Conflicting Stories

While much of daytime is down in viewers, some talk shows are bucking the trend

Daytime's ratings story in the past few years may have often been about declines, but a few shows are fighting back. Most of those shows are talkers, which comprise syndication’s strongest genre. For instance, NBC Universal’s trio of conflict talk shows—Maury, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos—are up 11%, 8% and 17% season-to-date, respectively, over last year. Viewers’ appetite for this type of show is why Debmar-Mercury is importing the inyour- face Jeremy Kyle from England.

“The conflict talk audience is super loyal,” says Tracie Wilson, a senior VP of programming and development at NBCU. “All three shows have die-hard fans who tune in multiple times a week.”

Tribune Broadcasting, which serves as the three shows’ main station group, has paid particular attention to them as it tries to improve its daytime and its stations overall.

“Our creative service teams have stepped up, and we do not underestimate the power of the visual experience we’ve created on all of our stations,” says Sean Compton, Tribune Broadcasting president of programming and entertainment. “And we’ve done a better job of scheduling all of these shows. We work very hard to make sure we are maximizing each show’s potential in the daypart.”

A show featuring far less conflict—save perhaps for the hostess’ bet with CNN’s Piers Morgan over who can book Michael Vick—is CBS Television Distribution’s Oprah, which is up 2% year-to-year.

On an upswing in recent weeks is CTD’s Dr. Phil, which has improved its ratings 30% over the past four weeks compared to this season’s first four weeks. That’s significant, because last October, Post-Newsweek pulled Dr. Phil off the air on KPRC Houston, citing declining ratings and tabloid content. And last spring, CTD renewed Dr. Phil for three more years at drastically reduced license fees.

But the show seems to have recaptured viewers’ attention, with episodes such as those that aired in January in which Dr. Phil ordered the golden-voiced, formerly homeless Ted Williams into rehab.

In the rest of first-run syndication, only one other show has showed year-to-year improvement, and that is Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud. New host Steve Harvey has driven the show up 30% this year to a season-to-date live plus sameday 1.7 household average, compared to last season’s 1.3. For the week ended Feb. 6, Feud hit a season-high 1.9. Harvey’s brand of humor has also garnered the show a strong Internet presence, with the show’s latest viral video clip on YouTube viewed by more than 5 million viewers, says executive producer Gaby Johnston.

“When’s the last time anyone saw a show that’s been on the air a really long time improve 30%? It doesn’t happen,” says Mort Marcus, copresident of Debmar-Mercury.

Family Feud
’s upswing means that come renewal time, stations may be paying more to upgrade the show to early fringe or access time periods. “What we’ve come to realize is that Steve Harvey has brought the humor to Feud, and now it’s as much a comedy as a game show,” says Ira Bernstein, Debmar-Mercury copresident. “Stations are recognizing that the show can compete with sitcoms and entertainment magazines. If that happens, both the cash license fees and the costper- thousands will go up.”

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