The state of syndication in 2018

WGN’s new “Man Of The People” is a new local Saturday night effort in a time slot that otherwise would have been filled by a syndicator.

With NATPE arriving this week, it’s nothing but slim pickings as veteran shows continue to have shows locked up

Looking for something new in syndication for 2018? You might want to stop.

With buyers and sellers descending to Miami this week for the 56th National Association of Television Programming Executives gathering, the syndicated marketplace for new shows is lackluster in numbers once again, as established shows continue their stranglehold on key time periods while others are being snapped up by local news expansion, or other local efforts.

Case in point: this Saturday night, WGN-TV is debuting a new, local comedy show hosted by WGN morning show personality Pat Tomasulo called Man of the People at 10 p.m. and has a stable of other local programs (S.E.E. Chicago, Chicago’s Best, etc.), continuing a trend of local stations or groups producing their own shows. ABC’s WLS-TV continues with talk show strip Windy City Live, despite so-so ratings. Windy was moved to 1 p.m. to replace the ill-fated FABLife after the series was canceled.

Another example: Tegna has three shows (Daily Blast Live, Sister Circle, and Sing Like A Star) airing across their group of 47 stations – produced in Denver, Atlanta, and New Orleans respectively –  in the heart of Middle America where they own stations, in hopes to appeal to those type of audiences instead of producing them in New York and Los Angeles, where two of those programs aren’t even on the air.

All of this is troubling for syndicators, who now have to fight for every available time period in a business  – which at one time had shows for every daypart, now deals predominantly in daytime (remember when there was a late-night and kids’ business?)

So far, only a handful of shows have been announced and even fewer have deals. On Monday, Tribune and Sinclair – both who have a pending merger – made a deal to bring Investigation Discovery series True Crime Stories to their stations in an off-network barter deal, bolstering the true-crime genre already filled with Crimewatch Daily, Corrupt Crimes, Forensic Files, and Dateline, which has been a surprise hit. It is not known where True Crime would end up on Tribune’s WGN-TV.

Fox has a deal for a new courtroom series Caught In Providence from Debmar-Mercury featuring 80-year old Providence Judge Frank Caprio. The show is likely to find a slot on WPWR.

There are several announced projects still looking for a home: Warner Bros. is  shopping an untitled improv project hosted by Dolton native Jane Lynch; CBS Television Distribution has a conflict-talk show resolution show  hosted by Vivica A. Fox called Face The Truth (wondering why they are bringing this out since stations have clearly retreated from such fare.); Sony has a Cops-like project, Police Patrol– the last time a new show in this genre available for syndication was Real Stories Of The Highway Patrol and LAPD: Life On The Beat in the mid-1990s.

The most interesting aspect of this is many syndicated shows are on the bubble – believe it or not, all five NBC Universal daytime talk shows are on the bubble: Harry, Steve (who moved from Chicago to Los Angeles last year), and all three conflict shows. Others on the bubble include Twentieth’s Top 30; Warner Bros.’ CrimeWatch; CBS Television Distribution’s The Doctors; and many others.

Many observers believe the pending Tribune-Sinclair deal is holding up the process: NBC’s long-running conflict shows air on Tribune stations. Sinclair reportedly is no longer interested in carrying these type of programs, featuring Maury Povich and Jerry Springer (he and Steve Wilkos air locally on WCIU instead) – both had their ratings heydays long ago. It’s unlikely all five would exit simultaneously, but don’t look for Harry to return.

Already off the bubble: Judge Mathis, whose host decided to stay with his long-running courtroom show after completing a run for the Detroit-area congressional seat vacated by Rep. John Conyers; CBS renewed Daily Mail TV for a second season; and Fox stations renewed The Real through 2020.

But the bubble burst for CW’s Robert Irvine show after two lackluster seasons. It is not known if the time slot, whose roots date back to the days of Kids WB (the predecessor of The CW) would be turned over to affiliates or filled with something else.

Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, many syndicators nowadays introduce shows to the market months after NATPE takes place. Daily Mail was introduced to the market last March, more than two months after NATPE concluded and CBS brought out off-network sitcom The Game just last summer. So this scenario could change quickly.

And speaking of off-net product, so far two shows have been sold for next fall: NBCU’s Chicago P.D. (to Fox stations) and Disney’s black-ish (to Tribune/Sinclair). But as of this writing, nothing else is in the pipeline as the off-net sitcom drought continues.

It would be some time however, before the industry gauges how the new mammoth  Tribune/Sinclair beast would affect the business – not to mention the Disney-21st Century Fox deal, where Twentieth Television would likely be swallowed into a bulked-up Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution. If you haven’t noticed, Twentieth – who tested a few shows on its Fox stations the last few summers – isn’t bringing anything to market this year.