This fall’s only new nationally distributed show in syndication is NBCUniversal’s Harry, starring Harry Connick Jr., and NBC is marketing it as a “late-night party in the daytime.”
“Harry has been an entertainer for most of his life, so to describe this hour as traditional talk would be a disservice to who he is and what he brings to daytime,” said Betsy Bergman, SVP, marketing and brand strategy, television and new media distribution, NBCUniversal. “He describes the show as a late-night party in the middle of the day, and our goal is to present this hour tailored to the genre Harry is accustomed to—pure entertainment.”
“Whether it’s music or comedy or celebrities or cooking, Harry brings that element of entertainment and comedy and spontaneity. That is just who Harry is,” added Bergman. “There is a mixture of everything; it will not be formulaic. And the plan is to offer something viewers have never seen before in daytime.”
According to executive producer Justin Stangel, speaking at the recent Television Critics Association summer press tour: “We’re going to have interviews, guest segments and live stuff during the show. Also, we’re going to have a show structure for Harry. But just like if you see Harry perform live, if he sees someone in the audience and they’re high energy, Harry’s whole show could change based on what he’s learning right there in the moment.”
“We’re not going to make Harry go out and start telling jokes, necessarily,” he added. “We’re not doing a topical monologue. Harry will come out and tell stories. He’ll do stuff like that. We’ve been banking a lot of man-on-the-street remotes.”
Syndication is tougher than ever with so many choices available to viewers. Fewer distributors, more regional focused programming spearheaded by station groups rather than studios, and the ongoing glut of long-term series renewals (six of the current 12 syndicated daytime talk shows are past the one- decade mark) means there are only so many time periods to go around.
Yet unlike years past when a typical fall TV season was home to several full-blown launches, NBCU’s decision to bypass the now common test-run model (which included The Preachers, Page Six TV, Top 30 and The Jason Show, among others, this summer; and T.D. Jakes last summer) is both ambitious and risky.
“Skipping a test-run neither guarantees success nor failure,” said Joanne Burns, principal, RISE Media Consultancy.
With clearances in 99 percent of the country—including on the Fox owned stations in 17 markets—the success of Harry could influence how first-run hours is sold in the future.
“The national debut of Harry could be a testament to the star himself,” said Burns. “He has the clout and more than enough stations expressed interest based on his name recognition. But as the only national launch, more people within our business will be anxious to see if this work.”
Daytime Talk Shows: A Hard Nut to Crack
Marketed by NBCU specifically as a daily hour of entertainment, the absence of the talk-show descriptor could be a conscious attempt to avoid any negative connotation. Most personalities who tackle the genre of talk, after all, don’t last long.
Think Roseanne, Carnie Wilson, Howie Mandel, Martin Short, Tony Danza, Wayne Brady, Megan Mullally, Bonnie Hunt, Jeff Probst, Katie Couric and, most recently, Meredith Vieira. Even well-known names such as Ricki Lake, Tyra Banks and Queen Latifah could not find success the second time around. And two notable names utilizing the test-run model, Kris Jenner and Fran Drescher, also were short-lived.
Still, talk comes in all shapes and forms, and Harry—in addition to Steve Harvey and the recently concluded Meredith Vieira—is another attempt by NBCU to diversify its focus from the confrontation format a la veteran hours hosted by Jerry Springer, Maury Povich and Steve Wilkos.
“What is new about Harry is Harry himself,” said Bill Carroll, SVP, content strategy, Katz Media Group. “And what could work in his favor is his appeal to the target older females in daytime. If it works, we will see other feel-good talkers hosted by different names.”
One such name could be former Will & Grace star Sean Hayes, who is rumored to be pitching a project.
“And if it doesn’t, this type of show will likely take a breather,” said Carroll. “That is one fundamental basic about the business that is not about to change.”
Harry debuts on stations across the country on Monday, September 12.