In a world where ABC has "The View," Fox has "The Real" and CBS has "The Talk," black-owned cable network TV One and several local broadcast stations such as WATL-TV are entering this crowded field starting Monday Sept. 11 at 9 a.m. The biggest differences from its rivals: it's based in Atlanta, featuring four local black women and a male DJ.
[UPDATE on Friday, September 8: The show's launch date has been pushed back a week because of Hurricane Irma to September 18.]
Nielsen research shows African-American women watch plenty of daytime TV, drawn to shows such as "The Wendy Williams Show" and Steve Harvey's talk show. TV One and broadcast company Tegna think there is still room for a show about pop culture, lifestyle and sometimes serious discussions important to black women.
"Sister Circle" is guaranteed 50 weeks of production, five days a week, over the next 12 months, featuring a reality star (Quad Webb-Lunceford of Bravo's "Married to Medicine), a comedienne (
), a former radio and TV host (Rashan Ali) and an R&B star (Syleena Johnson.)
Swenson, a veteran broadcast news manager who was Channel 2 Action News legend Monica Pearson's producer in the early 1990s, said Tegna asked her last year to come up with a live show that could generate social media buzz. They came up with the idea of an all-black talk show and ultimately brought in TV One to broadcast it nationally.
Tegna, which is shooting the program at 11Alive headquarters off I-85 and Monroe Drive, has given the women five weeks to prep with mock shows so everyone could get comfortable going live, whether it's a cooking segment, a celebrity interview or a debate over the news that day.
On this particular morning, they had a producer stand in for nutrition expert Ian Smith to do a segment on banishing sugar from one's diet. (Smith himself is set to appear on the show during its first week.) Ali told the story about how she and her husband hooked up. Johnson and Webb-Lunceford disagreed over whether the lead in the recent "Wonder Woman" film was too docile.
"All of the ladies have a spiritual center about them," Swenson said. "I feel like that this was a divine power that brought us all together. This show is not only going to be fun and entertaining but it will provoke thought. It will be relevant and relatable not just to women of color but all women." (She interviewed 150 women before picking these four, plus DJ Q to provide a male perspective.)
She also wants to ensure the show is not conflict driven, even if the cast members disagree over topics. "This is how inclusive, not exclusive," she said. "It celebrates differences."
Thanks to her extensive radio background working at V-103, Hot 107.9 and Streetz 94.5, Ali is used to going live and during the test show did most of the introductions. "She has the most experience" with this type of programming, said Dancie, an emcee at Atlanta Comedy Theater in Norcross. "She's training us, leading the way."
For Ali, "this opportunity is truly a dream come true... We're ready for the big day!"
Webb-Lunceford, who has just finished shooting the fifth season of "Married to Medicine," said she hopes this program will "show me in a different light outside of being a reality show star."
Johnson, who has been a singer her entire career and starred in TV One's "R&B Divas," sees the talk show route as a new progression for her. She found doing that being on that particular reality show was anxiety producing and didn't necessarily boost her music career. This type of show, she said, is more uplifting.
"We are really trying to transcend race," she said. "It being an all-African American show is the statement. However, the purpose of that statement is to tie us together race wise. We want to let people know we're not so different just because of our skin color or our beliefs. We're going to talk about some uncomfortable things so we can be comfortable with being uncomfortable."
During the test show, Webb-Lunceford noted how she modified her name in the early 2000s to sound more "white" so she could better solidify her shot at getting a job. DJ Q said the time is now to stop kow-towing to white prejudices and embrace black names. "We can't denounce our heritage," he said. "We have been tap-dancing with the mainstream. It ain't getting us nowhere!"
Webb-Lunceford took no umbrage. She said perhaps today, white people are more comfortable with black-sounding names. "Now might be the time we stand for who we are," she said.
Moments after the test show ended, Johnson looked pleased.
"I thought today was the most evolved," she said. "We really had fun today!"
"Everybody's energy was up today," added Swenson, the producer.
Quentin Latham, who goes by DJ Q on the show and the Funky Dineva on social media, said he is more than ready to go live. "Given the political climate, the racial climate, a show like 'Sister Circle' could not come at a better time."
Atlanta is now home to three daytime shows: "Lauren Lake's Paternity Court," the new "Couples Court With the Cutlers" and now this show.
"Sister Circle Live," 9 a.m.-10 a.m. starting Monday, September 11 on TV One nationally and WATL-TV 36 locally