Why "The Real’s" Renewal Is Significant

Warner Bros. multi-cultural syndicated talk show featuring Loni Love and four co-hosts has out-lasted high profile competitors with a bold, sassy attitude, a modest budget, and a lot of help from the Fox TV Stations

From its start in the summer of 2013, The Real was an unlikely show to survive and thrive in a business that made road kill in recent years out of daytime gabfests fronted by big names like Katie Couric, Jeff Probst, Arsenio Hall, Ricki Lake, Queen Latifah, Bethenny Frankel and Anderson Cooper.

This past season super model Tyra Banks was the latest to get a lesson in humility when she abruptly departed Disney’s daytime show, The Fab, shortly before it ended after only one year.

That is why it is even more significant that Warner Brothers television renewed The Real for two more seasons on Monday, assuring it will be on the air at least through the 2017-2018 season, and probably well beyond that.

Syndicated TV shows led by Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, Judge Judy, Ellen and Dr. Phil that last beyond three seasons – The Real is now assured of four - often go on to have amazingly sustained runs over decades, earning enormous profits for everyone involved.

The show from Warner Bros./Telepictures has also been renewed in its second airing each day on the BET TV network for at least two more seasons.

LONI LOVE IS IMPOSSIBLE TO MISS

I have been paying special attention to The Real since the Academy Awards when I was seated at Roger Neal’s Oscar Viewing party around the same table as the funny, charming and outspoken Loni Love.

She is the impossible-to-miss centerpiece of The Real, which was recently nominated as Outstanding Talk Show/Entertainment program and for three other Daytime Emmy awards.

While Couric has moved on to Yahoo! And Cooper is all-CNN again, Love and her outspoken, sometimes outrageous, frequently charming, sometimes funny co-hosts continue to chat, gossip and dish five days a week.

No one could have predicted the chemistry that has developed would be so embraced by viewers. Love is surrounded by a sorority of sassy, funny, smart, classy ladies –Tamera Mowry-Housley (Sister, Sister), Tamar Braxton (Braxton Family Values), Adrienne Bailon (Cheetah Girls), and Jeannie Mai (How Do I Look).

The show made it not because it fits some pre-conceived formula, but because it is fun to watch. It also helps that it arrived with modest expectations, is produced at a reasonable cost, has a diverse cast and offers a more youthful alternative to The View on ABC and The Talk on CBS.

The audience feels the chemistry and identifies. The Real is the number-two most shared show in total social action (likes, comments, shares on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram) behind only Ellen, according to Warner Bros. which produces both shows. It is also second only to Ellen with more than 447 million YouTube views as the most-viewed show on daytime television.

Loni Love at Roger Neal's Oscar Viewing Party in March 2016

Love has one of those ‘I can’t believe I made it in Hollywood’ tales. I first saw that when at the Oscar dinner, Love didn’t show up with an actor or Hollywood poseur on her arm. Instead she was with a longtime friend from her days as an electrical engineer for tech companies.

That’s right. Her training for TV included eight years as engineer at Xerox. At the same time, she was pursuing her stand-up comedy, becoming a regular at Jamie Masada’s popular comedy club The Laugh Factory in West Hollywood.

She finally decided to quit her regular job to pursue comedy full time when there were layoffs at the company. By leaving then, Love helped a friend remain employed.

At 44, she doesn’t look like a typical TV star and doesn’t talk like one. She speaks her mind freely, often in a tone and way that can’t be ignored.

Love grew up in Detroit, where her family lived in a notorious government housing project. She went to Prairie View A & M University in Texas to study electrical engineering, and soon switched to music engineering.

She did her first stand up while still in school when there was a local comedy contest. She took the $50 first prize and continued doing stand-up at night even when working as an engineer.

Her show biz career finally took off in 2009 when Love took second place on TV’s Star Search in the comedy category. She became one of the most popular performers on the comedy circuit and has since done TV and movies.

A FOXY APPROACH TO SHOWCASING THE REAL

The little show that could benefited greatly from the scheduling by savvy management at the Fox TV Station Group, led by political strategist turned executive producer Roger Ailes (who also invented Fox News), CEO Jack Abernethy, and Frank Cicha, the savvy senior VP of programming for the stations.

What this group which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox has done in local TV since 2007 is create an annual bake off. Shows are given a limited on air test run, usually in the summer, on four to six owned and operated Fox affiliates.

The first big success was a summer test that led to the launch of Wendy Williams’ talker in 2008. Since then producers have competed to get Fox to test their shows. That has revolutionized the way syndicated TV shows get on the air.

Unlike network fare which is sold in a constant viewing pattern nationwide, syndie shows are sold one at time and can land in different time slots. Individual stations and station groups pick and choose shows and place them in time slots to fill in around the network shows.

Although millions are at stake, for generations picking shows was pretty much based on the gut instinct of individual station executives (with an assist from researchers). The best programmers were said to have a “golden gut,” because they bought or created shows that stayed on the air in a business where there is about a 90 percent chance of failure within two years.

Fox TV Station Group CEO Jack Abernethy and Senior VP of Programming Frank Cicha

In the same way the Oakland A’s shook up baseball by using Moneyball computer generated research to predict behavior on the baseball field - and win games - the Fox TV Stations created a way to provide meaningful viewing data to pick shows. Rather than trusting their guts and rolling the dice at a cost in the hundreds of millions, they used their powerful station line-up to test shows before making a big commitment.

It was made possible not just because Fox owns TV stations in 17 U.S. markets, but because they have two stations – a duopoly – in key cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Oakland, Orlando, Dallas, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. So Fox could program to the audience they wanted without interrupting the usual flow of syndicated shows during the season.

Each test aired on roughly half a dozen Fox affiliates. The stations were chosen because each offered differing demographics. Fox could see if The Real played as well in conservative Dallas as it did in liberal Minneapolis.

Once a show passed the test, it was almost always part of the Fox station schedule the following year. Not all of the test shows make it, as Chris Jenner found out when her test fizzled.

“Following our successful summer tests of ‘bethenny’ and ‘TMZ Live,’ with our partners at Fox, we have developed an exciting flexible business and creative model that works for particular projects,” industry vet Ken Werner, President, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, told Deadline Hollywood in 2013.

Bethenny also had a short run even though Fox wanted to keep it going. Warner Bros. felt it was not successful enough to renew.

The Real launched it big city markets in 2014 on Fox stations and was given time to grow and find an audience, unlike a show such as Katie which cost Disney so much money to produce it couldn’t afford to continue when the ratings weren’t as high as advertisers had been promised.

Pretty much every day The Real delivers exactly what the audience expects and Love is often out in front. Here is one example: When Rachel Dolezal was caught pretending to be an African American while working for the NAACP, Love put her fake racial heritage in a context that spoke to the show’s diverse target audience.

“Let me tell you something,” Love said as if addressing Dolezal. “I’m black. I can’t be you. I can’t reverse myself. Let me tell you, Rachel, if the police stop (you), you can throw that off and show that little light, nice, fine hair up under (with a gesture to her hair). You might get away. I may not. I may not make it to the jail. So it’s a difference.”

A real difference.

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