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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