It is expensive to launch a new syndicated show, hard to make inroads against entrenched competitors (some have been on for decades), and the failure rate in the early years is extraordinarily high as Katie Couric learned last season and Ricki Lake the year before.
Latifah’s show had middling ratings but it needed to do a lot better to survive. It is expensive for Sony to produce and market and was pricey for stations to license — so it needed to do very well.
In key daytime periods Latifah faced tough competitors like Disney’s Live With Kelly and Michael and the third hour of The Today Show on NBC at 9 a.m. in the crucial New York City market.
Most telling, in the second year of a two-year contract, Latifah’s show has not exhibited the kind of growth stations look for at renewal time.
Among the key daytime audience of women 25 to 54, it was averaging a 0.6 for the 2014/2015 season to date, down from a 0.7 in its first year. While this may not seem huge, it was a sign that the show was not growing among the viewers advertisers covet most.
Latifah is carried by the CBS TV station group in prime time periods in the biggest markets including New York, Chicago, L.A., Philadelphia and elsewhere.
The CBS station group referred questions about the cancellation of Latifah to Sony, but a source insists it had not made any final judgment on the future of the show — and the decision to pull the plug was Sony’s. The source added ominously, “the numbers, however, spoke for themselves.”
Beyond CBS, some stations had already elected to either drop or downgrade Latifah next season, according to Bill Carroll, vp and director of programming for Katz Television.
“In a number of markets, stations had already decided to buy something else,” says Carroll. “It wasn’t gaining audience. There is a point when you have to make the tough decisions.”
Oddly in the current November sweeps period, Latifah has shown some signs of life. For the most recent week national numbers were reported — through Nov. 16 — it had a 1.2 national household rating, up 9 percent from the same week last year.
However, it appears the die was already cast. This is the time of year big decisions on syndicated shows are made, and Latifah is the latest that has failed to make it out of the difficult early years.
Shows that stay on more than three years often go on for decades (think Wheel of Fortune). But in the world of syndie talk, where Dr. Phil is the highest rated, it is a especially difficult for a newcomer to climb that mountain to success.
The losers in the Latifah failure include Sony Pictures Television, which invested heavily in the show, Latifah herself, whose production company with Shakim Compere, Flavor Unit Entertainment, is a producer, and Overbrook Entertainment, whose partners including actors Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith along with James Lassiter.
Overbrook was involved from the beginning in getting Latifah on the air and Jada Pinkett in particular was a highly visible cheerleader in the program’s early days. But despite the star power behind it, Latifah also failed to attract a steady stream of the biggest stars to help pump up viewership numbers.
That said, Latifah was not a disaster in the ratings. It has done especially well with African-American viewers, some of whom have watched it on the BET network where each episode is re-aired.
It just wasn’t good enough.
At the same time Latifah has struggled, The Wendy Williams Show, syndicated by Debmar Mercury (a division of Lionsgate), is having a banner season with rising ratings.
Carroll says one show that will immediately benefit from the availability of time periods is Warner Bros. new one-hour Crime Watch Daily, which is already a go for September 2015.
Crime Watch Daily is on the Tribune stations in the biggest markets, and will now have new scheduling flexibility in the rest of the country.
It could also boost clearances for the Disney lifestyle show The F.A.B., which features Tyra Banks in her return to syndie TV, moderating a panel of beauty, fashion and entertainment commentators. It is already set to air in the biggest markets on ABC stations.
There had been speculation that if Latifah faded, it would be replaced by Man In The Middle, featuring actor Jerry O’Connell and his wife Rebecca Romijn, with another panel of commentators and lifestyle experts. But earlier this week it became clear that after shooting one or more pilots, CBS Television Distribution was not going to move forward on O’Connell’s show for fall 2015, if ever. CBS TV Distribution officially won’t comment on the status or future of Man In The Middle.
This is the second talk show failure for Queen Latifah. Her first show aired from 1999 to 2001.
Queen Latifah, whose real name is Dana Owens, has proven to be a multi-faceted entertainer, singer, rapper, comedienne and show host, so she can shrug off this failure. But it remains an object lesson in the difficulty of launching in syndication even when you have a deep pocket studio backer, a well-known celebrity host and huge stars backing the effort.
This article originally appeared in THR.com.