'Katie' and 'Steve' Are the Talk,But Vets Dominate Chat Season

'Year of the Talk Show' produces more winners than losers

Updated Monday, May 6, 2013, 3 p.m. ET

The so-called "Year of the Talk Show" is nearing its close, and while year one was occasionally rough for rookies, it’s been a surprisingly strong season for the veterans.

Last fall, five syndicated talkers premiered—Disney/ ABC Televison’s Katie, NBCUniversal’s Steve Harvey, Twentieth’s Ricki Lake, CBS Television Distribution’s Jeff Probst and NBCU’s Trisha Goddard. Of those, three will return: Katie, Steve and Trisha. And of those three, only Katie and Steve are real contenders in the talk race.

Meanwhile, veterans enjoyed a strong season. CTD’s Dr. Phil secured its place as syndication’s top talker, averaging a 3.1 live-plus-same-day rating in households, according to Nielsen Media Research, and was steady compared to last year. Dr. Phil was also the leader among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54, with a 1.8 rating, up 6% from last year.

In second place, Disney/ABC Television’s Live! With Kelly and Michael defied TV odds. The show has seen growth all season long with its choice of former New York Giants star and current Fox NFL sportscaster Michael Strahan— a man who could not be less like his predecessor, Regis Philbin, although both have the gift of gab and warm sense of humor—as Kelly Ripa’s cohost. That move ended up revitalizing the show, and year-to-year Live! is steady in households and up 7% among women 25-54.

“Michael wasn’t the conventional choice, but that’s one of the things that makes him such a hit,” says Michael Gelman, executive producer of Live!, which last week was nominated for three Daytime Emmys, including outstanding entertainment talk show.

“You have to take your time with these choices, listen to your gut and don’t treat it like some corporate executive that you are replacing,” Gelman adds. “You’ve got an audience who tunes in five days a week and have been watching your show for years. You can’t take that for granted.”

Warner Bros.’ Ellen, which last week also was nominated as outstanding entertainment talk show, arguably turned in its best season yet in year 10. Headed into the May sweeps, Ellen was up 4% for the year to a 2.6 season-to-date household ratings average, and up 6% among women 25-54. “I think it was our best year yet creatively,” says Ed Glavin, one of Ellen’s executive producers, along with Mary Connelly and Andy Lassner. “This has been maybe our favorite year so far. Ellen just gets better and better at hosting the show.”

Host Ellen DeGeneres “is still enjoying doing the show as much today, if not more, than when she began,” adds Connelly. “She’s learned how to really have fun with this and pace herself.”

Finally, Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz had a tougher year in the ratings than its top-tier peers, with a 14% year-to-year drop in households and a 13% decline among women 25-54 to take fifth behind NBCU’s Maury and Live!, which are in a tie in that demo at a 1.6.

Oz closed out the year on a high note, with Daytime Emmy nominations for outstanding informational talk show and outstanding talk show host. That made Oz the only network or syndicated talk show to be nominated in both categories.

Among the rookies, Steve Harvey emerged as this year’s syndie star.

“The industry believes that the [rookie] talk winner was Steve Harvey,” says Bill Carroll, VP, director of programming, Katz Television Group. “The expectations for the show were met, and in many cases, exceeded.”

Steve Harvey, produced by Endemol USA, launched at a 1.2 live-plus-same-day household rating and has grown 25% to a 1.5 season-to-date (through April 14) average. Among daytime’s key demographic of women ages 25-54, Harvey is averaging a 1.0, tying Katie and up 18% from debut.

“Talk show launches are so hard, it’s like fighting a little war where you’re dodging bullets all the time,” says Alex Duda, Steve Harvey executive producer. “But Steve is so focused on what he does. And what you see on TV is what you get in real life. His common-sense advice combined with his sense of humor really resonates with people.”

Katie, meanwhile, is the rookie household leader, averaging a 1.9, which is flat compared to the show’s first two weeks last September. Among women 25-54, Katie is tied with Steve Harvey at a 1.0, down 5% since its premiere.

Last week, Harvey was nominated for two daytime Emmys as outstanding talk show host and outstanding game show host for Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud, which has been a ratings blockbuster this season.

NBCU already has secured upgrades for Steve Harvey in many markets across the country. That could result in ratings advances next season, but it also means the show will face stiffer competition against the likes of Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Katie, meanwhile, will remain in mostly 3 p.m. time slots across the country. Expectations for its performance should adjust accordingly.

“Right now, Katie is finding its way,” says Carroll. “How it does in the May book will be a real indicator of how much growth there’s been [since the show’s September debut], and of its ability to deliver new audiences to the show.”

Katie, which last week joined Dr. Oz and CTD’s The Doctors as daytime Emmy nominees for outstanding informational talk show, has had some success this year with big “gets,” such as Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, who had an online girlfriend who turned out to be a hoax; the widow of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, who passed away last year; and the cast of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Katie recently headed to Los Angeles to tape a week of shows for the May sweeps, with a range of celebs—from Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet to New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel to The Mindy Project’s Mindy Kaling—planning to stop by and chat and help the show keep delivering.

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA