The state of syndication in 2021 (three months early)

A card promoting the September 2020 premiere of “The Drew Barrymore Show” over its 2nd Chicago home, WCIU/CW 26.


Pandemic, shifting audiences makes it challenging for stations and syndicators

Generally, I write these state of syndication articles in January before the NATPE gathering in Miami. But as we know, there has been nothing normal about the current times we live in, the television business included (and of course, NATPE isn’t likely happening as a traditional gathering in 2021.) 

And no business has been affected more than syndication as an article pointed out in Broadcasting & Cable (now part of the NextTV network) Monday.

At one time, syndication was home to a variety of numerous genres, from scripted sitcoms to kids programming, from action hours to talk shows. But in the last decade or so, syndication has been heavily dependent on daytime programming as other genres were over by cable and later streaming.

Then the pandemic hit in March, throwing daytime programming for a loop as stations were forced to pre-empt shows for press conferences held by elected officials. Moreover, viewers have flocked in droves to the cable news channels, which not only had an impact on entertainment programming in all dayparts, but sports and even local news viewership as the election draws closer.

And the election and the pandemic isn’t the only subject drawing viewers away, at least for one cable network. And worse, as far as the Chicago area goes, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has resumed his weekday coronavirus press conferences, meaning more pre-emptions for syndicated shows. 

Here’s where we stand as we start the November sweeps period this week:

Ellen’s decline. With Warner Bros’. Ellen likely headed for the exits after her contract with the NBC-owned stations are up after next season, the group’s Kelly Clarkson is likely the beneficiary to take over her prized 3 p.m. time slot, as I discussed here last summer regarding the bad publicity she has getting. Ratings for Ellen have declined by double-digits in all measurements, and is likely hurting the NBC-owned stations’ news lead-in. 

The article also states Warner is pairing back its syndication operations, similar to what Sony did in recent years as it has one show left in first-run (Dr. Oz.) Ratings for Extra and TMZ – both on the Fox-owned stations are also down, and TMZ has been downgraded to late night in Chicago as WFLD opted to lead its new 4 p.m. newscast with Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud. Warner’s The Real has been renewed for a few more years but is expected to surrender some slots to the new Nick Cannon Show, which was pushed back to next fall. 

Drew doing well. The Drew Barrymore Show – which has received positive reviews for the most part – is likely to come back for another season (as part of two-year deals) as the CBS-syndicated show has averaged a 0.6 rating and is doing well in New York opposite Live With Kelly and Ryan. While being interrupted for Pritzker’s pressers in its 2 p.m. slot at CBS 2 (WBBM-TV) here in Chicago, at least Drew has an alternate clearance on CW 26 (WCIU) at 5 p.m. 

Tamron back for season three. As reported here earlier, the Disney Media Distribution (formerly Disney-ABC Domestic Television) talk show was renewed for a third season on ABC’s seven-owned stations with the exception of ABC 7 Chicago (WLS-TV), of course. All eyes will be on Tamron to see where her show ends up in Chicago if current incumbent CW 26 doesn’t renew. 

The exit of Judge Judy. One thing not being discussed is the exit – in original production at least – of Judge Judy, syndication’s top-rated show. While Judy Sheindlin signed a deal with a new production company to do a new show, no further details have been announced. Moreover, it is not immediately clear if the same stations now airing Judy would continue airing reruns of her show next fall. 

Last week, CBS signed Niecy Nash to launch a new talk show next September. Although station deals have yet to be signed, it could go in the time slots now occupied by Judge Judy on the CBS-owned stations who currently carry the show, including CBS 2 here. But it depends greatly on what each station’s needs are. 

The future. As reported here, Fox is re-launching You Bet Your Life with Jay Leno – likely for prime access time slots (6-8 p.m.) but station sales will depend on whether or not local TV execs remember (or want to remember) the last version with Bill Cosby, which was a disaster and canceled in December 1992 after only three months on the air. 

NBCUniversal is offering an off-network strip of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit although Chicago P.D. was in daily syndication the last two seasons and was abruptly yanked. Also, look for any last-minute additions announced as CW, My Network TV, and independent stations are always looking for programming slots to fill. But the number continue to shrink as even those stations are expanding news options. 


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