Craig Ferguson is in final negotiations with Tribune Media to host a daily syndicated half-hour talkshow that would air in the 7 p.m. hour across the Tribune station group.
The show is targeted to bow in the fall of 2015. It's expected that Michael Naidus, exec producer of CBS' "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," will be on board as showrunner of the show that will blend comedy and talkshow elements. The intent is to rev up the hour leading into primetime with the Ferguson yakker paired at 7:30 p.m. with a prime sitcom rerun a la "Two and a Half Men" or "The Big Bang Theory."
Reps for Tribune Media and Ferguson declined to comment.
Tribune is in talks with distributors to handle national distribution of the show beyond its 42 stations, which reach some 42% of U.S. TV households and cover key top markets including New York, L.A. and Chicago. Tribune's muscle with first-run syndie fare expanded last year when it doubled the size of its station holdings with the $2.7 billion acquisition of the Local TV station group.
The Ferguson deal marks the first syndicated show of its kind developed for the access time period -- the hour leading into primetime, or 7 p.m. PT/ET and 6 p.m. CT/MT -- in years. Tribune took a shot at fielding the first latenight syndie yakker in years this past season with the return of Arsenio Hall. That show didn't go the distance beyond a season. The hope is that Ferguson will bring an established fan base to his new show in a time period with far less talk/variety/comedy competition.
However, clearances in access time periods may be hard to come by outside of Tribune markets. The established players are pretty well entrenched. Think "Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy," "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Insider," "Extra" and "Access Hollywood." But with local stations facing a drought of strong new sitcoms to program in the access hour, more stations that don't have any of the first-run stalwarts may be open to a new entrant.
Among the distribs in the mix to handle national sales of the show is said to be Debmar-Mercury, which is already in business with Ferguson and Tribune on the syndie game show, "Celebrity Name Game," that will bow next month. "Name Game" is widely cleared on Tribune stations, and could be paired with the 7:30 p.m. slot with the new yakker if the show clicks in its first season.
The Tribune deal answers the question of what Ferguson planned to do next after announcing in April his plan to step down from "Late Late Show" in December. Ferguson's decision to move on after 10 years in the 12:35 a.m. slot behind David Letterman came as part of an unprecedented generational shakeup of the latenight landscape that started with the Jay Leno-Jimmy Fallon "Tonight Show" handoff last February. Letterman is poised to sign off next year after 30-plus years in latenight.
Specifics about Ferguson's new show are still sketchy but it's expected to have a slot for guests and to be a showcase for the offbeat humor that has made Ferguson distinct among the latenight pack. On "Late Late Show," Ferguson's sidekick is a robot skeleton named Geoff who is dressed up as if headed for a "Price is Right" taping (a joke inspired by the fact that the two shows are taped on the same lot), and Ferguson also has regular visits with Secretariat, aka two people inside a horse costume.
Without question, the move to syndication will require some tailoring of Ferguson's unique brand of yucks for a broader audience at an earlier hour. But the move to recruit a marquee name is a sign that Tribune, under the leadership of network and cable programming vet Peter Liguori, is intent on using its formidable reach to be a bigger player and shake up the conventions of local station programming outside of primetime.