About 10 minutes till air time, and the nervous energy is palpable on the “Kansas City Live” couch, which would probably make a great spot to nap if it didn’t face several TV cameras.
The guy half of the attractive blond duo blurts out a cheer: “Let’s go, team, let’s go!”
Two minutes away, and someone fluffs a fuzzy pillow behind the yell leader’s left shoulder. One minute, and he sings a familiar but hard-to-place tune: “One day, one night, Saturday’s all right ”
His co-host, meanwhile, belts out “Good morning!” as if she’s suddenly found herself on the set of “Singin’ in the Rain,” rather than a few feet to the right of the “41 Action News” anchor desk.
It’s 10 a.m. “Stand by!” someone yells. “Five-four-three-two-one!” An announcer is heard: “Now from Studio 41 on the Country Club Plaza, this is ‘Kansas City Live.’ ”
And with that, KSHB’s new show is on the air once again. Debuting in July the week the Olympics started, “KC Live” joins a TV trend: locally produced, non-news lifestyle shows.
In fact, a second such show is about to enter the fray. KCTV-5’s “Better Kansas City” will air at 9 a.m. weekdays when it launches Sept. 10. For now, the show is in the rehearsal stage, fake guests and everything.
The local shows have several things in common: Each has two hosts, each is designed to appeal to women, and each was conceived as a marketing tool for advertisers, including segments for which sponsors provide the guests. More on that in a bit.
Both shows also displaced popular national morning programs. “Kansas City Live” airs instead of the fourth hour of “Today,” hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb. “Better” will take over the KCTV-5 slot now occupied by “Live With Kelly.” KSHB pushed the “Today” hour back to 1 p.m.; Kelly Ripa’s show will move to Fox 4, which will air it at 10 a.m. opposite “KC Live.”Focusing on ‘good things’
Especially the first week or so of “KC Live,” comments onKSHB’s Facebook page
were, shall we say, less than welcoming. The station is still getting posts along the lines of this one: “Please please please let this be the last week of the horrible KC Live show! No one likes it! Put back KLG and Hoda where they belong!”
“KC Live’s” producer, Stephanie Liebergen, reads every viewer comment — and encourages constructive criticism, not that she sees much of that — but she says hosts Michelle Davidson and Michael Mackie stopped looking at them.
“I barely read any of that,” confirms Mackie, who once worked in promotions for KMBC, Channel 9, and more recently appeared on KCTV’s 4 p.m. news as a pop culture contributor. “But we get a lot of positive comments on (the show’s)Facebook page
, so that’s nice. I try not to let it faze me.”
Davidson is a local filmmaker and actress who has also been a co-host and producer of KSMO’s “CinemaKC” show. A recurring topic for her on “KC Live”: when she was pregnant. A recurring (and re-recurring) topic for Mackie: his recent trip to India.
Mackie views their show’s mission as spotlighting “the people, the places, the things that make Kansas City fun and outrageous, things that stand out, that separate us from other cities. Half the segments we do, I’m like, ‘That’s new, I didn’t know about that.’ And I’ve lived here 13 years.”
“KC Live” covers a lot of ground in an hour. A show last week, for instance, started with a segment on an art exhibit at the Box Gallery downtown. A videotaped piece was followed by an in-studio interview — the kind of package Liebergen wants to do more of.
Also on that show: “Proud Pics” of kids and pets sent in by viewers; showbiz headlines; someone from a medspa pushing a $3,400 treatment for “excessive sweat-ers”; a lawyer talking about red-light camera tickets; a human and a camera-shy dog promoting a Humane Society fundraiser; chitchat with a 41 meteorologist; a local couponing guru; actress and “energetic healing” advocate Dee Wallace; and a chef whipping up bacon dishes.
Can you guess which was a “sponsored segment”?
The lawyer, who urged viewers to fight red-light camera tickets by hiring a lawyer. Although co-host Davidson didn’t acknowledge the paid-for nature of the segment, the show ran an on-screen label for about 30 seconds: “Sponsored by Lotven Law.”
The “One day, one night” tune that Mackie was singing a different day? That’s heard in National American University ads, and NAU sponsored a segment on the show. At the end of the 3-minute, 20-second interview, Mackie told the guest, an NAU rep, he liked the jingle.
Liebergen, formerly a part-time news producer at KSHB, says she signed up for “KC Live” knowing that advertisers would drive some segments. Her job, she says, is to make those segments interesting, make sure they benefit viewers.
The station’s goal is for about half of each show (three interviews) to be sponsored, Liebergen says. For now, though, a typical show contains no more than one.
Overall, “I want to be able to feature the nonprofits and the community organizations and people doing good things for their neighbors,” Liebergen says. As opposed to crime and other bad news, “It’s nice to be able to focus on the good things that are going on in the city.”
Over at Channel 5, the “Better Kansas City” set was largely in place when we stopped by last week. The show’s logo contains multicolored circles that resemble the Olympic rings. (A national lifestyle show called “Better” airs mornings on KCTV sister station KSMO, but the two “Betters” aren’t expected to share much beyond the name.)
KCTV vice president and general manager Bobby Totsch says “Better KC” will focus on lifestyle content important to viewers, “not chatter.” Hosts are Kelly Jones, until recently a KCTV morning news co-anchor, and Lisa Holbrook, a former sports anchor and reporter at KSHB. Totsch says both are moms and “household leaders” — in other words, the demographic the show is aiming for.
Totsch says shows like “Better KC” are common in the top 25 or 30 TV markets. Kansas City is “not on the leading edge of this lifestyle-type programming,” he says.Embedded marketing
What’s the appeal of these shows for TV stations? For one thing, local stations like local content. In a universe of a gazillion TV channels and websites, it helps set them apart. Localism is “the franchise we think we have over every other competing technology,” says Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters.
For another thing, producing a local show means stations don’t have to spend money on syndicated programs — new Katie Couric and Ricki Lake talk shows are among the offerings this fall — that may not catch fire with viewers.
“The Oprah Winfreys and those kinds of (hit) programs just haven’t surfaced,” Totsch says.
Also, when a station airs its own program, it gets to sell all the ad time. It might make more money even if that local show draws a smaller audience than a national show.
Just like KSHB’s new lifestyle program, KCTV’s “Better” is expected to include sponsored interviews, product placement and the like. Totsch calls them “embedded marketing opportunities” and “a way to connect with advertisers.”
As is true with “KC Live,” “Better” is not produced by the news department, and sponsored content will be identified as such, Totsch says.
This “pay to play” approach would be anathema to traditional journalists, but lifestyle shows aren’t newscasts, the stations point out. They’re entertainment. Think of Rachael Ray’s show handing out copies of a book to her studio audience (that’s a paid-for “promotional consideration”) or the tumblers of a certain soft drink placed in front of the “American Idol” judges.
Still, “I’m surprised that Scripps (KSHB’s parent company) would be involved in one of these things,” says Harry Jessell, editor of the websiteTVNewsCheck
, which covers TV broadcasting. “It’s the infomercial business. It’s not really great daytime programming.”
An alumnus of a previous incarnation of “Kansas City Live,” which aired on KSHB from 2005 to 2008, is not surprised. Darren Mark, that show’s roving features reporter, says back then, too, “there were segments that happened as a result of (advertising) deals, and sponsors would have appearances on the show.”
Now it’s “really a more overt approach.”
TV stations are doing what they can to make money, observes Mark, who left television and is now co-owner of Scenic Road Productions, a digital video production firm.
With these lifestyle shows, Mark says, “we’re talking about feature segments, we’re not talking about news. If the content is interesting and the broadcast is entertaining, people will accept it without necessarily caring.”
Meanwhile, Fox 4 and KMBC, Channel 9, have no plans for local lifestyle shows of their own. “One of our biggest goals is to be as local as we can,” says Sarah Smith, president and general manager of KMBC and KCWE. But “our efforts are directed at our news product.”
Totsch at Channel 5 says there’s nothing sinister about the show his station is about to put on the air, and he trots out the “L” word once again.
“It’s really about giving people more local content,” Totsch says. “Paid for or not.”CHANGE ON THE AIR
The two local lifestyle shows aren’t the only changes you’ll see on Kansas City stations this fall. “Wheel of Fortune” and Kelly Ripa’s show are changing channels, and new talk shows from Katie Couric, Ricki Lake, Steve Harvey, and “Survivor” host (and Wichita native) Jeff Probst will join the weekday lineup. Plus: a play-from-your-couch game show.Fox 4 10 a.m.: “Live With Kelly”
(starting Monday, moving from KCTV). On Sept. 4, Regis Philbin’s replacement will finally be named — reportedly NFL analyst and ex-pro football player Michael Strahan.11 a.m.: “Family Feud”
(Sept. 10; two back-to-back episodes)1 p.m.: “Ricki Lake”
(Sept. 10)2 p.m.: “Steve Harvey”
(Sept. 4)6:30 p.m.: “Wheel of Fortune”
(Sept. 17, moving from KSHB and replacing “Access Hollywood”)KCTV-5 9 a.m.: “Better Kansas City”
(Sept. 10; each episode will be repeated at 1 p.m. on sister station KSMO)KMBC, Channel 9 10 a.m.: “Anderson Live”
(relaunch of Anderson Cooper’s talk show, Sept. 10, moving from WDAF). Nate Berkus’ show, now in this time slot, ceased production.2 p.m.: “Katie”
(Couric’s new show, Sept. 10)Also of note:
ABC will flip-flop “Nightline” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live” starting in January. Channel 9 delays ABC late-night programming by an hour (instead airing sitcom reruns after its 10 p.m. news), which means Kimmel will probably be seen at 11:35.KSHB, Channel 41 10 a.m.: “Kansas City Live”
(started in July, replacing the fourth hour of the “Today” show, which the station delays until 1 p.m.)3 p.m.: “Jeff Probst”
(Sept. 10)6:30 p.m.: “Let’s Ask America”