Talking Up a Storm

Syndication development is talk show-heavy, so the battle is on for time slots—and viewers

Some syndicators are already worried there are too many talk shows on television, and that’s even before next year rolls around, when a bunch more are seemingly on the way.

So that means distributors are throwing lots of elbows when it comes to talking about talk as they head into the marketplace to battle for top time slots.

A quick look around the dial shows it’s true that networks and syndicators are almost exclusively turning to talk programs to fill out their daytime lineups.

In the past year, two networks have replaced three soap operas with talk shows: CBS exchanged As the World Turns for The Talk (and Guiding Light for Let’s Make a Deal, the one swap that did not involve a talk show), while ABC replaced All My Children with The Chew and will swap One Life to Live for The Revolution next January.

Come next fall, the ABC owned stations have committed to Katie Couric’s new talker, Katie, at 3 p.m., and ABC is giving back an hour of time to its owned stations and affiliates to accommodate the move. That could mean the demise of ABC’s last remaining soap opera, General Hospital.

“These shows are not replacing other talk shows. These are in addition to what’s currently on the air,” says one syndicator. “And all you have in development is talk. That will affect everybody’s ratings. Time periods in which four talk shows are vying against each other will not fare well.”

Next year’s syndication development slate thus far is filled with nothing but talk: Katie, NBCU’s Steve Harvey and Trisha Goddard, Twentieth’s Ricki Lake, CBS Television Distribution’s Jeff Probst, and Warner Bros.’ Bethenny Frankel.

Some syndicators could still add shows in other genres to the mix, but all the talk certainly indicates where producers’ minds are at right now. And some syndicators worry that the coming talk glut will hurt the overall marketplace, much like programming too many court shows a few years back depressed court ratings.

Another concern is that replacing soaps with talk will degrade ratings in formerly solid time periods, even though the new talk shows are being produced for much less than the soaps were.

For example, in The Chew’s first week, ratings for the time period declined by 14%, from All My Children’s 2.1 rating/7 share among households in the weighted metered markets to a 1.8/6 this year, according to Nielsen Media Research. The Chew also dropped 33% from its 2.7/9 lead-in. All that said, after just a week it is far too early to conclude The Chew’s fate, and ABC is expected to stick with it for at least a season.

When ABC premieres The Revolution in January, there are concerns that the time period could see similar declines. Significant ratings erosion in just a few time periods can hurt an entire station, and eventually news and primetime, as the NBC owned stations have experienced over the last several years. The ABC owned stations have been the country’s strongest for decades, with unchanging lineups that included soaps, Oprah Winfrey and Live! With Regis and Kelly. Now all of those shows are departing— or significantly changing, in the case of Live!—leaving the ABC stations vulnerable.

However, other syndicators are not so gloomy, pointing out that today’s talk comes in all sorts of flavors—informational, such as Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz (both of which are benefiting from the departure of their matriarch, Oprah, with nearly 30% increases in their year-to-year ratings); lifestyle such as Rachael Ray, Nate Berkus and The Chew; panel-driven, such as The View and The Talk; conflict, such as Maury, Jerry Springer, Steve Wilkos and now Bill Cunningham; and girlfriend, which is what Oprah once was and what shows such as Bethenny Frankel and Ricki Lake hope to be.

Still, the battle for slots is already intense. It’s early yet, but if Warner Bros.’ Anderson stays on its current track, the show is likely to be renewed and upgraded for a second season. Tribune also would like to keep Bill Cunningham on its air, occupying one of that group’s coveted slots. NBCUniversal is expected to announce that it’s picked up Steve Harvey any day now, leaving CTD, Warner Bros. and Twentieth in the market fighting hard for slots for Jeff Probst, Bethenny Frankel and Ricki Lake, respectively.

“People are going to talk because it’s relatively inexpensive, to a degree it’s repeatable, and if you get a strong personality, talk shows have the potential to break out,” says Bill Carroll, VP of programming for Katz Media Group. “And all talk is not the same. To say there’s too much talk is to not differentiate between the types of talk.”

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