TV Long View: Syndication Rookies Find Breaking Out Is Tough

Early returns on a big crop of new first-run strips show some promising starts, but nothing climbing into the upper tiers of the field.
Adam Christopher/NBCUniversal
'The Kelly Clarkson Show'

The Kelly Clarkson Show has gotten off to a fairly promising start in syndication, consistently ranking No. 1 among a fairly large field of new syndicated series in the fall.

Fellow talk showTamron Hall and the courtroom show Judge Jerry, starring Jerry Springer, have had decent beginnings, too. Clarkson's and Springer's shows rank in the top half of the 36 first-run weekday strips in both household ratings and viewers. Tamron Hall is 21st in households and 23rd in viewers, but has improved its time period in several major markets.

The game shows 25 Words or Less and America Says and the legal show Personal Injury Court have had somewhat slower starts, and the talker The Mel Robbins Show is struggling.

What the early returns really show, though, is that it's awfully tough for a new syndicated series to break though. First-run syndication is a field dominated by shows that have been on for a decade or more, which tend to have the most favorable time periods. That's not even taking into account the huge shifts in the way viewers watch TV over the past decade.

There are some clear tiers to syndicated programming. The top one is occupied by the long-running courtroom show Judge Judy (which premiered in 1996) and the game shows Family Feud (whose current incarnation with Steve Harvey debuted in 2010), Jeopardy (1984) and Wheel of Fortune (1983). Each is averaging more than 8 million daily viewers since the syndicated season began Sept. 9, and they roughly double the household ratings (which, along with women 25-54, are key markers for success in syndication) of their closest first-run competitors.

The next tier includes the long-running magazine shows Entertainment Tonight and Inside Edition, which often air in early-evening prime access time periods; the talk shows Dr. Phil, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Live With Kelly and Ryan; and the court show Hot Bench, which usually occupy plum afternoon slots on local stations.

Then comes, well, most everything else. After those 10 series, there's another drop to the rest of the first-run crop, very few (if any) members of which cross the 2 million-viewer mark in a given week.

The good news for The Kelly Clarkson Show (distributed by NBCUniversal) is that it's near the top of that group, averaging about 1.91 million daily viewers and a 1.44 household rating over its first three weeks. It finished the week of Sept. 23 tied for just 12th place among first-run strips in households, but given that it's been a decade since a new talk show really took hold (Dr. Oz in 2009), that sort of performance could set the series up for a viable run.

Judge Jerry, also from NBCUniversal, had the best premiere week for a court show since Hot Bench, and it's been very consistent, drawing between 1.4 and 1.5 million viewers in each week so far. Hall's Disney-distributed show is a bit behind those two but still sits third among the newcomers, followed by the Meredith Vieira-hosted 25 Words or Less, from Fox First Run.

America Says, Personal Injury Court and The Mel Robbins Show have all come in under a million viewers. Robbins' show in particular has had a rough start, averaging under 450,000 viewers over its first two weeks. It's not quite as widely distributed as its fellow first-year talkers, but nonetheless it's in the bottom 10 of the rankings thus far.

Daytime TV has been subject to the same downward ratings pressure that primetime shows have felt in recent years. Streaming services haven't yet really tried to replicate the kinds of programming that local stations air during the day, but it's less about the type of programming than the sheer amount of it. In that environment, a steady if unspectacular audience may be enough to keep some of the new crop of syndicated shows around for a while.

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