Never let it be said that Harry Connick Jr. lacks charisma, talent, brains and good looks.
He has all of them in abundance, and he put them to good use in the debut of his new syndicated talk-and-entertainment show on Monday. But will all of Connick’s positive attributes translate into business success for this new show? That’s an open question, given the somewhat moribund state of daytime TV as the new fall season gets underway.
Connick’s new show -- titled simply “Harry” -- is the only new high-profile entrant in first-run syndication this fall. The show was developed principally at NBC Universal, which distributes it through its syndication arm, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. The show is produced in a studio owned by CBS -- at the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th Street in New York.
And the anchor or “launch” station group is the Fox-owned TV stations. NBC’s owned stations passed on it reportedly because the stations were already planning to launch additional hours of local news at 4 p.m. Eastern. Here in New York, that’s the time period -- 4-5 p.m. -- where “Harry” is airing Monday through Friday on Fox-owned WNYW/Ch. 5. The show is fully cleared across the country -- on Fox O&Os and other stations.
With the focus on lighthearted celebrity interviews, remote comedy bits and music, the Connick show has been designed to project an afternoon “party” atmosphere. In his introductory remarks on Monday’s first show, Connick likened the show to a late-night show, only one that is airing in the daytime. The show’s two executive producers -- brothers Eric Stangel and Justin Stangel -- were formerly head writers and executive producers for “Late Show with David Letterman,” where they first got to know Connick when he came on as a guest.
The set is decorated primarily in white -- from the white chairs where Connick and his guests sit for interviews to the white Steinway grand piano that Connick played in the final segment of his debut show. The studio audience on Day One was made up primarily of women, who are, of course, the principal target audience for daytime TV. The show has a late-night-style band -- the only one in daytime.
In the “Harry” premiere, Connick kibitzed with Sandra Bullock, his first guest, with whom he co-starred in the 1998 movie “Hope Floats.” He introduced a segment called “I Got This” that will apparently recur. In this bit, he asserts himself into the life of a deserving, hard-working woman, gives her a day off and then promises to undertake all of her responsibilities for the day. The first one of these had Connick taking over a nail salon in Atlanta, while the owner -- an entrepreneur named Poochie -- went on a shopping spree paid for by the show. The comedy stemmed from Harry trying to manage the store, fulfill orders and even give a manicure.
Later in the show, Harry was seen in brief interview clips asking celebrities for advice on how he should comport himself on his new show. The interview subjects ranged from Russell Crowe to Zooey Deschanel.
It was a fine, workmanlike debut. The show was inoffensive, the host was likable (even charming) and it seemed to come off without any noticeable hitches. And the early ratings circulating on Tuesday indicate that the show got considerable sampling, possibly as a result of the publicity blitz Connick has been on for the past week or so. One report on the overnights from 56 metered markets said ratings for the “Harry” time periods were up 27% Monday compared to a year ago.
It remains to be seen whether the show can maintain that level of viewership. Sometimes in syndication, the verdict of viewers can be harsh (see the recent attempts to launch daytime shows in recent seasons from the likes of Katie Couric, Meredith Vieira, Queen Latifah and Ricki Lake, for example).
On the other hand, there’s Ellen DeGeneres and Steve Harvey, both high-profile entertainers who seem to be making it in daytime. However, this particular daypart is one that has seen some of the most significant erosion of viewership in all of broadcast television over the last decade or more. It might take all of the charm that Harry Connick Jr. can muster to stem the tide.