Syndication: The New Secret Sauce?

Keller/Noll co-owners Dave Noll and Cleve Keller on the set of Face the Truth

Is there a new secret sauce for syndication? New York-headquartered independent production company Keller/Noll, headed by the creative team of Cleve Keller and Dave Noll, has ideated, created and produced more than 350-episodes of original series airing globally in 2018. Last week, Face the Truth, a Keller/Noll created series (produced in conjunction with CBS Television Distribution, Dr. Phil McGraw and Stage 29 Productions) premiered in national syndication; the relationship conflict resolution daytime series received a benchmark first season initial order of 170 episodes.  Earlier in 2018, the premiere of Keller/Noll’s GSN series America Says was quickly followed by a second season renewal for an additional 95 episodes. Cleve Keller shares some secrets for her company’s success – including how syndication programming is changing, and how to convey the sizzle without a reel.

Cynopsis: In today’s personality-driven unscripted world, what is the secret sauce to creating network-worthy formats that don’t depend on a specific personalities?         

Cleve Keller:  When creating a new format, Dave and I construct its framework and rules very carefully. We spend hours and hours crafting a new format to be simple, logical and predictable. Then, we always add the fun part: in the DNA of every format, there is always one wildly creative and (hopefully) unexpected element – a hook, a twist, something that a viewer has never seen before. These two elements together – the sparest framework plus a buzzy, unique hook – is our secret sauce.

Great formats like America’s Got Talent, The Voice, Queer Eye, Chopped, Family Feud, Shark Tank- these are shows where the format is the “first” star, the anchor, and then various outstanding talent can be plugged into different seasons, and/or different territories around the world.

Cynopsis: For years the daytime syndication market has been driven by talk shows and yet you’re launching a relationship advice show, Face the Truth. Is the syndication tide beginning to turn different directions and if so why?  

Keller: We spent many, many hours talking to syndication executives and station owners. We heard the same thing over and over again – the syndication market was moving away from very expensive, star-driven shows. Syndicators told us that they wanted high-volume, low-cost formats that appeal to women age 25-54. Dave and I came up with about 30 different types of female-driven, studio shows with unique hooks, and then honed in on the theme of “conflict meets court”. The heart of Face the Truthis, “What if a woman with a giant life problem went to her 5 smartest, most honest, most trusted girlfriends for advice? And then she got that advice. She was forced to face the truth.” Face the Truthis a simple concept with one huge hook that has never been done before: It’s a relationship conflict resolution show with a panel. This had never been done.

Cynopsis: How do you convince network commissioners to take a chance on your new show concepts without a sizzle reel?       

Keller: First, it helps to have a track record of success that a network can trust. Since 2007, Dave and I have created, sold and produced over 2,000 episodes – all formats. What we have figured out how to do very well is create global formats that have a simple core and one wildly creative hook. Our formats are designed to be almost like a food kit from Plated or Blue Apron; all the format elements are crafted perfectly, all the rules are thought out and work perfectly together. Like a blueprint.

Next, especially with a new game, we will actually go and play it for TV executives, complete with gameplay, buzzers, music and a great host (Dave Noll). During this live pitch, we literally bring the show to lifefor the people in the room. They are experiencing the exact same game that the audience at home will experience. When you “go live” in a pitch, you don’t need a sizzle reel. Our live pitch is the sizzle reel.

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