Daytime Darwinism

It’s survival of the fittest for this season’s five new talk show hopefuls

After months of speculation and hype, the fall 2012 TV season is
finally here. And with it, the long-brewing
battle of the daytime talk shows, which sees
five new entrants facing off against each other
and the genre’s already established veterans.

It’s not quite a game of musical chairs, but a bit of daytime Darwinism
is in play, since it’s highly unlikely that all five newcomers will
survive to see fall 2013.

The run-up to this fall started in March 2011, when Twentieth
announced it was bringing Ricki Lake back to daytime talk. Three
months later, Katie Couric, who syndicators have long sought to seduce,
finally confirmed that she would leave CBS Evening News and
launch a daytime talk show at Disney-ABC Television.

CBS Television Distribution, after having decided to pass on Couric,
announced in June 2011 that it would give Survivor host Jeff
Probst a shot; in November 2011, CTD convinced the NBC Owned
Television Stations group to take a chance on Probst as well.

Steve Harvey, who previously tried to enter daytime with a live-totape
version of his nationally syndicated radio show, threw his fedora
in the ring a year ago, partnering with Endemol USA to produce and
NBCUniversal to distribute.

Finally, NBCUniversal is adding Australian and British talk-show
diva Trisha Goddard to its slate of conflict talkers, getting the show
cleared on upstart stations in big markets and hoping that the Maury
spinoff catches on stateside, something that Goddard’s compatriot,
fellow Brit Jeremy Kyle, has so far failed to do with his U.S. talker.

Twentieth is also taking a chance on a new entertainment hybrid show,
Dish Nation, which features radio DJs talking about news and pop culture
tidbits of the day. While Dish Nation is plenty talky, it will air mostly in
late-night time slots, competing against the likes of Warner Bros.’ TMZ.

After all of these months of hype, now comes the moment of truth:
Which of these shows will survive to see season two? The answer is hard
to predict, and each has its own factors by which to set expectations.

Katie has by far the strongest clearances and the best time slots. So
while that show has the best chance to succeed, it also faces the highest
expectations. That could work to the advantage of the rest of the pack,
all of which have to be considered underdogs compared to Katie.

Steve Harvey and Jeff Probst will launch on NBC’s owned stations in
top markets New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, so the fate of one could
weigh on the other. The two new shows also could affect the ratings—for
better or worse—of the show they lead in to, Warner Bros.’ Ellen.

Expectations are varied for Ricki Lake, which
is getting positive reviews for its creative efforts
but is cleared on a mixed bag of stations, with
Fox- and Tribune-owned stations in the largest
markets making up the show’s launch group.

Trisha Goddard is nearly unknown in the
United States, but she has two decades of broadcast
experience under her belt in Australia and
Britain. Trisha’s biggest hurdle is that, in the biggest
markets, it’s cleared on very small stations.

Meanwhile, all of these new entries have to
compete against the established field of veteran
talk shows, such as CTD’s Dr. Phil, entering its
11th season; Sony’s Dr. Oz, heading into its
fourth; and Ellen, which is celebrating season
10. And Disney-ABC’s Live! With Kelly could see
a big ratings bump this fall, the show’s 24th season
in national syndication, as it introduces Fox
NFL commentator Michael Strahan as Kelly Ripa’s new cohost.

Whatever ends up making it through daytime’s gauntlet, viewers
can’t complain that there’s nothing to watch. From Katie Couric’s versatility
to Steve Harvey’s humor to Ricki Lake’s relatability to Jeff Probst’s
sense of adventure and Trisha Goddard’s years of experience, all of this
year’s newcomers have something a little bit different to offer.

Katie Couric

Nobody will ever replace Oprah Winfrey, but Katie Couric is in
the best position to try. Besides inheriting Oprah’s actual time
slots on the stations that aired Oprah, Couric also possesses a breadth
of skills that lend themselves to all areas of daytime—from light style
segments to deeper interviews with hard news subjects.

“One of the exciting things for me about doing the show is I’m going
to be able to flex all my muscles,” Couric told reporters at this summer’s
gathering of the Television Critics Association in Los Angeles.

“I’ve been in television news, I’m sorry to say, for 33 years,” Couric
said. “And I think that I’ve done such a variety of stories through the
years. Some lighthearted stories, some fun stories, some celebrity-driven
stories. I pride myself on being able to use the right tone and the right
approach, and to be able to calibrate that approach depending on who
I’m interviewing or the topic that I’m dealing with on any given day.”

Katie premieres Sept. 10 with appearances from celebrities Jessica
Simpson and Sheryl Crow, both of whom have stories of recent struggles
to tell. Simpson will talk to Couric about recently becoming a mother
and battles with her weight, while Crow will address the diagnosis she
received of a benign brain tumor. “We’ll talk to women—celebrities or
otherwise—who have some kind of connection to starting over or starting
a big new chapter in their lives, just like Katie,” said Michael Bass,
who will coexecutive produce the show with Jeff Zucker.

Along those lines, Couric will talk to Aimee Copeland, the Georgia
graduate student who this summer lost parts of her limbs to a rare
flesh-eating disease.

“There aren’t a lot of places on daytime right now where those
kinds of [long-form] interviews are done,” Bass said. “That’s something
we feel is missing.”

But the show also will showcase Couric’s lighter side, with one episode
devoted to women’s (and some men’s) devotion to their hair, and
stories such as YOLO or “You Only Live Once,” which will feature Couric
and some lucky viewers crossing things off their bucket lists.

“We want to bring back that personality that everyone knew and
loved,” Bass said. “I honestly believe the audience has been missing
that Katie for the past seven years.”

Steve Harvey

If there was ever a time for Steve Harvey to take a stab at daytime
talk, that time is now. His syndicated game show, Debmar-Mercury’s
Family Feud, is about to go astronomical in the ratings, with upgrades to
better time slots about to hit across the country. Harvey’s book, Act Like a
, Think Like a Man, is a New York Times bestseller that was made into
a successful movie. And the host has a steady audience, thanks to his
nationally syndicated radio show and a strong online presence.

“It’s a platform that I have matured into,” said Harvey, whose self-titled
talk show premiered on Sept. 4, six days before most of the rest of the
pack. “My dream used to be to have a late-night show, but that’s not the
goal for me anymore. I used to want to talk edgy at night, but now it’s
not so much about making people laugh but to be more motivational.”

That’s not to say Harvey won’t be funny, because the recently retired
stand-up comedian doesn’t know how to be anything else.

“I’m funny a lot of times when I’m not even trying,” he said. “I’ll
get people laughing and then I’ll realize, wow, maybe I shouldn’t
have said that. Comedians—we don’t even know we are crossing the line until we go over there.”

Harvey plans to take on everything about relationships—with
spouses, children, friends, money, bosses, you name it. One of the
opening shows was slated to feature “the world’s worst dater,” who
earned that nickname after he started handing out post-date surveys
to women. Another episode looks at so-called “helicopter parents,”
and all of Harvey’s segments will be imbued with his unique humor.

“That’s what I think, God willing, will be the success of the show,”
Harvey said. “They are going to allow me to be me. My dad always
told me, ‘Dance with who brung you.’ When this television show
premieres, I’m going to do me. Hopefully that will be good enough.”

Ricki Lake

Most daytime viewers are already well familiar with Ricki Lake,
who hosted a popular, successful daytime talk show from 1993
to 2004. While that show had a good run, it was more along the lines of
Maury than Oprah. This time around, Lake wants to try a different tack.

“Our mission statement is, if women are talking about it, we’ll talk
about it,” said Lisa Kridos, executive producer of The Ricki Lake Show.
“When you meet Ricki, your experience is that she’s your girlfriend, she’s
accessible, she’s someone you want to sit down and talk with.”

Also premiering Sept. 10, Ricki’s early episodes feature a 41-year-old
virgin, a talk with moms about their most embarrassing secrets and the
serious story of a woman who became homeless after leaving the military,
where she did a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Lake and her team also have
been connecting with fans and gathering stories via social media, such
as Facebook, UStream and Twitter. “We’ll run the gamut,” Kridos said.

Jeff Probst

For Jeff Probst, launching a daytime talk show is as much an adventure
for him as traveling to Borneo to host a season of Survivor.

“In booking these shows, some of the best stories we’ve found are
when someone says yes to something,” said Amy Coleman, The Jeff
Show’s executive producer. “Everyone’s successes and joys start
with a moment when they said yes.”

“Saying yes” is a broad theme that will run through the show, including
an “ambush adventure” segment at the end of some episodes in which
the host sends someone off on a trip meant to shake up his or her life.

“Stepping outside of your comfort zone is something I believe is
worth doing,” Probst said. “When you get stagnant and you take the
same walk every day and you do the same things every day, your life
can get dull. Sometimes all it takes is one step in the other direction,
and you find this whole new world.”

Jeff Probst will take on several stories every episode because “we
want to be in line with the shorter attention span that a lot of the audience
has,” Probst said. “Much like [WBEZ Chicago’s] This American
does, we’ll take three [or more] interesting stories with a common
thread and take them through the top half of the show.”

Probst also will frequently ask regular guys to join him on the couch
to answer women’s questions about why they think and act like they do.

“If you are someone who is stuck in life in any way, I’ll use ‘tribal
council’ skills to find that out,” Probst said, “and then I’ll challenge
you to take a step outside and change your life up.”

Trisha Goddard

Trisha Goddard also may challenge guests to change up their lives,
but chances are the experienced host will be more in their faces
about it. “Trisha’s fearless approach has taken me by surprise,” said
Paul Faulhaber, who executive produces both Maury and Goddard’s
spinoff, Trisha, from NBCU’s production facility in Stamford, Conn.
“She has had all of these personal experiences in her own life, and
she’s not afraid to throw any of them out there for the benefit of her
guests. She has a lot of courage, and I haven’t seen that kind of courage
in many years when it comes to interviewing.”

Goddard, whose show premieres after everyone else’s, on Sept. 17,
is just doing what she does best on a new stage.

“I learned to ski in New Zealand and Australia,” she said. “Anyone
who skis knows that if you can ski on ice, you can ski anywhere. If you
can get people in Australia to talk to you, you can do it anywhere.”

Sticking with that metaphor, Goddard said getting Americans to
talk is like shushing down a blue groomer on a sunny day.

“In the States, people are good at being open, talking and articulating,”
she said. “You don’t have to be grammatically correct to be articulate. If
people are in pain, in a family context, people here can talk about it.”

Everything is in place—the development is done, the shows are in
production, and the promos are rolling full steam. Now it’s up to the
viewers. May the best show win.

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