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Catch a Star Rising

2/29/2004 07:00:00 PM Eastern

For a quick study of how a syndicated talk strip needs time to find its audience, look at The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
It's primed to pop in season two
with upgrades in two dozen markets. That's an impressive achievement in a genre littered with failures.

"In success, people come after you and offer better time periods on better stations for more money," says Jim Paratore, executive VP of Warner Bros. Domestic Television and president of Telepictures Productions. "You can tell the success of the show by the quality of the upgrades."

Next fall, Ellen
will move from many smaller stations to top-three affiliates, from late-nights to daytime, and from mornings to afternoons, when more people are home to watch TV.

At a 2.3, Ellen's national household rating isn't a home run, but the show has climbed steadily since premiering in September at a 1.4. Both Warner Bros.' rookies—Ellen
and The Sharon Osbourne Show—started out around 1.5. But Ellen
keeps improving, and Sharon
has called it quits.

This fall, Ellen
will get better time periods in Tampa, Orlando, and West Palm Beach, Fla.; St. Louis; Baltimore; Portland, Ore.; Cincinnati; Salt Lake City; Norfolk, Va.; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; and 17 other markets.

"This show was a hard sell in year one. We had to contend with Ellen's baggage from the past, there was resistance in the marketplace, and a lot of our competitors were bagging on it," Paratore says, referring to DeGeneres's 1997 revelation that she's a lesbian.

It's a non-issue now. She's a hit, says Katz Television Group VP Bill Carroll, because viewers are "able to directly relate to her."

Ellen
started out strong on its launch group, the NBC O&Os. It premiered last September with a 2.4 rating/7 share and progressed to a 3.2/9 this month, through Feb. 23. That's a 33% jump in rating, 29% in share.

Ellen
also is performing in the key daytime demographics. Example: The network is getting its best ratings in six years among women 25-53 in that time period. Other female demos are just as awesome.

"Ellen has said this is a job she'd like to do for the next 15 years," says Paratore. "We plan on holding her to that."

March