After a successful six-week test run during the summer, Debmar-Mercury’s “The Wendy Williams Show” is being sold to stations nationally for 2009-10, which is shaping up as a light season for new original syndicated programming. “Wendy Williams” executive producer Rob Dauber said that while the current rough economy is a concern, the encouraging results from “Williams’” test run will help motivate sales. TelevisionWeek reporter Andrew Krukowski talked with Mr. Dauber about changes to the talk show’s format, Williams’ appeal in smaller markets and the difficulty of working with a tighter budget on a larger production.
TelevisionWeek: Are there any changes on tap to the format? Any tweaks with any of your segments on the show for the national audience?
Rob Dauber: I think that we were really fortunate in the six weeks during the test to find a format and develop a format that really works for Wendy, that was really an extension of all of the fun segments that she’s done. So we’re really going to stick pretty closely to the format that we did during the test, with “Hot Topics” and celebrity interviews, fashion, beauty and a little bit of cooking and “Ask Wendy” segments. And musical performances. Not every day, obviously. Really that’s the crux of the show, and we found that was a formula that really works for her and works for the audience. And we’re pretty much going to stick close to that.
TVWeek: Are there any changes that are occurring between the test run and this?
Mr. Dauber: There’ll be some minor cosmetic changes to the set. When we did the test run, we really loved the set. It’s beautiful. It’s colorful. And we’re going to make some minor adjustments to the set to give it some more depth, to make it look a little more interesting behind her when she’s interviewing people. Make it look a little more permanent, as opposed to … I don’t want to diss the set designer at all because he’s a really talented guy, but we built a set that was really for a six-week test run. And we’re going to continue to use that set, but we’re going to make a few tweaks to it to give it a little more depth and make it a little more interesting.
TVWeek: Is there any concern on your part about launching a new show in this economic environment?
Mr. Dauber: We’re really fortunate that we did the test. The ratings were really good for the test. And in the markets where they did not know Wendy, i.e., Dallas, we really showed how in a six-week time she could really double her ratings in that market, over that six-week test. We are fortunate enough to have the data, to show the stations just how well she did. I think the stations, as we’re going out into the marketplace, know that she’s going to work. She’s a fresh face and somebody who’s going to connect with viewers. We’re fortunate that we did the test because, in almost every market, multiple stations are expressing interest in the show.
With that said, yes, the economy as we all know sucks and so local stations are hurting. It’s been no secret that the presidents of all the syndication companies have expressed concerns that smaller stations to medium-sized stations are going to have trouble paying the license fees that they’ve paid in the past for even big shows like “Oprah” or “Dr. Phil.”
We’re fortunate that we have a product that many stations want in every market. It’s unfortunate that it’s at a time where stations don’t have a lot of money to spend. But our sales team is making good deals for “Wendy,” and while it’s going to be a challenge with the show’s budget and a challenge to produce the show because the numbers aren’t as high as they typically would be, we are looking at cost-effective ways to produce the show that won’t at all affect what people see on the screen.
It’s going to make my job a little bit harder, and the producers’ jobs a little bit harder. But we’re going to overcome those challenges because we know that we have a product that is going to connect with viewers, and in the long run I think that when the economy starts to pick up again, hopefully soon, we’ll be able to take off even more then.
TVWeek: What kind of cost-effective measures are you considering?
Mr. Dauber: We’re looking really hard at how big the staff is going to be. We’re fortunate that we have a host who’s really talented and is a really good interviewer. I’m fortunate to have worked with some really good people in the past on different shows that I’ve done. We’re looking at a smaller show than what we would typically have on a show like this. But picking really good people. We’re just going to have really run it like a real organized machine, and keep the creative juices flowing. But at that time it’s going to be a lean, mean machine to save costs on the production.
TVWeek: Have you approached any advertisers, or have any advertisers approached you, about possible product integration?
Mr. Dauber: We have talked, I don’t want to give details of that, because the “Wendy” format that we have really lends itself to product integration. And we will do product integration, but we want to make sure we keep it organic to Wendy and to the show. She is a consumer, and so she’s a host who uses a lot of these products, and we’re working with advertisers on products that really do mean something to her, so that we can integrate them organically into the show. We’re doing cooking. We’re doing fashion, beauty and all those types of segments. While we want to make them entertaining—that’s the key thing, we want to make sure our show’s entertaining—they really do lend themselves to integration.
The key thing about our show is we want it to be an hour of escapism. And Wendy has said this over and over, that we’re facing a really difficult time and she really wants to present an hour every day where people can turn on their TV and just escape for an hour. And laugh and be a little bit surprised and call their neighbor and say, “Did you just hear what she just said?” That’s really the show that we want to present everyday. It’s not your mother’s talk show, and that’s the motto of our talk show.
Wendy also says, “You love me because I’m messy.” She believes that we’re all in this together. We’re all a bunch of messes trying to hold it all together. People like her because she’s the biggest mess of all. She says that in a way that’s very funny. She just wants to present a fun show where people can forget their problems for an hour.
TVWeek: Any concern on your part about smaller markets across the United States that aren’t familiar with Wendy?
Mr. Dauber: The thing about Wendy is … I’ve worked with some really great hosts, I’ve been really fortunate in my career to work with Rosie [O’Donnell], Oprah [Winfrey] and Martha [Stewart]. The key thing about all of them is that they were able to connect with their core audience. And Wendy is just a regular woman, and you see her when she’s off TV and she’s a mom, married, has an 8-year-old son, deals with weight issues, deals with the same issues that every normal woman deals with, and I really think that she’s such a communicator that she communicates right through that TV screen. And while she may look a little bit more outrageous than some of your typical talk show hosts, I think that people really see through that façade to see that she’s a woman with problems and insecurities and a sense of humor that they can identify with. I really do believe that she’s going to connect with viewers in big cities as well as tiny little towns. I’m not really concerned. I really have every bit of faith that she is going to be the next big thing. I really do believe that.
TVWeek: Anything else you want to add about the show or syndication?
Mr. Dauber: We’re excited about “Dr. Oz.” I’ve worked with Oprah. I love all the folks there. And we’re excited about “Dr. Oz.” He’s going to be on Fox [Stations Group] as well. So we’re going to be on the same stations as him in several of the big cities. We think that he’s going to be a big boost to those stations. We’re looking forward to being the good new kids on the block on some of those bigger stations.