Sony Selling 'Latifah' On Style And Substance
If syndicators can take one thing away from last year’s TV marketplace, it’s that underpromising and overperforming may be the best way to make a broadcaster happy. Just ask a station that airs NBCUniversal’s Steve Harvey.
With Queen Latifah, syndicator Sony Pictures Television has been steering clear of promising too much. Yet, it has been able to clear the variety-talk show in 80% of TV homes on station groups including CBS, Allbritton, Belo, Hearst, Local TV, Post-Newsweek, Raycom, Scripps, Sinclair and Weigel for its launch this fall.
"The market really responded to Queen Latifah and the show," says John Weiser, president of distribution at Sony, who is wrapping up the final deals. "The potential is high. But that’s the market talking, not us.”
Neal Sabin, president of content and networks at Weigel Broadcasting, appreciated the approach and will air the show on independent WCIU Chicago, CBS affiliate WDJT-WMLW Milwaukee and ABC affiliate WBND-LD South Bend, Ind. “It has a chance to be a standout,” he says.
Rather than hyping the ratings, Sony has been emphasizing the show's creative evolution and its uniqueness.
The CBS O&Os, the show's launch group, have "great juggernauts on their lineups with Judge Judy and Dr. Phil,” says Sony EVP Holly Jacobs. “They have their topical talk with The Talk. They have their game shows. They don’t have a big, premium-blend entertainment show. This is that. We wanted to be a distinct show on their lineup.”
Stations are picking up the show in two-year, cash-plus-barter deals (4 national minutes, 11 local).
“This is a big morning and afternoon show on some tremendous affiliates,” Weiser says. “We followed our successful Dr. Oz formula on Queen Latifah. We figured out our station partnership 18 months out. Then, we immediately got to work on the show’s look, its graphics, its stage — we’re building a custom soundstage. We’re working on our social media, our PR, our marketing and our multiplatform strategies.”
Sony is working on Queen in partnership with Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment and Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment.
Sony’s pitch to stations includes highly produced clips that may be on the show. Among them is Latifah interviewing celebrities like actress Cameron Diaz. And there are feel-good, philanthropic pieces like Latifah surprising students with a chance to sing with Alicia Keys.
“It was very well done but, frankly, I don’t think it’s a reflection of what we’ll see every day,” says Bill Lord, general manager of Allbritton’s ABC affiliate WJLA Washington. “But her warmth and personality came across very strong. Based on that, our own research and internal discussions, we feel this is a very good program.”
Lord has not settled on a time slot for Queen, but WJLA’s 3 p.m. slot will open up when Warner Bros.’ Anderson Live finishes its two-year run at the end of this season.
Station GMs who’ve seen the pitch say the show is similar to Warner Bros.’ Ellen in that it will emphasize entertainment and variety.
“It’s a full hour of entertainment,” says Queen Executive Producer Corin Nelson, whose track record includes a long stint on the original Rosie O’Donnell Show. “So, whatever you think entertainment is will be on the show. That runs the spectrum from celebrities to comedy to pop culture.”
The show will also include segments outside the studio.
“We’ll have really interesting storytelling with real people, adventures and Queen Latifah herself in the field,” says Nelson. “Early on, [Overbrook’s] Jada Pinkett Smith said Queen is ‘of it, not above it.’ She’s very hands on. That became something important in the pilot development, to come up with stories that she can relate to and be a part of, rather than watch from the sidelines.”
Nelson and her team also expect to regularly get ideas from stations that carry the show.
“As an executive producer, I always say that we work for each station manager,” Nelson says. “We want to make sure that their towns, cities and viewers are thought of at all times. We want to make sure they are getting content they like and can relate to. Nobody knows those time slots in specific cities better than station managers.”
Latifah, who first came onto the Hollywood scene as a rapper, is also a talented singer. She will most likely sing on the show from time to time.
Nelson and her team still haven’t decided yet if Latifah will open the show with a recurring segment. And the show’s set design is still in the works.
“I don’t know yet what the set will look like,” Nelson says. “We will be on the Sony lot on two massive soundstages. There is a huge project going on where these soundstages are being turned into dressing rooms and green rooms on one side and the stage on the other side. Queen Latifah has already nicknamed the set ‘Big Sexy.’ She wants women to come in and have fun for an hour.”