Syndicators are increasingly hesitant about commiting to personality-driven talk shows for the coming year, and the ratings for this past sweeps indicate that backing off may be wise. That's because all nine veteran talkers are down from the same period last year, according to the national household ratings for the second week of November sweeps (the most recent numbers available).
The Oprah Winfrey Show led with a 7.1 rating but was down 14% on the year. Dr. Phil and Live With Regis and Kelly (5.3 and 3.5, respectively) were the only shows with just single-digit drops, each falling 5% on the year. The Martha Stewat Show, despite being the only talk show to see week-to-week improvement (up 7%) for the week ended Nov. 19, was off 17% from last year at a 1.5.
The rookie class isn't faring much better. Rachael Ray Show leads with a 2.1 average on the week, while Keith Ablow (1.1), Greg Behrendt (0.8) and Megan Mullally (0.8) are all praying for a second season.
Analysts and producers offer little explanation for the downturn. They referred to the glut of big-name shows possibly diluting audience, and some believed that the talk segment simply appeared to be in a down cycle.
The game-show category continues to grow, with Wheel of Fortune hitting a season-high 9.0 on the week, up 6% on the year. Jeopardy! also reached a season high, averaging a 7.2 and recording a 6% bump over last year. Who Wants To Be a Millionaire was up 3% on the year to a 3.3, while Family Feud was off 5% to a 1.8.
The magazine veterans showed mixed results on the week. Access Hollywood recorded a season-high 2.8, marking an 8% rise over last year. Entertainment Tonight held steady on the year at a 5.5, while there were year-to-year declines for Inside Edition (5% at a 3.5), The Insider (10% at a 2.7) and Extra (8% at a 2.3).
Geraldo at Large, in its first year of national ratings, rode heavy coverage of News Corp.'s O.J. Simpson project to record a series-best 1.7 average on the week.
Meanwhile, the entire court genre is down or flat year-over-year. Judge Judy held steady at a 4.8, Judge Joe Brown was off 6% at a 3.0, and People's Court was off 3% at a 2.8. Judge Mathis was flat on the year at a 2.6, and Divorce Court was off 19% at a 2.1. Judge Alex also hit a season high with a 2.1, although it was off 9% from the previous year, while Judge Hatchett was down 16% at a 1.6.
While syndicators continue to show interest in the court genre, the recent numbers aren't exactly encouraging.