‘Williams’ Gets 6-Week Tryout Over Summer

Apr 27, 2008  •  Post A Comment

With a six-week summer trial run locked in on Fox-owned stations in key markets, Debmar-Mercury’s “The Wendy Williams Show” is out to reverse the unsuccessful run of radio personalities in syndication by putting a face with the primary radio voice in the country’s top market.
Under the deal, the Fox station group and Debmar-Mercury will co-produce a six-week preview run of “The Wendy Williams Show” that will begin airing July 14. Among stations on board for the series, targeted to hit national syndication in fall 2009, will be the Fox-owned stations in New York (WNYW-TV), Los Angeles (KTTV-TV), Dallas (KDFW-TV) and Detroit (WJBK-TV).
Since 2001, Ms. Williams has hosted the highly rated syndicated radio show “The Wendy Williams Experience” originating from WBLS-FM in New York City. She is also a best-selling author.
Earlier this decade there was a series of failed or aborted attempts at syndicated shows starring such radio personalities as Dr. Laura Schlesinger, Dr. Joy Brown, Ryan Seacrest and Robin Quivers, sidekick to Howard Stern.
The “Wendy Williams Show” preview, according to executives, allows both Fox and Debmar to create a fully produced series and test the appeal of the show with far less risk than the traditional model of producing 52 weeks of a show based on a sizzle reel of highlights or a pilot.
“Wendy is someone who attracts a huge, loyal following,” said Ira Bernstein, co-president of Debmar-Mercury. “We know she can talk—what we want to find out is if she can do a talk show. So from a deal perspective, what we talked about with Fox is that rather than go the traditional route, where both the producers and stations stand to lose millions of dollars with a seasonlong commitment, the Fox stations will now get a full preview of 30 shows where we can present real numbers to stations for fall 2009, without the financial commitment of a full order.”
“This is still going to cost millions of dollars,” Debmar-Mercury Co-President Mort Marcus said, “but not as much as if it was a 52-week commitment.”
For the Fox stations, which have a history of slow rollouts on a number of shows, the cheaper, fully produced preview brings with it a number of advantages.
“We will get a real sense in six weeks whether or not we have something there,” said Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming at Fox Television Stations. “We think she’s got the goods to make that transition to be successful and be in the business for a long time.”
Fox’s Twentieth Television will run ad sales for the show, which will join fellow Debmar-Mercury series “Family Feud” on its roster if the show goes national.
“Although the run is in a preview stage, we don’t see it as a test, and we intend to make this work,” Mr. Cicha said. “Debmar-Mercury has already proved to be able to find product that brings a built-in audience with it. They are all about being opportunistic, one of the things they’ve been able to do outside of being prudent and smart about their acquisitions.”
In addition to “Family Feud,” which now scores as one of only two syndicated shows to improve year-to-year in every demo, upcoming series in Debmar-Mercury’s portfolio include the first-run game show “Trivial Pursuit: America Plays” as well as off-cable runs of “Deadliest Catch” and “American Chopper,” which are cleared in approximately 80% of the country, and “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.”
“We are at an advantage because we are able to be nimble and move quickly when we find a product we believe is a good bet,” Mr. Marcus said. “That’s what has kept us in the game.”

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