Forget newsmagazines and game shows. The name of the game for new syndicated strips next season is fashion- and lifestyle-based talk.
With Telepictures developing a talk show for supermodel Tyra Banks, Buena Vista working with designer Vera Wang and NBC Universal teaming with Target maven Isaac Mizrahi, the high-industry is well represented in syndicated television. Add to that a potential project from King World with “Trading Spaces”‘ Paige Davis and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” regular Nate Berkus as well as a possible return to television for Martha Stewart, and a majority of the potential hosts in the upcoming season come from a design background.
Profiles of some of the strips in development for fall 2005 debut in syndication are included in this special section.
John Rash, senior VP and director of national broadcast for ad agency Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis, said the use of personalities from the world of high and home design is a break from much of the syndicated fare currently on the air.
“There seems to be an oversaturation of uncomfortable lifestyles, be it tabloid talk shows or judge’s chambers,” he said.
Among the major studios, however, strips in development avoid strife and instead focus on how to make viewers look or feel better, a trend that goes beyond syndicated television.
“Many if not of most of the new programs are aspirational in nature,” he said. “It’s reflective of a phenomenon in the publishing world-the only growth category is beauty, and lifestyle management.”
Bill Carroll, VP of programming for Katz Television Group, said syndicated television’s interest in personalities involved in personal transformation makes sense, considering how the worlds of and interior design have become more closely followed by the general public, and in turn, daytime television viewers.
“What we look for as much as possible these days are brands-quickly, easily recognizable names,” he said. “And it used to be the one-named people only came out of the entertainment world. Now they come out of fashion. We probably could have named a [single] supermodel at the time of Cheryl Tiegs. Now there are a number of people who are either designers or models who are major celebrities.”
Mr. Rash said he wasn’t surprised that so many studios are all going with a variation on a theme in their development this year.
“As usual, there’s more replication than innovation,” he said, adding that he sees opportunity in a very different area: hard news.
“It is still possible to discover and develop an unknown talent. But it is more important to discover and develop an unknown and underused genre,” he said. “There’s not a single syndicator offering a distinct, different show in more of the hard-news space, which is ceding any of that possible audience to the cable news networks. And as a potent lead-in to local news, it could be effective programming.”
Twentieth Television has discussed the idea of reviving one of the original tabloid television series, “A Current Affair” (TelevisionWeek, Oct. 18). The show, which was started by Rupert Murdoch’s crew in 1986 and aired through 1996, mostly on Fox-owned stations, was famous for breaking the rules of television news-including paying for stories and re-enacting crimes-and focusing on lurid cases.
“It’s been talked about from time to time about bringing it back,” a Twentieth spokesman said last month. “It’s just an idea and a concept that we’re discussing internally here. There’s no timetable. No decision has been made on whether or not to bring it back.”
Last week, Twentieth bucked the industry talk trend by announcing it was taking “Judge Alex” into syndication for fall 2005. The show is a courtroom-based strip with Florida Judge Alex Ferrer.
Mr. Rash said it will have steep competition in a crowded marketplace.
“Twentieth may have a unique twist or tonality on the court genre,” Mr. Rash said. “But the market appears saturated with court shows. It is unliekly to be a game-changer in the genre or the daypart as a whole.”
Mr. Carroll said it should be no surprise that syndication development appears to be talk-heavy, and that it is unlikely developers will stray from that format anytime soon.
“For the most part, all shows in daytime tend to be personality-driven,” he said. “And the easiest to execute tend to be variations on a talk show format. Talk shows have been the overwhelming genre of choice for daytime. That wasn’t always the case, but that’s the direction we’ve gone in, and I anticipate that will likely continue to be true. One of things we do best in syndication is almost always talk.”
With so many projects in development that look the same, the question of how they will compete in the marketplace raises the issue of instant oversaturation. For Mr. Rash, too much of a new thing in syndication is hardly a new phenomenon. Neither is failure.
“There’s never enough need and most will fail,” he said. “And if the syndication season spawns two successes, it will be considered a really good year.”