With Summer Originals,The Ratings Heat Is On

Talk tune-in better when shows produce new episodes

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The talk shows that can boast this summer’s steadiest ratings are those that have remained in original production: Disney/ABC Television’s Live! With Kelly and Michael, Disney/ABC’s Katie and Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams.

Why This Matters
With daytime talk among the toughest  genres in television,  syndicators are looking for any edge possible.

Typically strong shows—CTD’s Dr. Phil, Warner Bros.’ Ellen, NBCU’s Steve Harvey—have seen their ratings shrink as a result of repeats, although that’s typical in the summer.

Live!, which remains in originals 48 weeks of the year, is up 4% this summer to a 2.5 liveplus- same-day household average, according to Nielsen Media Research, compared to May, when it was averaging a 2.4. Katie—which produced 39 weeks of originals in its rookie season, five weeks more than the industry standard—is managing to hold steady May to July at a 1.7. Wendy Williams is up 8% in July to a 1.3, but up a huge 63% this July compared to last July, when the show was in repeats and turning in a 0.8 in households.

Meanwhile, Dr. Phil is down 10% from May to a 2.7 from a 3.0; Ellen has fallen 24% to a 1.9 from May’s 2.5; and Steve Harvey is off 20% since May to a 1.2 from a 1.5. Harvey, however, added one-tenth of a ratings point in the week ending July 21 to hit a 1.3 in a week of all-original episodes.

Rewards Vs. Realities

Those ratings trends beg the question: Will more talk shows stay in originals in the summertime in order to reap the ratings rewards?

The answer is probably not, although syndicators decide on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s a logistics question and an economics question,” says Bill Carroll, VP, programming, Katz Television Group. “If they are able to figure out the logistics and have some episodes to run in the summer, then I think we’ll see more of that. From an economics standpoint, I don’t think you are going to see many shows producing more weeks of programming, they’ll just be scheduled more strategically.”

Debmar-Mercury decided to keep Wendy Williams in original production through July because the show has been on a growth trend. Since December, the Wendy ratings have been inching up, and the syndicator credits some of that growth to extending the show’s opening monologue, “Hot Topics,” in which Williams spends 20 minutes or so riffing on the day’s pop culture news.

The downside of “Hot Topics,” however, is that it also makes the show so current that when the show heads into repeats, fans really feel it. Debmar-Mercury wanted to keep Wendy fresh throughout as much as the summer as possible to see if it could keep momentum until the season five premiere on Monday, Sept. 16.

“[Staying in originals has] paid off,” says Debmar-Mercury copresident Mort Marcus. “It’s brought more attention and more credibility to the show.”

It also has helped the Fox Television Stations, which own the show in top markets. Fox this summer is testing both Twentieth’s Kris Jenner and Warner Bros.’ The Real. Original episodes of Wendy Williams are leading into one or the other of those shows in many markets.

Says Marcus, “the stations are very happy that we are doing this.” Even so, the related expense doesn’t mean all syndicators will keep their talk shows in originals year-round.