Not so long ago, most television viewers were content to while away midday hours watching soap operas, game shows and courtroom dramas.
Not anymore. Many of those daytime viewers now can instead catch up on shows such as HBO's Game of Thrones on their DVRs, or stream the latest hot series on Netflix or Amazon. The radical shift in viewing habits has cut into the number of people watching traditional daytime TV. Viewing fell 4 percent in the 2016-17 season from the previous year. Among the 18-to-49 age group that advertisers covet, the drop-off was more dramatic, 7 percent.
Now some programmers are betting that a diet of celebrity gossip will draw viewers back. Starting thismonth, a daily half-hour program based on the New York Post's Page Six gossip column will come to Fox-owned TV stations.
CBS Television Distribution, meanwhile, is launching DailyMailTV a version of dailymail.com, the breezy news website from the British tabloid that has made a major push into the United States in recent years.
The new entries are attempting to capitalize on their popularity among gossip-hungry and viral-video-devouring audiences at a time when first-run nationally syndicated TV shows — which are licensed and distributed to stations throughout the country without using a network — are hitting a wall.
Frank Cicha, senior vice president of programming for Fox Television Stations, said Page Six TV will have the topicality of a news program, giving viewers incentive to choose it over DVR and streaming alternatives they can watch anytime.
"It's going to be the only way to survive going forward," Cicha said. "We like stuff that's fresh and immediate and can run all over the schedule."
Page Six TV will run at 7 p.m. on Fox stations in Los Angeles and New York. It will also show up in daytime and late night in other markets across the country. Locally, it is set to air at midnight on WTVT-Ch. 13. The half-hour program debuts Sept. 18.
The show will be hosted by stand-up comedian John Fugelsang and feature New York Post reporter Carlos Greer, Variety writer Elizabeth Wagmeister and Sirius XM radio host Bevy Smith. Each weekday they will break down the stories appearing in the Post column as well as present their own celebrity and entertainment news scoops. A guest commentator will also sit in with the group each day.
Like Page Six TV, a new program based on the dailymail.com is depending on a potent established brand name and topical content instead of a big TV star to draw viewers.
Martin Clarke, chief executive and publisher of dailymail.com, said the website already has a constant presence on American television. Its wide range of stories — which includes celebrity wardrobe malfunctions, grisly true crime reports, viral videos of kiddie meltdowns and British royal gossip — gets regular exposure on cable news and programs such as Today and Good Morning America.
The site even had some political scoops during the 2016 presidential campaign, including the revelation that Anthony Weiner, the husband of Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, had an online relationship with a 15-year-old girl.
"Every mainstream TV producer in America comes to our website every day to take ideas," Clarke said. "I have no problem with that. That's the news business. The idea now is that rather than provide TV ideas for everyone else, we're going to provide TV ideas for ourselves."
DailyMailTV, which has talk show host Phil McGraw and his son Jay as executive producers, will be offered as two daily half-hour shows to TV stations, which can choose to run it as an hour. The program is hosted by Jesse Palmer and locally premieres at 4.30 p.m. Sept. 18 on WTOG-Ch. 44.
The increase in gossip and celebrity news isn't going unnoticed by the genre's longtime leader, Entertainment Tonight. Starting this fall, the entertainment and celebrity news program will air live for stations that carry it at 6 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Eastern time, which will give the producers a later deadline to provide more breaking news. It had previously been delivered to stations early in the day.
"It's not … a reaction to anyone else," said executive producer Sharon Hoffman. "We want to make our show is as immediate as possible. We're No. 1 by a mile and we want to stay there."
Bill Carroll, a consultant to TV stations on programming, said the ratings will decide whether the celebrity news market place is too crowded. But he believes if Page Six TV and DailyMailTV can give a distinctive spin to big stories such as the Oscars, a royal wedding, or the death of a major celebrity, they have a chance.
"Whenever a major event happens that's when these kind of shows have their greatest audience," Carroll said. "If they establish a unique way in how they deal with those topics, then viewers go to them to get a special take. It's a difficult landscape, but not impossible."