After "Many Misses," TV Syndication Market Set for Busiest Fall in Years

This fall sees the most national debuts in seven years  as Kelly Clarkson and Tamron Hall try to succeed in a  challenged landscape.
JB Lacroix/Getty Images; Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic; Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images; Laura Cavanaugh/FilmMagic
Talkers from RuPaul, Kelly Clarkson, Tamron Hall and Jerry Springer are launching this year.

After some lean times in recent years, the first- run syndication market is poised for a revival in 2019. In terms of both quantity of shows — six new daytime strips will launch in fall 2019 — and the talent attached (Kelly Clarkson, Tamron Hall and Jerry Springer, among others), syndication is as robust as it's been since the post-Oprah rush of 2012.

"Any time there are more choices, that's a good thing," says Frank Cicha, executive vp programming for Fox Television Stations. "The last couple of years things may have felt a bit down, but certainly this year there are a number of high-profile choices. I think that's very encouraging."

Talker The Kelly Clarkson Show and Springer's court show Judge Jerry, both distributed by NBCUniversal, are cleared in 99 percent of U.S. markets. Hall's Disney-distributed talk show also has a big national footprint, as does 20th TV's game show 25 Words or Less, hosted by Meredith Vieira, including spots on Cicha's Fox stations. Sony is launching a talker with best-selling author Mel Robbins that's cleared in 90 percent of the country, and MGM is adding Personal Injury Court to its portfolio of legal shows.

Part of the uptick in the market has to do with distributors simply taking more shots, says Tracie Wilson, executive vp creative affairs at NBCUniversal Television Distribution. "I took this big role in the company a little over a year ago and was asked to come up with my strategy, and my strategy was really simple. It was more development," she says.

Recent shows that have underperformed — everything from a Harry Connick Jr. talk show to the recently canceled TMZ competitor Page Six TV — have also opened up space at local stations, notes Sean Compton, president strategic programming and acquisitions for Tribune. "Part of the reason we've been a little delayed as an industry is we've had so many misses," says Compton. The rise of streaming and explosion of original content has pushed ratings down for syndicated shows as they have for primetime series.

The Fox stations have also adopted a strategy in recent years of airing multiple short-run shows, both as trial runs for bigger launches and to cut down on repeats. The group will have three-week runs of talkers from RuPaul (from WarnerMedia's Telepictures) and Jerry O'Connell (from Lionsgate's Debmar-Mercury) in the summer.

A similar test helped prove the viability of 25 Words or Less for national launch. It's been five years since a daytime strip broke out — court show Hot Bench. Adding to the mystery, there's no single benchmark for syndicated success: The needs of station groups, clearance levels and dayparts where programs land are all variables that primetime shows don't necessarily face. "We're looking for consistency," says Tribune's Compton.

"At some point somebody's got to have a hit, and we hope it's us," Cicha adds. "But in the meantime, I'm glad people are still taking high-profile swings."

This story appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.