So Happy Together

Viacom adds Dr. Phil to CBS stable

In true King World fashion, the syndicator is getting top dollar for its Dr. Phil renewal deal, commanding 50% increases for the talk-show hit through the 2008-09 season. Station insiders peg the deal at $100,000 per week, double what some stations currently pay.

Seven Viacom O&Os outbid their NBC rivals to begin carrying the self-help show in fall 2006. CBS outlets in Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, along with UPN affiliates in Sacramento, Calif., and Norfolk, Va., have signed on. Another King World demand: upgrade Phil's time slot to prime access.

“I'm thrilled,” says King World CEO Roger King. “We've never sold a show this quickly.” He added that he “substantially” hiked its price tag but was mum on specifics.

“NBC had first crack at it,” he says. “They didn't want to pay a big increase.” Viacom Station Group President Fred Reynolds did. Because others outbid him when Dr. Phil first launched, Reynolds was determined to seal the deal this time.

One major reason: Dr. Phil has been a quick riser. It pulled a 4.6 average rating as a freshman, then 4.9 last year. So far this season, it's the No. 4 first-run syndicated show, with an average rating of 5.2. It's behind Wheel of Fortune, with 8.6 rating; Jeopardy! at 8.1; and The Oprah Winfrey Show, at 7.7.

The new deal also signals an upgrade for Dr. Phil, the No. 2 syndicated talk show after Oprah. In Detroit, it moves from 3 to 7 p.m., replacing Paramount's The Insider; in Miami, Dr. Phil replaces local news at 5 p.m.

Dr. Phil is currently seen on 207 stations nationwide. Its most-watched show to date was on Nov. 11, when almost 10 million households tuned in to help him help a married couple cope with the husband's affair.

Unlike Dr. Phil, the Oprah renewal played out differently. Reynolds says he heard it was up for renewal when King World made the announcement, but the Viacom group didn't get a shot at it. “That's the beauty of how all this works at Viacom,” he says. “The highest bidder wins.”

This round, the highest bidder is benefiting from Dr. Phil's expertise.

“It was proven and tested,” King says, adding that Dr. Phil has learned how to keep the show compelling for audiences. “You have a big staff, and you're constantly listening to your audience,” King says. “The audience is the boss. Not me. Not Phil. You listen to them.”