After a five-month hiatus, Tamron Hall is planning her broadcast television comeback amid a harsh and forbidding media environment.
Her prospective return to daytime TV—via an as-yet untitled studio-audience talk show announced this past week by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a gluttonous news consumer and a longtime fan of Hall’s—will be, if successful, like scaling the summit of Mount Everest without warm clothes and oxygen, swimming the English Channel without a wet suit and flippers, or trekking through Death Valley without sunscreen and a water supply.
Which is to say: The arena that Hall is daring to enter is so inhospitable, crowded and Darwinian that if the 46-year-old former Today show and MSNBC anchor manages to survive and thrive, it will be a damned miracle.
That, anyway, is the consensus of battle-scarred daytime television veterans consulted by The Daily Beast concerning the brand-new collaboration between Hall and Weinstein Television, a subsidiary of the eponymous feature film company, which boasts a negligible track record and even less clout in the daytime TV space.
“It’s never impossible, because sometimes somebody does something really good that catches on,” said an experienced daytime producer who, like others interviewed for this story, asked not to be named so as not to antagonize Hall or her pugnacious business partners, Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob. “But look at the landscape of daytime television. There’s no space. Everybody is fighting for a smaller and smaller share of the pie. It’s hard to get clearances in syndication”—meaning airtime on the programming schedules of local stations.
“Unless you have really good clearances and really good stations with space in daytime, it’s going to be very difficult to go anywhere,” the producer added. “Plus, the Weinsteins are trying to sell one show, and they’re going up against a bunch of companies that produce multiple shows, and Sony and Time Warner and Disney and those guys aren’t looking to help them get stations. They’re going to be looking to block them.”
This producer continued: “The Weinstein people may be able to get anything done in Hollywood, but what experience do they have in getting clearances for a syndicated daytime television show? That space is coveted by so many players. They fight over it all year long, every year, and it’s shrinking. She’s just up against so many obstacles.”
Hall—who has continued to host for the past 3 ½ years a Discovery Channel crime show (a subject painfully close to home, considering the brutal unsolved 2004 murder of her sister Renate)—was not available for an interview, her publicist said.
As a talented broadcaster, a smart and compelling personality, and, equally relevant, a black woman—which gives her an instant connection with a critical daytime audience demographic—she potentially has a leg up on Megyn Kelly.
The former Fox News star’s arrival at NBC early this year (to do a Sunday night magazine show, which has launched this summer amid unwelcome controversy and weaker-than-expected ratings, and a 9 a.m. talk show starting in September) ended Hall’s job on Today’s third hour and resulted in her abrupt and apparently indignant departure five months ago.
“She’s a risk-taker and she’s proud,” said a second daytime TV producer. “And she probably didn’t feel like she was being respected at NBC.”
Yet anyone hoping to savor a soap opera-ready melodrama in which Kelly and Hall fight mano a mano for audience share, while the latter exacts sweet revenge on NBC News Chairman Andy Lack (who lured Kelly from Fox and paid his new hire a disruptive and eye-popping $17 million), is apt to be disappointed.
First of all, it’s highly unlikely that Hall will debut in the all-booked-up 9 a.m. time slot on whatever outlet her show manages to land—probably no sooner than 2018. And while Kelly’s appeal in the female-friendly morning is, unlike Hall’s, completely untested, she has at least two important advantages: Kelly is guaranteed clearance on most if not all of NBC’s 230-odd stations nationwide, and she is blessed by her frequently top-rated Today show lead-in.
Still, industry skeptics abound concerning Kelly’s chances of success. “I don’t know why anybody old, infirm or black would have any reason to watch her,” quipped a wizened TV veteran. “Maybe if they put gray streaks in her hair.”
A Weinstein Co. press release, meanwhile, depicts Hall’s prospective show—in one-size-fits-all language—as “a timely blend of current events, human-interest stories and in-depth celebrity and newsmaker interviews, showcasing Hall’s signature reporting style and remarkable ability to cover extensive topics.”
The release adds: “The daily series, which will be shot in front of a live studio audience, will fill the current void in daytime for viewers looking for a blend of heart, humor and information”—a description that hardly explains how the program intends to differentiate itself in the marketplace.
Nobody at the Weinstein Co. was willing to elaborate beyond the Oprah-esque aspirations. It’s worth noting, however, that the daytime landscape is littered with the carcasses of once-promising ventures.
As I wrote in September 2014, when Meredith Vieira’s now-defunct daytime show was widely considered a good bet, “The savage business of syndicated daytime television…can be a merciless meat grinder. Many a talented and popular TV celebrity with a solid Q rating—a casualty list that includes Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, Jane Pauley, Megan Mullally, Tony Danza, Kris Jenner and Sharon Osbourne—has entered as steak and exited as hamburger.”