CBS looks for help
With NATPE looming large, network's stations need some afternoon syndication winners to boost local news
By Susanne Ault -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/31/2000 7:00:00 PM
Slowly but surely, fall 2001's syndicated offerings are landing on stations' lineups, with not a moment to spare: NATPE is right around the corner.
Several ABC O&O's are in business with Iyanla. NBC, Gannett and Hearst-Argyle have hooked up with The Other Half. But all is quiet on the CBS station front. And among the major groups this is one that really needs a new hit program. True, the Fox O&O's haven't acquired fresh syndicated series either. But its main content generator, Twentieth Television, has delivered back-to-back successes in Divorce Court and 2000's Power of Attorney.
As for CBS, it has struggled with a series of low-rated daytime show- Howie Mandel, Dr. Joy Browne and now Dr. Laura. Positioned as lead-ins to the CBS O&O's local newscasts (programming that typically generates the biggest revenues for stations), CBS had faith in all of them. It proved misplaced.
"Right now in access with Entertainment Tonight and Hollywood Squares in the majority of our markets, we feel good. It provides a very good lead-in to our network programming," says John Moczulski, CBS Television Stations' programming chief. "Now if we can just get that same kind of launchpad leading into our newscasts."
K CBS-TV Los Angeles has fattened its afternoon viewing base with this season's acquisition of Judge Judy from the city's independent KCAL . Judge Judy's typical 3.0 household rating-according to Nielsen Media Research-at 4 p.m. "is certainly up from where we were a year ago (with locally produced newscast Women to Women). "The trick," says Moczulski, "is to now get our audience to sample what we have at 3 p.m."
For the afternoon in other markets, Moczulski confirms that he is considering Paramount's Caroline, a new talk show featuring comedienne Caroline Rhea, even though that studio was the source of two of its recent flops, Dr. Laura and Howie Mandel. "Our relationship is not strained," insists Moczulski.
Indeed, it will be hard for CBS to ignore Caroline, since Paramount has the same corporate parent, Viacom. For the same reason, CBS will also likely consider Ananda, which is being shopped by another Viacom syndicator, King World. But Ananda has already nabbed spots on many top-market Tribune-owned stations.
Even with the pressures that come with being part of a vertically integrated operation, CBS "is in the business of putting good shows on the air, regardless of where they come from," Moczulski maintains.
CBS should make its final decisions, which potentially include picking up a new weekend action hour, before NATPE, the industry's syndicated programming marketplace in Las Vegas later this month.
But before making room for new shows, Moczulski says he first has to get a good read on the performances of his current syndicated series.
Less than a month ago, King World's Curtis Court was moved into the afternoon daypart on CBS stations in Chicago and Los Angeles, to fill Dr. Laura's place when she was shifted to 2 a.m.
"We made the move with Dr. Laura fairly late in the season, so it's hard to get a good snapshot of what [Curtis Court] can do," explains Moczulski.
And in the long view, Moczulski muses, maybe things weren't so bad. The Olympics, baseball play-offs and extended presidential election affected CBS' fall programming strategies. MSNBC, Fox News and CNN lured afternoon broadcast viewers and "threw everyone off in early fringe. It didn't just happen with Dr. Laura- the whole season gets an asterisk because no one's getting watched," he claims.
Nonetheless, CBS truly needs help in the afternoons.
On WBBM-TV Chicago, airing back-to-back at 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., CurtisCourt averaged a 1.1 rating/3 share for the period Nov. 13-30. That's a 45% fall-off from the time period's year-ago 2.0/6 marks with Martha Stewart and Joy Browne .
As for KCBS-TV Los Angeles, Curtis Court (double-run at 3 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.) posted a 0.9/2, 59% below what Price Is Right (2.2/7) achieved in the same time last year.
Yet Janeen Bjork, a former Millenium sales and marketing executive turned independent TV programming consultant, agrees with Moczulski that current shows' fates won't be decided for a while.
"Instant hits, since 1986, are limited to Oprah, Arsenio and Rosie. We once disparaged anything that didn't hold both lead-in and time-period numbers as it debuted," says Bjork, noting a 90% failure rate for syndicated shows on all stations.
"But we've found that we had to be more forgiving or risk losing" a potential winner.
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