The 2019 NATPE Conference: Suddenly syndication

The event is alive with potential new first-run programming

Next week marks the annual 2019 NATPE Miami Marketplace and Conference, where buyers and sellers, in particular, gather from across the world for a glimpse on the new brand content as our business continues to evolve digitally.

Given this will be my 22nd consecutive year of attending, I can remember the days when NATPE (a.k.a. National Association of Television Program Executives) was targeted specifically to syndication. Station execs would shop an endless array of first-run programming. The rep firm programmers would offers their picks – and pans -- on the first night of the conference. Celebrities and an odd array of bulky wrestlers and bodacious babes would be at every corner. And over-indulgence was the observation, where to get from one booth to the next you literally needed jogging shoes and an empty suitcase to load up on the freebies. Dr. Scholl’s could have made a fortune sponsoring it.

Over the years I have written how the conference has changed to evolve both globally and digitally. The move from Las Vegas to Miami a number of years ago, in fact, was made to accommodate international attendees. And what I have noted each year was the decline of new national syndicated programs being presented (in exchange for more test-runs, which significantly cuts the cost of launching anything if the format does not work, and more locally produced shows).

This year, however, I see a marked increase in available new product (the category of talk, in particular). And, for the business of syndication, where the target audience in daytime, women 25-54, still mainly consume their content live (which is quite unusual and a true perk for syndication), I consider this rise of potential new content as a particular positive.

Naturally, veteran strips like "Wheel of Fortune" (now in season 36), "Jeopardy!" "Entertainment Tonight," "Dr. Phil," "Live with Kelly and Ryan," and countless others, are not about to end anytime soon. And that inhibits available time periods (and particularly the key time periods; i.e. in access and early fringe). But for the first time in years several current shows on the proverbial fence. Think "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," "Page Six TV," "RightThisMinute," "Daily Blast Live," "Daily Mail TV" and "Pickler and Ben," hosted by Kellie Pickler and Ben Aaron, which could open time slots. And then there’s NBCUniversal’s "Steve," hosted by Steve Harvey, who was canceled in favor of the arrival of Kelly Clarkson (who will be front and center at a party hosted by the distributor to celebrate her arrival).

I also, by the way, remember those days when a typical party at NATPE featured performers in the caliber of Elton John and legendary band Steely Dan.

In addition to "The Kelly Clarkson Show" (which, personally, sounds like a potential winner), Sony Pictures Television is partnering with Tribune Broadcasting on a new possible one-hour talker hosted by motivational speaker, life strategist and author Mel Robbins. Tamron Hall, formerly of "Today," will host a daily hour on the ABC Owned Television Stations Group. RuPaul, the Emmy-winning host of "RuPaul’s Drag Race," has filmed a pilot for Telepictures, which features the host interviewing celebrities, giving beauty and glam tips, playing games and dishing on pop culture. And radio personality and rapper Angie Martinez, actor Jerry O’Connell, "Mom" star Jaime Pressly and  "Saturday Night Live" alum Finesse Mitchell are also in contention for talk.

Additionally, "Judge Jerry" from NBCUniversal, presided over by former talk show host Jerry Springer, is a firm go in new court next fall. Clearances, as of last month, were 75 percent of the U.S. to stations from such groups as Tribune, Sinclair, Weigel, Hearst, Cox, Sun Beam, Block, Raycom, Tegna, Scripps, Meredith, Capital and more.

Three other potential new court strips mentioned as contenders are "Protection Court" from Trifecta Entertainment; an untitled project about personal injury from MGM; and "The Defenders with Judge Faith" from former NBCUniversal executive Barry Wallach.

In game, "25 Words or Less," hosted by Meredith Vieira, will return to the Fox Television Stations for next fall following a recent two-week test run.  And, on the weekend front is half-hour "Hot Topics with Judge Joe Brown" from Pacific Lake Entertainment, which debuts next month and features the former court show judge and his guests debating a variety of issues. And PPI Releasing is offering Forensic Factor," which is new to syndication and formerly aired on Discovery and Science Channel, to pair with returning "The Listener" in a block themed crime drama duo.

This surge of potential new programming begs the question, of course, why there is suddenly so much in syndication. Considering we are living in this current era of "Peak TV," where there is more original content than ever before, this is probably not at all that unusual. But with a number of the aforementioned current shows potentially exiting, I think the time is ripe for an array of new faces. And, if just one of these entries does connect, there will be a continued surge of potential newbies vying for clearances.

See you at NATPE! 

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