Oscar-winner in talks with Warner Bros.
The first project in development in syndication next fall is a big one: a show featuring Chicago native Jennifer Hudson.
While there were rumors circulating in the last few weeks, Variety confirmed Thursday a show from Warner Bros. is in development with Hudson, a local woman who rose to fame on American Idol in 2004, the show’s third season. Hudson’s appearance was certainly influential for Idol, at least locally. After she was controversially bounced from the show, ratings dropped in Chicago and never recovered during its Fox run, even when another local native (Mount Prospect’s Lee DeWyze) won. Idol moved to ABC in 2017.
Even though she didn’t win, her career grew and won an Oscar in 2007 for Best Supporting Actress in the film adaption of Dreamgirls, from the 1980s Broadway play.
In recent years, Hudson has maintained her high profile including a stint on The Voice in the U.S. and U.K., and recently starred as Aretha Franklin in the biopic Respect, as well as other projects. Hudson’s an Emmy winner, too – winning a Daytime award for Oculus Quest’s Baby Yaga, which she executive produced.
The team behind Ellen is also behind this show – Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner are executive producers, and a pilot was recently shot and is now being marketed to station groups. Even though Ellen is ending its run this spring, Jennifer Hudson’s project isn’t being pitched as a replacement for her exiting show. Ellen’s contracts with stations – including those owned by NBC, ends in September. A format hasn’t been nailed down yet, but it is expected to be a talk/entertainment format, now the standard in daytime.
The news is a bit of a surprise, signaling Warner Bros. – who will have a new corporate parent in the tentatively-named Warner Bros. Discovery, was reportedly scaling back its syndication operations given Ellen’s exit and the recent sale of TMZ to Fox. With Warner not aligned to any station group, the speculation on where this project could land is endless. Contracts for CBS Media Ventures’ Drew Barrymore are up in September, as is Disney’s Tamron Hall, now in its third season. NBC has an open hour due to the departure of Ellen, and could be slotted as a lead-in to The Kelly Clarkson Show, featuring another Idol alumnus.
Fox could also be a player for the show as Wendy Williams‘ contracts are also up soon and could decide to pair Hudson with Nick Cannon (he and Williams‘ shows are distributed by Debmar-Mercury.) Warner also has a current deal with Fox to air The Real, which is tied with CMV’s The Doctors for the lowest-rated talk show in daytime. Longshots to land the show would be Nexstar’s WGN-TV and Weigel’s WCIU, who lost Hall to ABC-owned WLS-TV in September.
Of course, any Chicago station who lands the show would hit the jackpot, given her ties to the Windy City and is still a popular figure locally. However, local stations nationwide are reducing syndicated programming in order to run more local news or locally produced lifestyle talk shows as they can earn more revenue from than pricey shows.
While Chicago has been home to several daytime talk shows over the years (Oprah Winfrey, Jenny Jones, Jerry Springer, etc.), a Chicago native fronting a talk show is actually rare. The last Chicago-area person to host a daytime talker was Bonnie Hunt, whose show Warner also syndicated. But Hunt was never able to gain ratings traction in her two years on the air (2008-10) and was canceled by Warner in December 2009. In Chicago, Hunt’s show often placed fifth in its 2 p.m. time period.