Bonnie Hunt Inks Syndie Talk Show Deal

Apr 2, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Comedienne and actress Bonnie Hunt has struck a deal with distributor Warner Bros. to host a talk show, making her the first big-name star to sign up for syndication next year.

Sources familiar with the project confirmed the pact and said the Monday through Friday series is being targeted for the 2008-09 season.

With Ms. Hunt in line for a syndicated strip, continued speculation about Rosie O’Donnell leaving “The View” to return to solo talk and several other names being bandied as possible hosts, it appears studios may once again dabble in the recognized name game.

Following the failures of a number of talk shows hosted in recent years by the likes of Tony Danza and Jane Pauley, syndicators turned to cheaper projects that already carried a loyal audience and brand for the 2007-08 season. Considering the chops and profile Ms. Hunt has developed via her career in film and prime-time television, Warner Bros. is in a position to make a quick sale of the Hunt-led show to stations for the fall 2008 season, industry analysts said.

“It’s never easy to tell if somebody could make a good talk show host,” said Chuck Larsen, president of October Moon Television. “But Bonnie clearly has an appealing personality, is clever, has a good sense of humor and the ability to improvise, which puts her in the same type of category as Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell. That would give her a better chance than most to succeed.”

The same sources also said Warner Bros. is preparing to tape a court show pilot for 2008 as well and is the midst of finding cases for the program. Although unconfirmed, it is believed that the court strip would feature Jeanine Pirro, former district attorney for New York’s Westchester County presiding over those cases.

A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution declined to comment on series development within the company.

Ms. Hunt has appeared throughout the daytime and late-night talk show ranks as a guest and comedienne.

Following her performances with Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe, she teamed with David Letterman in television projects that include “The Building” and the critically acclaimed “Bonnie Hunt Show.”

Ms. Hunt’s film career highlights include starring roles in “Jerry Maguire” and “The Green Mile”; opposite Charles Grodin in the popular family films “Beethoven” and “Beethoven’s 2nd”; with Robin Williams in the hit “Jumanji” and also with Steve Martin in “Cheaper by the Dozen” and its sequel.

Last year, Ms. Hunt starred as the voice of Sally in Pixar’s animated movie “Cars” and received a writing credit on the film. She lent vocal talents to two other Pixar films as well: “A Bug’s Life” and “Monsters Inc.”

Executives throughout the industry said that Ms. Hunt was being courted by several studios within the past year, as the studios lined up projects that promise established followings and brands and limited production costs. None of the new syndicated strips slated for 2007-08 feature prominent names like Ms. Hunt.

Twentieth Television, for example, took advantage of the global success of the classic “Let’s Make a Deal” to create the game show “Temptation” for this fall. The company also tapped Fox New Channel co-hosts Juliet Huddy and Mike Jerrick to bring their chemistry to “The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet.”

Warner Bros. utilized the success of celebrity information Web site TMZ.com to format a newsmagazine series based on Internet sensation.

Meanwhile, NBC Universal spun off Steven Wilkos from “The Jerry Springer Show” and continues to develop a project based on prime-time game show “Deal or No Deal.”

Some studios are looking to continue the programming strategy of maximizing familiarity while minimizing costs into 2008. However, industry experts say the big name shows, especially when the headliner is paired with a complementary format, will always be a welcome addition to daytime television.

“This year has been an abnormal one,” with some smaller distributors finding success in syndication, many big studios limiting their investments and the pending sale of the Tribune stations, Mr. Larsen said. “But what you’re seeing next year will almost certainly be business as usual again and you are seeing that with a talent like Bonnie Hunt.”