Is Tribune looking to get back into syndie business?

Station group signs Cincinnati radio host to do daily talk show

There’s going to be a new Bozo taping at the Old Bozo studio (no, it’s not a new version of Bozo’s Circus, but there might be a circus nonetheless.)

With an eye of getting back into the syndication business after a three-year hiatus, Tribune Broadcasting announced today it was taping several talk show pilot episodes hosted by conservative talk show host Bill Cunningham, who is better known to listeners of Cincinnati’s WLW-AM, owned by Clear Channel Communications.

The pilot episodes are being taped here in Chicago at WGN’s studios on June 12 and 13 and is being produced by Tribune. The studios being used is the same one the legendary children’s show Bozo’s Circus was produced in from 1961 to 2001.

The Cincinnati-Chicago connection is a familiar one: Jerry Springer once commuted regularly from Cincinnati to Chicago for a few years to do his talk show in Chicago and anchor the nightly news at NBC affiliate WLWT in Cincinnati. If this show takes off, Cunningham would spend two to three days a week in Chicago while doing his WLW show from the Windy City.

Richard Dominick, who was executive producer for Jerry Springer and The Steve Wilkos Show will be the showrunner for this project, tentatively titled Willie.

Willie would air later this summer on WGN and several other Tribune-owned stations, though exactly which ones has yet to be specified. It’s being developed by Sean Compton, who was promoted to President of Programming at Tribune Broadcasting on Tuesday.

If the test goes well, Tribune plans to air Willie on its station group at the start of next year, with plans of rolling out the show in national syndication in September 2011.

Tribune is developing this program so it can air among its block of NBC Universal-distributed talk shows, which includes shows hosted by Springer, Wilkos, and Maury Povich. While all three talk shows air on the majority of Tribune-owned stations (including WPIX in New York and KTLA in Los Angeles), only WGN airs Maury while the other two air on Weigel’s WCIU-TV (Springer moves to WCIU in September.)

It is not known what format the show will have, but it is expected to be a topical with a studio audience in the same vain of the three NBCU talk shows (in other words, expect Willie to be confrontational.)

There were plans for Cunningham to co-host a weekly political talk show with Springer. A pilot was taped and shown on WGN America, but was scrapped after Springer dropped out of the project because of other commitments.

Tribune has had success with talk show strips Geraldo and The Joan Rivers Show in the past, has had a difficult time launching a first run strip over the last decade-and-a-half, let alone a talk show. Chat failures include show hosted by Dennis Miller, James Van Praagh, Richard Simmons, and Charles Perez. Other first-run strip failures include Talk or Walk and Geraldo’s Now It Can Be Told.

By 2007, Tribune was left with American Idol Rewind, Soul Train reruns, and a few other programs when Tribune Entertainment shut down. Both Idol Rewind and Soul Train wound up at Trifecta Entertainment but Soul Train – which ended original production in 2006 – was dropped by Trifecta in August 2008.

If Cunningham’s show is green-lit, it would be a plus for Chicago’s ailing talk show industry, who lost both Springer and Wilkos to Connecticut and is losing Oprah Winfrey next year.

In addition to his WLW talk show duties, Cunningham also hosts a weekly syndicated Sunday Night show syndicated via Premiere Radio Networks on 300 radio stations nationwide.

And yes, Cunningham is familiar with our town: back in 2008, he laid into Chicago’s inept political system at a John Mccain campaign rally in Cincinnati by trying to tie Democratic candidate Barack Obama to the local political scene and called him “a hack, Chicago style-Daley politician.”

I guess Mayor Daley and other Chicago pols won’t be holding a parade to celebrate his arrival into town.