Where The Bleep Are Originals?

Once again, fans of daytime television were shaken with the announcement of yet another long-running series ending original production.  On Friday, the 17-year-old RACHAEL RAY SHOW announced that this spring will see its final batch of original hours produced.   In a press release issued by CBS Media Ventures, Ray made the following concession and bestowed accolodes on the team that will now largely be disbanded:

“In my more than 20-plus years in television I have had 17 wonderful seasons working in daytime television with Rachael. However I’ve made the decision that it’s time for me to move on to the next exciting chapter in my broadcast career,” Ray said in a press release. “My passions have evolved from the talk-show format production and syndication model to a platform unencumbered by the traditional rules of distribution.” 

“I am truly excited to be able to introduce and develop new and upcoming epicurean talent on all platforms,” she said. “That is why I am looking forward to putting all my energies into my recently announced production arm, Free Food Studios. Thank you to all of our Rachael daytime show partners, crew, and affiliates, and the wonderful years we all worked together.”

In other words, Ray will focus on lower cost, multiplaform ways to leverage her library and brand and maintain her omnipresence as a representative of everything from Home Chef meal prep kits to Nutrish cat food.  Trust me, what little money I have these days goes to both of those brands on a regular basis.   I personally love her lower-cost recipes (many of which use her ubiquitous E.V.O.O.) and my friend’s cats never leave a morsel of her food uneaten, and their content meows via phone are among the few positive reinforcements I get most days.

Much like her fellow CBS MV stablemates, JUDGE JUDY and, soon, DR. PHIL, it is expected that a package of recent repeats will be made available to stations still looking for something to fill daytime.  As we lamented a few weeks back, this appears to be the path that most buyers and sellers are moving towards.  If you eliminate that silly little issue of production costs, the economics of distributing shows to run PI spots for MyPillow or Generac to serve as bridges to newscasts can almost work.  Forget the minor issue of dozens of qualified producers and crew that will soon be reduced to watching those reruns from their homes as they attempt to find actual paying jobs.

Thankfully, FOX is still a believer in original daytime content.  As a group that is heavily reliant on local news and news/entertainment, they are exceptionally aware that fresh, cost-effective content creates flow and promotional opportunties that reruns of talk shows from three or four years ago simply cannot.  They have a trio of first-run game shows that have all been renewed through next season. 25 WORDS OR LESS, based on the successful board game, is heading into a sixth season, having adjusted its production design for the pandemic to what amounts to a Zoom call produced from several different studios, isolating its contestants and allowing host Meredith Vieira to work from her basement in upstate New York while a cadre of enthusiastic celebrities and contestant teams play the game from separate rooms on the other coast.  The game itself still works, and they’ve made enough of them to sell reruns to GSN.  FOX has also found a way to make the classic YOU BET YOUR LIFE format that Groucho Marx started, and now Jay Leno helms, renewable for the first time since the original version aired, and also has coaxed a second season out of the PICTIONARY brand for the first time, after two previously produced versions failed to make it that far.

And, today, they will take advantage of their newly purchased alliance with TMZ to launch yet another game, the celebrity-focused and provocatively titled WHO THE BLEEP IS THAT?  As syndication expert Paige Albaniak reported in Broadcasting and Cable last week, the formula being used for this tryout is one that FOX has been utliizing and honing with success for several years:

TMZ is teaming with parent company Fox on a four-week trial run of game show Who the Bleep Is That?, hosted by comedian Jeff Dye. The show will premiere on Fox Television Stations in 12 markets — New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Houston, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Detroit, Orlando and Milwaukee — on Monday, March 6.

The TMZ-produced series tests contestants as they work to identify famous people from such fields as TV, film, music, politics and sports from obscured images. The first contestant to buzz in and guess correctly wins the point and after three rounds, the contestant with the most points plays for a $5,000 grand prize. 

As Albaniak added, the concept is not only a brand expansion, but also complements FOX’s proven strategy with the above, renewed entries:

All three of those shows have been renewed for next season. First-run game shows with a comedic edge have largely taken over for more expensive off-network sitcoms on Fox-owned stations.

Fox acquired TMZ in September 2021. The TMZ TV show was launched by Telepictures, Warner Bros.’s first-run division, in 2005. The Fox stations air TMZ and TMZ Live in most markets, and Fox is increasingly adding TMZ-produced programming to its primetime lineup.

TMZ was one of the few outside acquisitions the FOX-owned stations had supported in recent years.  Its brand of no holds barred celebrity worship and snark is fully in concert with that of the inner pages of The New York Post and British tabloids that are the signature of the Rupert Murdoch empire that don’t involve political commentary.  For years Murdoch openly wishesdTMZ had been a FOX property, and when AT&T was looking to find loose change in its proverbial couch cushions to make up for some of their billions of debt, he eagerly pounced upon it.

Both TMZ and FOX made a half-hearted attempt to try a celebrity-focused game show before, with a lamentably narrow-targeted test run called SOUTH OF WILSHIRE relegated to its secondary My Network stations and being one of the few examples of the FOX rollout formula to fail.  WHO THE BLEEP IS THAT? will have a more supportive lineup, mostly their FOX-affiliated primary stations, and many of their time slots will be carved out of one-hour blocks that normally encompass back-to-back episodes of one of the three incuments.  FOX uses this strategy to work out formats beyond just a pilot, get a representative sample of ratings to analyze and, in success, justify longer-term commitments, and, as you can see, they use existing production venues and sets to accommodate this.

And since I personally know one of their showrunners, the brilliant and genial Tom Ruff, who is not only one of the nicest guys in the business, but also needs a break from being a diehard supporter of his alma mater Syracuse University and the New York Jets, I’m rooting for this show to succeed.   Being a fan of either of those teams these days is a challenge.  Believe me, I know.

It’s a lot easier to be a fan of a company that still believes that something new is worth trying, and there is a way to make it affordable enough even in this climate.  People need to work, and daytime TV shouldn’t be completely relegated to stars hawking new shows or books or endless hours of overly caffeinated local newscasters.

So kudos to FOX First Run, and good luck to Ruff, Harvey Levin and the rest of the TMZers.  And bleep their competitors who think leftovers should be all people are offered.

Until next time…

Leave a Comment