Ch. 7’s ‘Windy City Live’ in Oprah’s slot finds its groove

‘Windy City Live’ hosts Val Warner and Ryan Chiaverini

It’s rare that a brand new, built-from-scratch TV show springs to life in perfect shape.  It’s even rarer when the show happens to be a live, local telecast such as top-rated ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7’s new Windy City Live, which launched in late May immediately following the final farewell from Chicago’s former reigning talk diva Oprah Winfrey.

Windy City Live, as we know by now, is the hour-long show conceived by fearless WLS general manager Emily Barr and her production team to fill the 9 a.m. weekday slot that Winfrey dominated for a quarter century.

So now after almost two months, how is the show faring with co-hosts Val Warner and Ryan Chiaverini, both still new to the job of fronting a daily talk show?

In an interview Wednesday with WCL executive producer Marlaine Selip, we found out — much to the relief of everyone associated with the show — there has been no total meltdown on the road to getting the show in shape.

But to no one’s surprise, there have been plenty of things to deal with, with a few more to come, according to Selip.  “But we’re not expecting any big overhaul,” said Selip.

WCL getting a handle on difficult job of guest bookings

‘WCL’ executive producer Marlaine Selip

Surprisingly, one of the biggest issues that wouldn’t be apparent to viewers has been the booking of guests — a task that might, on first thought, seem like a snap.

Then again.

“We have seven segments per show, or about 35 segments a week to fill,” said Selip.  That may not sound that daunting, but it is when WCL producers are trying to land the most interesting and timely mix of guests for every live show.

It’s been tricky doing that, explained Selip, because sometimes when the staff books a guest for a particular show several days out, another guest that might be an even better fit for that show suddenly needs to be shoehorned in, often necessitating a lot of very last-minute shifting around of things.

Quick decisions have to be made in these situations, but Selip said the staff is getting better at figuring out when to rebook or stick with the lineup already in place.

Aside from booking of guests, Selip is paying particular attention to how the show flows from segment to segment, which can play a big part in whether viewers stick with WCL each day from start to finish. Too many or too few guests on a show obviously impacts that flow. “One show featured 17 guests,” said Selip, suggesting that was a few too many.

More often than not, however, the flow is established right at the top of the show, when Warner and Chiaverini work their way through 20 minutes of what the production crew calls “host chat.”

That’s a huge chunk of time for the hosts alone to fill before the first commercial break. But right now that is the way the show is structured, unless a booked guest’s schedule requires him or her to make an appearance in those first 20 minutes.

As Selip knows well, the success of that host chat depends in large part of how comfortable Warner and Chiaverini are with each other, and over the past two months, Selip said that comfort factor is improving — as it must.

Pop culture becoming a regular show feature 

The show’s set, believe it or not, has taken getting used to as well. “It’s massive,” explained Selip. Aside from the co-hosts gaining more familiarity with each other and with the set, WCL is evolving in other ways.

Contributor actor/comedian Mark DeCarloThere is now more emphasis on pop culture.  “We love pop culture,” said Selip.  Showbiz Shelley, the entertainment reporter on CBS-owned WBBM-FM (96.3), has begun to pop up on Windy City Live to offer her juicy show biz tidbits.  She wasn’t part of the original lineup of contributors.

WLS-AM (890) talk show host Roe Conn and actor/comedian Mark DeCarlo are the two regular contributors seen most frequently on the show. But the WCL producers have had to work around DeCarlo’s busy travel schedule, which hasn’t always been easy.  Selip and company also are still tinkering with the live cooking segment, which now looks like it will eventually happen twice a week.

Selip unconcerned with ratings for now, takes a cue from Oprah

And what about those all-important ratings for Windy City Live, which are certainly lower than what Winfrey was pulling in Chicago?  Selip appears not to be focused too intently on the numbers just yet.

But Selip was aware that a show earlier this week pulled one of the highest ratings the show has gotten so far.  What drew the viewers and kept them watching that day?  That show focused on the Hyde Park neighborhood on the city’s South Side and featured a lot of useful information.  “I think people like getting that kind of stuff from us,” said Selip.

Finally, it looks as if Selip might be taking at least one cue from the woman who used to dominate the hour Windy City Live now fills. The 50 or so people who sit in the WCL studio audience each day often have been leaving the show with a little goody — a memento of their visit.  Winfrey was known for showering her  audiences with gifts — sometimes eye-poppingly lavish ones.

Selip likes the gift idea too.  “It’s a way of saying ‘thank you’ to them for making the trip downtown to watch the show,” she added.

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