Robin Roberts has been key to elevating Good Morning
America ahead of Today, and keeping it there. But does the a.m.
anchor have the star power to make her own daytime show fly? That's what execs
in the station and syndication community have been buzzing about in recent days
since word spread quietly that Disney/ABC might consider a Roberts-led
syndicated talk show as one of the next possible GMA spinoff projects,
according to multiple sources.
ABC News has made no secret of its desire to elevate its GMA
franchise further. But in a statement to B&C, Roberts said a new
show for her is not on the table: "No one is developing any show for me nor are
discussions being had to that effect. I am 100% focused on my health and
anchoring GMA, now and in the future."
One of the several potential stumbling blocks to such a new
talk show would be finding a time slot for it on ABC-owned stations and
stations in other markets. The most natural place for a Roberts vehicle is at 3
p.m., where Katie Couric's Disney/ABC talk show currently airs on ABC O&Os
and on many ABC affiliates that took ABC's offer to take back the hour of time
from the network in order to carry the syndicated Katie.
The buzz about Roberts comes amid ratings woes for Couric's
daytime show, which debuted in fall 2012 under a two-year deal. If the show
doesn't come back after its current deal expires, that slot could open up at 3
p.m. in fall 2014. "No one is talking about renewals," said one
station general manager who asked not to be named.
Other new talk vehicles, of course, are also being readied
to jump into any plum time slots that may open up. This fall, Sony Pictures TV
is launching its Queen Latifah-led talk show and Warner Bros. will launch its
Bethenny Frankel talker; Twentieth Television plans to test a Kris Jenner talk show this summer and NBCUniversal shot its pilot with Meredith Vieira last
week in New York.
However, few media personalities are enjoying such sky-high
esteem these days as Roberts, who has very publicly battled myelodysplastic
syndrome after beating cancer five years ago. She received a sustained standing
ovation at the Peabody Awards lunch in New York May 20, and recently announced
she will pen a memoir. Although Oprah Winfreynumbers exist in a
different era, insiders see Roberts in a similar vein as Winfrey -- a big,
relatable personality leading in to early evening news.
While Roberts' stock is high, some point to the overall
strength of the GMA franchise and how well it has continued to perform
during periods when her role was minimized in the last year as she tended to
her health; insiders see various scenarios involving strategic, shared use of
Roberts' time as potentially successful. "The general feeling is that
GMA seems to do well even when she's
not there," said a veteran ABC affiliate GM. "No spike, no dip -- the
brand is strong."
Sources also note that giving Roberts a daytime slot is
nothing more than an idea -- numbers crunchers perhaps crunching the numbers on
sets and contracts and studios -- and that other names are also being floated
as possible daytime hosts.
Prices Don't Always Add Up
While Katie was an expensive show to clear across the
board, it was especially pricey for the ABC Owned Stations, which paid far
higher license fees for the show -- in effect, subsidizing it -- than their
affiliate counterparts. The show at 3 p.m. is underperforming its time periods
and thus hurting stations' news lead-ins.
In the most recent two weeks of ratings, May 13-24, Katie
averaged a 1.6 rating/5 share weighted metered market primary-run average in
households, according to Nielsen Media Research, down 30% and 24%,
respectively, compared to both the show's year-ago time periods (2.3/7) and
This season's other top rookie, NBCUniversal's Steve
Harvey, also averaged a 1.6/5 for the same time period in the weighted
metered markets, but Harvey debuted in much weaker time periods. Last
year, those time periods averaged a 1.1/3, which Steve Harvey is
improving by 45%. Compared to its lead-in, Steve Harvey is up 23%.
NBCUniversal has upgraded and renewed Steve Harvey in multiple-year
By all accounts, Disney/ABC would be wise to have some
programming options in place should Katie not go forward beyond its
current deal. However, Katie looks assured of running through its
contracted second season, as pulling it prior to that would leave stations with
a hole in their daytime schedule for 2013-14. Station partners like Couric and
speak well of the program, but with the May sweeps wrapping up, the ratings are
a drain. Even in her hometown market of Washington, D.C., it has
underperformed. "She's a great person and I think it's improving, but it's
certainly not Oprah numbers," says Bill Lord, WJLA Washington vice
president and general manager.
Of course, nothing in daytime hits Oprah numbers, and
some hosts, including Jeff Probst and Ricki Lake, did not make it to season
two. "Katie's not lived up to expectations," says a consultant
who asked not to be named. "But what does anymore?"
Melissa Grego contributed to this story.