Hearst-Argyle Sows Seeds of Own Show

Jan 15, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Hearst-Argyle Television is taking syndicated programming matters into its own hands, seeking to grow some new specials featuring former CNN anchor Carlos Watson into a daytime talk show.

This week the station group, whose 29 outlets reach 18 percent of U.S. homes with TV, is planning to announce quarterly interview specials slated to run in prime time. Hearst-Argyle is designing the programs to evolve into a daytime, Monday-through-Friday strip.

Mr. Watson, the peripatetic, entrepreneurial, lawyer-turned-cable news personality, raised his profile most recently with a stop of nearly three years at CNN. His hour-long Hearst-Argyle shows are scheduled to debut March 15 on some still-to-be-determined stations in the group and will roll out on all Hearst-Argyle stations throughout the rest of the month.

Syndicated programming options for stations have been dwindling in recent years. The new Hearst-Argyle project is one of a handful of tailored original programming solutions that stations have started creating and producing themselves. The NBC Universal-owned stations also are producing their own daytime show, “iVillage,” and are developing other self-produced projects to share within their group (TelevisionWeek, Jan. 8).

“We are now of the size and the mindset to help ourselves. Now is the time to consider taking matters into our own hands,” said Emerson Coleman, programming VP for Hearst-Argyle and executive in charge of production for the station group on the Watson show. “We clearly have our eye on greater options down the road.”

The lineup for the first of the four specials carries star power. Bookings include New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, the leading (though unannounced) Democratic presidential candidate; rapper-mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs; NASCAR star Jeff Gordon; and Bonnie St. John, who became a competitive skier despite having lost a leg as a child.

The four specials Hearst-Argyle has ordered, tentatively titled “The Edge,” are being produced with Mr. Watson’s New York City-based Run Rabbit Run Productions.

Mr. Watson and Mr. Coleman are in Las Vegas this week for the annual syndicated-TV bazaar held by the National Association of Television Program Executives.

People who haven’t met Mr. Watson, will likely find him to be energetic and dogged. He said it took him two years to convince Oprah Winfrey to sit down for an interview with him. When she did consent, she invited him to her Chicago home and gave him an hour more than she had committed to. Mr. Watson in turn attended the recent opening of Ms. Winfrey’s leadership school for girls in South Africa.

“I’ve always loved biographies and people stories,” said Mr. Watson, who declared himself a fan of the Barbara Walters specials.

“Carlos has demonstrated an amazing ability to reach out to people,” Mr. Coleman said. Mr. Coleman needs to wrap up arrangements for filling the daytime hour on the group’s nine stations because of the recent cancellation of the freshman “Megan Mullally Show,” which goes off the air after Jan. 26.