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
(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
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
’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
; panel-driven, such as The View and The
; 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
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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