Courtesy of Vidhya Murugesan
Tegna Media is stepping up the volume of original daytime programming for its TV stations with the September launch of a daily roundtable talk show “Sister Circle,” aimed at African-American women. Cabler TV One will also carry the show as part of its expanded morning news and lifestyle programming block.
Daytime TV vet Helen Swenson has been tapped as showrunner of “Sister Circle,” which bows Sept. 11 in tandem with another new Tegna production, “Daily Blast Live.”
“Sister Circle” will feature a panel of four women — Quad Webb-Lunceford (“Married To Medicine”), singer Syleena Johnson, sports reporter Rashan Ali, and standup comedian Kiana Dancie — discussing a range of lifestyle and relationship issues as well as topical subjects. The foursome will be joined by DJ Q, who will spin records and add a male perspective to the conversation.
The hourlong show will also blend in celebrity guests and expert commentary. It will air live in East Coast markets at 9 a.m. ET, originating from Tegna’s Atlanta outlet, NBC affiliate WXIA-TV.
Tegna plans to launch the show on 12 of its 46 stations. The company is not looking to expand the show’s lineup outside those stations. Instead, the focus is on fine-tuning the show during its first season on the limited Tegna footprint and TV One, in the hopes of developing a stronger series to offer in syndication in year two.
Bob Sullivan, Tegna’s senior VP of programming, said the company learned from its experience last season with the talk show hosted by T.D. Jakes. That show lined up about two dozen non-Tegna stations in its first year, which made it harder for the show to find its footing.
“This way we can control the gas pedal and the brake pedal” without having to meet the expectations of outside station partners, Sullivan said.
For TV One, which targets African-American viewers, “Sister Circle” is seen as a good fit with the cabler’s morning lineup of news and lifestyle programing, which is expanding to three hours in the fall with the 9 a.m. ET telecast of “Sister Circle.” The newsmagazine “NewsOneNow” will be relaunched as “Black America Today” in a two-hour format.
“This was a perfect opportunity to expand our morning block into a destination for our audience,” said D’Angela Proctor, TV One’s senior VP of original programming and production.
The goal is to make the daily discussion on “Sister Circle” stretch from linear TV to social media platforms.
“Our shows don’t get a greenlight without a live component and a multiplatform component,” Sullivan said. “I don’t mean ‘Oh we’ve got a website.’ I mean a plan for activating these personalities every day on digital and social. Every day we need to have moments on this show that will continue the conversation throughout the day on social platforms.”
Tegna’s heightened focus on generating original series for its 46 stations, which serve 38 markets, is an effort to “control our own destiny,” according to Sullivan. TV stations have too long relied solely on outside syndicators for daytime programming beyond local news. Now that the economics of broadcast TV are squeezed by fragmentation in daytime, stations can’t count on a high volume of new shows coming from the largest studio suppliers.
“The days of the $35 million single-host talk show are grinding to a halt,” Sullivan said. Tegna’s original development push is an effort to “use the scale of the footprint of our stations and also be realistic about taking advantage of production assets we have in-house to keep costs inline with a realistic P&L,” he said.
The partnership with TV One partnership was a strategic move designed to increase “Sister Circle’s” exposure to its target audience.
“We can’t just put up the show and pray that people will watch it,” Sullivan said. “We have to look at the platforms that are out there and find strategic partners.”
Proctor said the strength of “Sister Circle” was rooted in the personalities that Tegna brought together through a lengthy casting process. Moreover, TV One’s parent company, Urban One, has a radio network and digital assets that reach some 85% of African-American households. The show and its personalities will be “cross-pollinated” throughout TV One and Radio One stations, Proctor said.
“We have a huge opportunity to make sure ‘Sister Circle’ is known throughout the country,” Proctor said. “The plan is for the show to really rise to something greater in the second year.”