Allen Set to Unleash Talk Show

Aug 21, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Stepping up with an answer to the dearth of syndicated comedies, entertainer and syndication veteran Byron Allen is set to launch a late-night talk show next month that’s cleared on stations covering about 80 percent of the country.

Mr. Allen describes the show, “Comics Unleashed,” as “‘The View’ with stand-up comedians.” He will host a rotating panel of four comedians who discuss news, pop culture and other topics in a free-form discussion. It will be stripped Monday through Friday and premieres Sept. 25.

Mr. Allen’s Entertainment Studios will produce and distribute the series, which is cleared on WNYW-TV in New York, KABC-TV in Los Angeles, WCIU-TV in Chicago and WXTF-TV in Philadelphia. The company is spending more than $10 million to produce and launch the program in high definition, Mr. Allen said.

Sales terms are cash-plus-barter advertising, with stations paying a license fee while keeping 5%BD; minutes of local ad inventory to sell per show and Entertainment Studios selling 1%BD; minutes of national advertising.

“We wanted to go cash-barter to encourage the TV stations to give us better time periods, and we wanted the same business model as off-network sitcoms,” Mr. Allen said.

With only two prime-time comedies coming to off-network syndication in 2007 (“Two and a Half Men” and “Family Guy”), and none in 2008, Mr. Allen said he saw an opportunity to fill a comedic void.

“Right now the market is screaming for fresh, first-run comedy,” he said. “The networks are not producing enough sitcoms. I’ve always wanted to do this show, and I saw the market was wide open.”

Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television Group, agreed that a lack of sitcoms fueled interest in “Comics Unleashed,” but noted late-night comedy is still a competitive environment. The show is cleared primarily in time periods where it will compete with established competitors including broadcast talk show “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” and cable’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”

“Stations are seeking to find new opportunities when there are fewer and fewer sitcoms coming down the line,” Mr. Carroll said. “It’s only unique in that this show is singularly focused on comedy.”

Entertainment Studios has about a dozen shows in syndication, including “Entertainers with Byron Allen,” “The American Athlete,” and “Kickin’ It with Byron Allen.”

Mr. Allen said the station lineup for “Comics” at launch includes outlets that signed on as part of station group deals with Clear Channel and Sinclair, each of which has 14 markets lined up.

Mr. Allen said he is in talks with several cable networks in an effort to find a second-run home for the series.

First HD Syndie Launch

“Comics Unleashed” will also have the distinction of being the first syndicated program to launch in high definition. Mr. Allen said going HD contributed heavily to the production cost, but helped sell the show to stations that have upgraded to newer formats.

“The markets that are progressive and going HD, this was really attractive for them,” he said. “At last count there were only 19 [HD stations carrying the show], but we want to be ahead of the market. We think two years from now there’s going to be an insatiable appetite for comedy and for HD, and we will have been sitting there for two years waiting for their arrival.”

John Rash, senior VP director of broadcast negotiation at Minneapolis ad agency Campbell Mithun, portrayed the HD hook as modestly helpful.

“There’s young male appeal with the comics, which dovetails demographically with the early adopters of HD,” Mr. Rash said. “But it’s still more important to be highly funny than high definition.”

A prototype of “Comics Unleashed” premiered last August in New York and Los Angeles for a four-episode run.

The format of the show is similar to “The Best Damn Sports Show Period” or “The View,” but with stand-up comedians. Mr. Allen said he was inspired by his 30 years working in stand-up comedy.

“The best nights have been hanging out before and after the show with different comedians,” he said.

The show will be shot in front of a 400-seat studio audience at Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles.