In a syndication deal with a novel twist, Fox and Warner Bros. have reached multi-year renewals for Extra, TMZ, TMZ Live and The Real, with new formatting that eliminates the commercial breaks at the ends of each show.
The hope is that by adjusting the timing of ad breaks — in a way that preserves the net ad load but avoids awkward cutaways at the end of a programming block — both business partners will see more viewer retention. The final 90 seconds to two minutes of the block will be programming, with efforts under way to have one show toss to the other, a common practice in cable TV.
Jack Abernethy, CEO, Fox Television Stations, told Deadline in an interview that the move emulates a shift he helped steer in his previous role at Fox overseeing the launch of Fox News Channel in the mid-1990s. At that time, cable news incumbent CNN was still running credits at the end of each show, a far cry from today’s on-air feel, when hosts frequently spend as many as 10 minutes comparing notes live on air. Fox News recognized the need to maintain continuity for viewers, and Abernethy said the dynamic is the same on local broadcast stations.
“The worst thing about these transitions is when you start signaling ‘program over, program over’ – that’s when people grab the remote,” he said. Abernethy called the move a “common-sense” one that has been long overdue.
Jeffrey Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution, thanked Fox for supporting the company’s shows. “We are very pleased these long-running franchises will continue to thrive on their stations, and even more so as a result of this new seamless format,” he said in the official renewal announcement.
The new setup will require some adjustments by both the sales and programming teams. Abernethy said early feedback in the ad community has been positive, given that it could enable spots to be sold more broadly as opposed to tying brands to one specific show. Some programmers, he conceded, have raised concerns about having to fit extra spots in elsewhere in the half-hour or hour. “You have a little more clutter,” Abernethy shrugged, but argued that the likely improved retention between shows more than makes up for that hassle.
Extra has been a particularly high-visibility show of late, as it shifted its primary station deal from NBC to Fox this year, retooled its entertainment format and installed Access Hollywood veteran Billy Bush as its main host. The show is now in its 26th season. Bush had been on the sidelines with his comeback prospects uncertain after a turbulent 2016 that saw him caught up in the Donald Trump/Access Hollywood scandal.
“We like the new show,” Abernethy said of Extra. “Under the new Fox, we have a need for live news and sports, so this fits what we do in the station group. … Billy’s been very good. He’s really good without a script or a prompter.”
TMZ is now in its 12th season, with TMZ Live and The Real seven and six seasons in, respectively.
Donna Redier Linsk, EVP & GM of Warner Bros.’ Telepictures, said she is “very proud of the team at Extra whose reimagining of a long-running franchise has been so justly rewarded.”
Lisa Gregorisch-Dempsey, Senior Executive Producer of Extra, said the show has never had a better partner than Fox. “We are incredibly proud of Extra, which has not only earned a second life, but this new chapter feels like we caught lightning in a bottle,” she said.
Along with the renewals, Fox said The People’s Court has been cleared for three seasons on the company’s flagship station, WNYW (Fox 5) in New York.