situations. According to Marc Berman, the series has already been tested on ten stations last year and did well opposite tough competition. El Dorado is being offered as a weekly this fall and as a strip in 2018.

Aside from Sheriffs, other weekly shows being pitched for syndication include Don’t Blink, Hollywood Uncut, and Mysteries Of The Unexplained.

Byron Allen’s Entertainment Studios is offering a new comedy game show, Funny You Should Ask. Targeted for weeknight prime access (6-8 p.m – varies among time zones.) According to TVNewscheck, this series is hosted by former Chicago TV personality Jon Kelley (late of WFLD’s Good Day Chicago.) The “sizzle reel” featured comedians on the show such as Howie Mandel, Louie Anderson, and Jon Lovitz. The series could be a suitable replacement for Celebrity Name Game in syndication.

For more NATPE news, follow T Dog Media on Twitter at @tdogmedia.