Production assistance sounds like providing prizes to show on the set, items to appear in the production, etc., not up-front capital investment to build sets, hire crew, etc. Please feel free to educate me if you have some references to how this works that I'm unaware of.
No, "Production Assistance" sounds like they provide assistance in the production itself, which is exactly what it usually refers to. I wish I could provide some documentation to back this up. but this is one of those things that the industry doesn't like to share, and tends to be a bit hush-hush about. (I know about it because of a friend who used to work for Tribune Broadcasting, which is one of the nation's leading syndicators).
Some of the ins and outs of it can be found in the Promotional Consideration Rule of the FCC (Sections 508/908)
. You might be able to find this online, though I just tried a quick search, and came up dry. (The FCC online document database and search engine really SUCKS!) I know a pdf of it is available somewhere online (or at least used to be) because I used to have a copy of it which I know I downloaded from a .gov website of some kind.
The kind of bundled advertising used by daytime broadcast shows often pays for most all of the production costs of a show, entirely up front. In the case of syndicated shows (and syndication is still very prevalent in daytime TV) this permits the producers of a show to sell their show to broadcasters at little or no cost, thereby assuring wide market coverage, not only for their show, but for the sponsors who paid for the bundled advertising within it. The bigger the market distribution, the more the bundled "Production Assistance ads" are worth. And because these ads are contained in the body of the program itself, it doesn't use up any of the usual ad breaks for local broadcasters to exploit.
I mean, you don't think that most of those syndicated daytime talk shows are on the air because they're all that popular, do you? They're on the air because they're dirt cheap to local broadcasters, and even though they don't command very good ad rate prices for a broadcaster to exploit, they're so cheap that those smaller ad rates often generate much higher overall profits for the broadcasters than the pricey syndicated reruns of more popular network shows like "Friends" or "Everybody Loves Raymond". Heck, even older syndicated mainstays like "Afl" and "Facts of Life" are still pretty expensive compared to ultra inexpensive fare like "Judge Joe Brown" and "The Wendy Williams Show".