When “The Megan Mullally Show” and six other first-run shows debut in syndication this week, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution President Barry Wallach will be sticking to the strategy that served him well last year: Find one concept, develop it as best you can and hope television stations like it.
The number of syndicated newcomers is more than doubling from the three that launched last year. All of those shows were renewed, marking the first time 100 percent of a freshman class made it to a sophomore year. Focusing on a niche and polishing one show boosts a syndicator’s chances of success, Mr. Wallach said.
“We saw an opportunity this year for an advertiser-friendly, lighter type show,” Mr. Wallach said of “The Megan Mullally Show.” “Post 9/11, it’s pretty clear people want to be entertained and laugh and take a break from all the stuff that’s out there. You’ve seen that in a lot of areas of television. That’s why we chose to go with a show like `Megan.”‘
Consolidation in the syndication business has put the fate of newcomers in the hands of the biggest TV station groups that buy a show, a trend that has strengthened in the past five years. The station groups’ power to determine the destiny of a program also arises from their ability to influence ratings through scheduling and promotion.
“If the NBC O&O’s decide to bring it back for a second season, it’s back for a second season,” Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television Group, said of “The Megan Mullally Show.” “It comes down to key stations on set time periods. Success is being able to improve time period performance. That can be a different number depending on how challenging the time period is.”
Besides “Megan,” three new talk shows debut this season: Sony Pictures Television’s “The Greg Behrendt Show,” King World Productions’ “Rachael Ray” and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution’s “The Dr. Keith Ablow Show.” Two courtroom half-hours-Sony’s “Judge Maria Lopez” and Twentieth’s “Cristina’s Court”-also are premiering. The “Geraldo at Large” newsmagazine from Twentieth Television is going national after appearing on selected Fox stations last season.
Just as NBC’s owned-and-operated stations dictate the future of “Megan,” Tribune outlets will influence “Greg Behrendt,” ABC broadcasters will hold sway over “Rachael Ray” and Fox’s stations will be key to “Keith Ablow.”
Lower economic expectations may bolster the chances of a new syndicated show making it into a second season, Mr. Carroll said. Smaller daytime audiences and entrenched favorites such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” may mean a show can win renewal without being a ratings juggernaut.
“I’ll separate hit from renewal,” he said. “That’s really ultimately the key. You’re never going to have the opportunity to be a hit unless you’re a renewable. And renewable is if it’s picked up by key launch groups. They have to define for themselves what is renewable.”
Despite the increased number of new offerings, the likelihood of “Megan” succeeding won’t be affected by the boom in newcomers, Mr. Wallach said.
“I don’t think the marketplace is that much harder,” he said, noting syndication still isn’t an easy game.
Among the difficulties is bringing in new viewers to sample and stick with a show, said Garnet Losak, VP and director of programming for Petry TV.
“It’s always hard to attract an audience,” she said. “But I don’t know if it’s going to be any harder than last year.”
One new show’s success is not necessarily another’s show failure, Ms. Losak said.
“Is `Megan Mullally’ competing for the same audience as `Keith Ablow’?” she asked. “I don’t know if it’s fair to say that.”
Even though top-rated syndicated shows such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Judge Judy” are firmly ensconced as the leaders in the marketplace, they too must work for audiences, Ms. Losak said.
“Established shows are competing every bit as hard as everybody else,” she said. “It’s theirs to lose too.”
All of the posturing and speculation over the debuting series will finally come to an end, however, once ratings for the new offerings come in. “Megan” is following a fairly traditional talk format that will be familiar to most viewers, Ms. Losak said.
“Whether or not it’s going to work is another question,” she said. “We’ll know that in a couple of weeks.”
Major First-Run Debuts for Fall ’06