Jay McGraw Puts Syndication To 'The Test'
The last time Jay McGraw’s Stage 29 Productions had a show debut in broadcast syndication, it scored with the long-running informational talk show The Doctors. This fall, Stage 29 will try again in an entirely different genre, conflict talk — but conflict talk with a humorous twist.
The Test is a DNA-, lie detector- and paternity-test-results show to be hosted by comedian Kirk Fox. On Jan. 9, CBS Television Distribution announced it would distribute the show and has so far lined up stations reaching 56% of U.S. TV homes.
Tribune Broadcasting, including CW affiliates WPIX New York, KTLA Los Angeles and WGN Chicago, is the key outlet. The Test should fit in nicely with those stations' other conflict shows from NBCUniversal — Maury, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos.
Jay McGraw spoke with TVNewsCheck about The Test, The Doctors and the daytime TV business.
How did you come up with the concept for The Test?
I would love to say I was sitting on a beach and had a moment where I was scrambling for a piece of paper.
But the truth is that it’s just an engineering problem. The letters we receive on our website, and if you look at the ratings, the black-and-white objective of a test, whether it’s DNA or drugs or lie detectors, is that there’s a concrete answer at the end of a heated conflict. That resonates with viewers.
So, I thought, “How can we deliver a format that people are looking for with a lot of variety and a lot of entertainment? How can we do that and give people an answer at the end of the hour?”
What was the next stage in development after you had that initial concept down?
From there, we started looking for hosts. I think I hit the jackpot with Kirk Fox. People are going to be really impressed when they see what he does.
The Test sounds like other conflict talk shows, except that Kirk Fox is a comedian. What does he bring to the show?
Anytime you have the intensity of the conflicts you’ll see on The Test, you need a moment of levity. You need to let the audience take a deep breath. You need to let people laugh at themselves.
He is a comedian who has done more than 2,000 live standup shows. There’s nothing that can replace experience. He has handled audiences, a lot of them drinking, on his feet without any help. Very few people have that skill.
In the little bit of development we’ve done on the show, we can see that is going to benefit us in great multiples on the air.
While Kirk Fox is a comedian, do you think The Test will have a familiar look and feel to viewers?
If you flip through channels during the day, everything looks somewhat the same. There’s a stage and a host and guests. It will look like a daytime show.
But as producers, it’s our job to give it a unique look and feel. We’ll have a unique stamp.
How far along are you in developing the show?
We’re in that exciting but unrewarding phase of developing a show. The fun part is coming up with new ideas, all the fun stuff. Yet, we won’t see anything tangible for a while.
Right now, we’re going through the nuts and bolts of graphics, music and set design. Once we start booking guests, it’ll get more exciting.
Tribune Broadcasting is the launch group for the show. Did they partner with you on developing the show?
They weren’t part of the development. But Sean Compton and the whole Tribune group are the ideal partners for this show. The show works with the traffic flow of their viewers.
Once Tribune was on board, it really lent a great vote of confidence to the format and to Kirk Fox as host.
As a producer, do you concern yourself with the time slots that stations will air your shows in?
You don’t develop around that. But, at the same time, if you’re developing a late night show and there isn’t a hole there’s no point in moving forward. But you can’t let your creative be dictated by that.
Any other shows in development at Stage 29?
The biggest development is developing and selling The Test. Other than that, we’re always looking for great talent.
Daytime syndication is an exciting area of television. There are very few people who can pull off hosting a show 180 times a year. It’s not very often that you find someone who you want to trust your goals with, so when you do, you put all your effort into it.
The Doctors is now in its fifth season with renewals a couple of years out. Did you start Stage 29 with The Doctors or before then?