What You’ll See Is Those You Know

Aug 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Syndicators are betting big this fall that familiarity will breed comfort, not contempt.

Indeed, two upcoming first-run shows have used the same marketing theme, “A Familiar Face, a Brand-New Place,” to reach daytime audiences longing to be comforted by the recognizable rather than the unknown.

Two faces audiences have grown up with-Tony Danza and Jane Pauley-will soon make their daytime debuts. Larry Elder, the host of “Moral Court,” will return to television. “Entertainment Tonight” will offer a new spinoff, and “Ambush Makeover,” in production for more than a year now and airing in select markets, will finally go national. In addition, “Life & Style” aims to bring “The View’s” attitude to younger audiences, while “Pat Croce: Moving In” strives to be a blend of “Dr. Phil” and reality.

“Shows that are being brought to market are familiar shows, faces that everyone knows, as opposed to starting with an unknown and being forced to market both the person and the show,” said Janice Marinelli, president of Buena Vista Television, which will launch “The Tony Danza Show” this fall. “Faces like Tony Danza and Jane Pauley bring both a brand and an identity to the audiences.”

These series set the stage for what distributors hope will reverse ratings trends and call home viewers who have defected to cable. Last season familiarity worked wonders for Telepictures’ “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” and the mantra now is to replicate that success at an affordable level.

“We are certainly making every effort to lure audiences back from cable as well as all other forms of entertainment, including games, satellite and digital platforms,” said Bob Cook, president and chief operating officer of Twentieth Television. “Everybody is taking a little bit of the audience, and it’s having a serious effect on daytime. What we need to focus on is not only how we bring them back but how to get a 2 and above rating at an economic model that makes sense for us.”

Twentieth Television has taken more than a year in its effort to bring awareness to this fall’s national launch of “Ambush Makeover,” testing the series in various markets before expanding. In addition, the distributor will launch the off-network runs of “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Yes, Dear” into syndication.

“There’s less product coming in the off-network series pipeline as a result of the growth of reality series as well as spinoffs. In addition, a number of off-net shows are going to retire from syndication soon,” Mr. Cook said. “So we are hoping our shows are going to have a real positive impact on the business. Sitcoms are still the best investment and still the most profitable for television stations.”

At the newly merged NBC Universal, reality show “Home Delivery,” which will offer physical and emotional makeovers around the country, will join “Jane Pauley” in daytime, while the distributor adds to its growing list of weekly series with “Your Total Health.”

“There are a lot of opportunities out there based on the failure of other shows,” said Barry Wallach, president of NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. “What we did in response was take a proven brand, proven talent, and got in the marketplace early.”

As a result, “Jane Pauley” is cleared in 99 percent of the country, including 204 markets, a record for first-run strips. The other series to hit the market early and reap the benefits is Paramount’s “Entertainment Tonight” spinoff “The Insider.” The series has tapped the familiar face of former “Access Hollywood” host Pat O’Brien as the strip’s host and former “Good Morning America” correspondent Lara Spencer as New York anchor.

“I’ve been in this business for a long time, and when the opportunity came for me to really be able to use all of my contacts, go more in-depth and do some fresh things, it was a chance I couldn’t pass up,” Mr. O’Brien said.

Paramount executives have cleared the series in 98 percent of the country, with a slew of those clearances placing “The Insider” in the cushy post-“Entertainment Tonight” time slot.

There are few people more familiar to television audiences than Tony Danza. The star of “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” will now take his song-and-dance-literally-to “The Tony Danza Show” from Buena Vista. Celebrity interviews, cooking segments and variety acts will fill the hour.

“The market goes through different trends, but at the end of the day I think talk shows are always in vogue, especially with someone so familiar to audiences,” Ms. Marinelli said. “Tony’s a comforting face. You say `Tony Danza’ and everyone has their own recollection of him. That’s one big reason we were so excited to get him.”

Mr. Danza’s show is cleared in more than 90 percent of the country.

While Disney, NBC Universal, Fox and Viacom each take their own roads to create identifiable brands for their viewers, studios without station groups have been left to fend for themselves.

Compounding an independent’s worst fears, each of the major station groups, with the exception of Tribune, bought product from their vertically integrated studios. Buena Vista’s “Tony Danza” is cleared on the ABC owned-and-operated stations, NBC Universal’s “Jane Pauley” is on the NBC station group, Twentieth’s “Ambush Makeover” is on Fox and Paramount’s “The Insider” was sold to the CBS O&Os.

Consolidation has not shut out the independents, however. Though there are fewer shows to buy as a result of consolidation, Warner Bros. got “The Larry Elder Show” on the Viacom station group, while Sony Pictures Television has cleared two shows in about 98 percent of the country for fall, despite the company’s lack of built-in outlets.

Sony’s “Life & Style” is a younger version of the “The View.”

“When Lisa Ling left `The View,’ young adults left with her,” said Sony Pictures Television’s John Weiser, who last week was elevated to president of distribution. “We look at [`Life & Style’] as `The View’ without cataracts.”

The other show from SPT is “Pat Croce: Moving In,” where “motivational speaker/life coach” Pat Croce gives troubled households a “Dr. Phil”-style intervention. “Dr. Phil making house calls is a proven format, but nobody’s done it in syndication,” Mr. Weiser said.

Both shows are slotted for an array of time periods-“Life & Style” is mostly in daytime, with about two dozen early-fringe clearances, while “Pat Croce” is getting a double run in most markets.

“The greatest challenge was introducing non-lookalike shows to the marketplace,” Mr. Weiser said. “If you look at every other show sold, they came from an in-house deal-`Jane Pauley,’ `Tony Danza.’ But when people have a choice, they picked up our shows. We have product that people really want.”

At Telepictures, executives picked a face not only familiar to viewers but to the company itself. “The Larry Elder Show” taps former “Moral Court” host Larry Elder to front the studio’s lone first-run rookie in syndication. “Moral Court” was also distributed by Telepictures. “Elder” is now cleared in more than 90 percent of the country, including plum time slots on Viacom stations in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

“There’s a high fatality rate in television,” Mr. Elder said. “But the key to me is not so much the format, not so much the set, the coloring, the lighting, all that. It’s whether or not the host is relatable to the viewers, and I like to think that I am.”