Fox-owned stations renew Warner Bros.’ syndicated shows in multi-year deal

Group renews quartet of shows and forces format change

In a massive deal, the Fox-owned station group renewed four Warner Bros.’ first-run shows currently on its stations.

But the deal come with some changes that you, the viewer will notice.

Four shows from the AT&T-owned syndicator: TMZ, TMZ Live, The Real and Extra were each given multi-year renewal deals. But now included in those contracts are the elimination of commercial spots after the end of each show, which is basically local ad time – which means the run for each show would clock in at 29:57 (min:sec) and 59:57 past the hour, instead of 28:28 and 58:28 past the hour, as any TV station traffic department can tell you.

All four shows air on Fox-owned WFLD-TV.

“I started in broadcasting, but I’ve spent a lot of time in cable. There, we are very focused on clean breaks from one show to another. In cable news, they do the hand-offs and you don’t even know one show is ending and another is beginning,” said Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernathy.

Effective this December, those local breaks will move to the middle of the show, adding to the commercial time (no national advertising barter time is affected.) “Seamless transitions between programs are long overdue in local television,” Abernathy said. He feels the spots separating the end of the program and the start of another is an open invitation to turn the dial (or in more modern terms, punch up another station on the remote.) It is a plan by Abernathy to implement those type of transitions on the Fox-owned stations. Already, the end of WFLD’s newscast at 10 p.m. goes straight into Modern Family without commercial interruption.

A similar format was in place several years ago for stations airing Paramount’s The Insider and Entertainment Tonight back-to-back in prime access (7-8 p.m.), mainly on the CBS O&Os. The practice was later abandoned.

The move continues a trend the broadcast networks (notably NBC) adapted in the mid-1990s, where they eliminated the local ad breaks in between shows and started squeezing credits and shortening or eliminating program intros and theme songs in order to keep viewers engaged. But this practice has been around in local TV in one form or another since the 1970s when ironically, WFLD pioneered the practice and used it for the longest time but was abandoned in recent years for unknown reasons (WGN-TV, a pre-Fox WPWR, WGBO in its English-language days, and WCIU would adapt the same practice.)

For example, a show would end with closing credits (with or without the closing syndication logo) but instead of a local commercial break, a station promo or ID would come next, and then the start of the next show. Courtesy of Fuzzy Memories, here’s an example: from 1979, an ending of The Partridge Family, the closing credits (the Screen Gems “S from Hell” logo was skipped), a Field Communications bumper (WFLD’s then-owner), a promo for Benny Hill with WFLD station identification, and the start of Green Acres.

Here’s another example of “seamless” transition from CBS-owned WBBM-TV in 1972, as the station ends its 10 p.m. newscast and dives right into The CBS Late Movie, with John Coughlin and Bob Wallace even looking at and pointing to the screen when it starts:

 

The practice is used in order to sell more commercial time within the shows themselves, and to drive up ad rates – and of course, to prevent viewers from changing the channels. Today, the practice is more rushed as credits are squeezed, or shown very fast and in some cases, eliminated altogether – including the syndicatior’s closing logo.

Other programs have also employed tactics in order to get viewers to programs quicker. NBC recently reduced the opening credits to The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon while both CBS and WTTW have instituted cold opens (eliminating the intro segments) for Survivor and Chicago Tonight, respectively.

Since all four shows are syndicated, each show airs at different times in different markets so it remains to be seen how this would work – especially if they plan the have shows “toss it back to one another”. Locally, The Real airs at 11 a.m., Extra at 2:30 p.m., TMZ Live at 3:30 p.m. and TMZ at 4:30 p.m. Fox’s Dish Nation airs at 3 p.m. but soon plans to employ the same format with 25 Words Or Less and Divorce Court.

It remains to be seen how this works outside of the Fox O&Os.

As for the shows themselves, Extra, TMZ and its Live counterpart have been renewed through 2023; with The Real through 2022. Extra has been revamped this year with Billy Bush taking over as host with the series shifted to Fox-owned stations in several large markets this fall (WFLD has aired Extra since 2016.) Extra’s ratings in their key 25-54 female demo has improved as has another entertainment newsmagaine (Access Hollywood, who hired former Extra host Mario Lopez.)

The deal also includes Warner Bros.’ long-running People’s Court, who picked up a three-year renewal over Fox’s duopoly in New York City (WNYW/WWOR). In Chicago, the show is expected to remain on Weigel-owned CW affiliate WCIU, where it airs weekdays at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Previously, Court aired at 1 and 4 p.m. but was displaced by The CW version of Jerry Springer and new talker Tamron Hall, respectively.

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