Craig Ferguson in talks to land new talk show – in prime access

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

According to Variety, Craig Ferguson is in “advanced talks” to host a new talk show produced by Tribune Media.

But instead of the show being targeted for daytime, early fringe, or late night time slots, which usually is the case for most programs in this genre, Ferguson’s show would be targeted to prime access, generally 6-8 p.m., depending on what time zone you live in.

If this succeeds in getting on the air, it would mark the first time in known memory a talk show would air in the daypart.

Since its creation in 1971, the “prime access” hour – derived from the FCC’s now-defunct Prime Time Access Rule – or PTAR, was developed to create original programming for the hour before prime-time and prohibited any network programming – even off-network programming – from airing in the time period in the nation’s fifty-largest markets on CBS, NBC, and ABC stations.

Since the 1980’s, the daypart has been dominated by game shows such as Wheel Of Fortune, various incarnations of Family Feud, and Jeopardy, and newsmagazine/celebrity shows, including Entertainment Tonight, Inside Edition, A Current Affair, and Access: Hollywood.

The last time an unconventional format aired in prime access (excluding weekends) was variety, which saw the likes of Bobby Goldsboro, Stand Up and CheerThe Muppet Show, and Sha Na Na air in the 1970s when stations were still checkerboarding shows in prime access – i.e. airing different shows every night of the week.

Ferguson’s program would likely be a talk/variety hybrid, lasting a half-hour and would be targeted for a fall 2016 launch. Ferguson is exiting CBS’ The Late Late Show as host in December.

Tribune’s massive reach would put the show in 42 markets (including WGN-TV in Chicago) and would be adjacent to either Ferguson’s game show (Celebrity Name Game), which debuts this fall on Tribune stations or an existing off-network sitcom such as Two And A Half Men.

Tribune is expected to partner with a syndicator to sell the show in non-Tribune markets – most notably Debmar-Mercury, who Tribune partners with on Celebrity Name Game.

The news comes as station groups are becoming more and more wary of airing off-network sitcoms: most are now single-cam comedies, and have little mainstream appeal outside niche audiences.

With prime access slots locked up on major affiliates for the next few years, getting Ferguson cleared would be a challenge. However, some local stations – especially CW and MyNetworkTV affiliates and other independents would welcome such a first-run alternative as syndicators are starting to pass up local stations to sell off-network comedies to cable as the market is drying up  (odd, considering PTAR’s expiration in 1996 was supposed to help the off-network sitcom on broadcast stations by opening up new sales opportunities.)

Last week, Twentieth Television sold off-network rights to New Girl to TBS and MTV for 2015, with no broadcast syndication deal yet in place. So far, there are no announced off-network sitcoms being brought to market for fall 2016.

Then, there’s the growing clout of Tribune, who along with Fox and Sinclair, control much of the syndication market on the station side.

If Ferguson succeeds in getting his early-evening talk show off the ground and is a ratings success, it could put the nail in the coffin of the struggling off-network sitcom business.