Powered by i.TV
August 20, 2014

Can Nancy Grace Save Syndication?

by Scott Harris, posted Jan 26th 2010 3:45PM
Nancy GraceWhen television icon and syndication star Oprah Winfrey announced last year that she would be ending her award-winning 'Oprah Winfrey' series in order to focus on her new cable network, fans around the country mourned the loss of the show. But will her departure also signal an end for syndication in general?

That's the big question facing financially strapped affiliates this year as they struggle to fill the programming gap that looms with Winfrey's imminent departure. As revenues fall and syndication costs rise, though, Winfrey's distributor, CBS, is turning to an unlikely source for salvation: Nancy Grace.

According to the NY Times, Grace, a former prosecutor who has become a lightning rod for controversy on her nightly HLN showcase 'Nancy Grace,' will be headlining the new daytime courtroom series 'Swift Justice.' And in order to help position the series as a successor to Winfrey, CBS has taken the unusual step of negotiating unique bartering deals with individual affiliates to secure air time.Nancy GraceWhen television icon and syndication star Oprah Winfrey announced last year that she would be ending her award-winning 'Oprah Winfrey' series in order to focus on her new cable network, fans around the country mourned the loss of the show. But will her departure also signal an end for syndication in general?

That's the big question facing financially strapped affiliates this year as they struggle to fill the programming gap that looms with Winfrey's imminent departure. As revenues fall and syndication costs rise, though, Winfrey's distributor, CBS, is turning to an unlikely source for salvation: Nancy Grace.

According to the NY Times, Grace, a former prosecutor who has become a lightning rod for controversy on her nightly HLN showcase 'Nancy Grace,' will be headlining the new daytime courtroom series 'Swift Justice.' And in order to help position the series as a successor to Winfrey, CBS has taken the unusual step of negotiating unique bartering deals with individual affiliates to secure air time.

Under the terms of the barter agreements, which have allowed CBS to ensure that 'Swift Justice' will be available to over 90 percent of America's television viewers, the distributor forgoes their usual syndication fee and makes money solely through the sale of commercial air time, which is split with the local affiliate. This provides stations with a measure of stability, as it ensures that they won't be stuck paying high fees for an underperforming series and instead will share the liability with the syndicator, an important concession for many affiliates struggling in the current depressed marketplace.

That financial uncertainty has hamstrung what otherwise would be a syndication gold mine: the opportunity to seize the highly desirable airtime that 'Oprah Winfrey' has dominated for the past two decades. Planned shows revolving around stars such as Paula Deen, Kate Gosselin and Nate Berkus, for instance, have struggled to find traction; Martha Stewart's show, meanwhile, just announced that it is moving from syndication to cable, following low ratings. Despite this, though, CBS decided to push forward with 'Swift Justice,' even though it meant abandoning normally high syndication fees in favor of less lucrative barter arrangements.

"To lose the opportunity of an entire year going by without a new franchise starting would be, I think, a real loss," John Nogawski, president of CBS Television Distribution, told The New York Times. "We knew we were going to have a real difficult financial market to deal with. We knew [the] only revenue was going to come from a barter arrangement with the station community."

Whether or not viewers already faced with a glut of courtroom reality shows -- including CBS's own 'Judge Judy' -- will embrace 'Swift Justice' is likely to come down to the star power of Grace herself, however; distribution deals can get her on the air, but staying there will be up to her. And in the past, Grace has proven to be a polarizing figure, as shown most notably during a 2006 controversy that erupted after one of Grace's guests committed suicide following an on-air grilling.

But CBS president of creative affairs and development Terry Wood believes that despite the controversies surrounding the opinionated host, Grace can handle the unenviable task of filling Oprah's shoes. "Nancy will really reach the female court viewer - she listens and they believe her. It's magic." And it does seem to be the perfect fit for her; after all, on her own show, she's already served as both jury and executioner, so adding judge to the mix completes the trifecta.

Should the series prove successful, of course, the bartering distribution model, which previously had been employed only in the case of more marginal shows, may become the new standard for an industry looking for any means to stay afloat in the face of ever expanding cable options.

And with those options slated to include the Oprah Winfrey Network in the near future, you can be sure that all eyes will be on Nancy Grace and 'Swift Justice' to see whether she is the future of syndication or, as with so many before her, just another footnote to Oprah's long reign of dominance.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum

7 Comments

Filter by:
Lee

This is a terrible idea. I would rather watch reruns of The Bonnie Hunt Show than this pitiful piece of garbage.
At least Bonnie was enetrtaining, informative, and you didn't have the feeling you needed to take a shower after watching her. Her show gets canceled, while junk like this gets clearances?

September 04 2010 at 8:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Follow Us

From Our Partners