Much of the attention at the start of the syndication season has been focused on the newcomers, but many talk vets have returned with solid starts. And a few-Warner Bros.' Ellen, NBCUniversal's Steve Harvey and Debmar-Mercury's Wendy Williams- have opened their seasons with strong growth.
Steve Harvey, in season two, is averaging a 1.6 live-plus-sameday rating in households, according to Nielsen, up 23% from its premiere last September. Harvey also is up 11% among daytime's key demo of women 25-54, to a 1.0. Those numbers are on par with what the show was doing last May.
Warner Bros.' Ellen also is on the rise, jumping 18% in households this September over last to a 2.6 and 6% among women 25-54 to a 1.8, to lead the talk shows in that key demo. Ellen airs after Steve Harvey on most of the NBC-owned TV stations in the top markets. As a result of that improvement, plus a strong fall open for NBC's primetime, the NBC owned stations are seeing some ratings upticks. For example, on WNBC New York at 4 p.m., Ellen is up 14% in households to a 2.4 from a 2.1.
Why This MattersEven though it's early in the season, stations are thinking about their daytime programming needs for 2014 and beyond.
"Despite the changes in viewing behavior, audience flow from one show to another is still important," says Valari Staab, president of the NBCUniversal Owned Television Stations. "Improving our daytime lineup has raised viewing in our evening news and introduced new viewers to our stations....We look forward to Meredith Vieira further strengthening that lineup next fall."
NBC has bought Vieira's new talk show for fall 2014; sources say NBCU Domestic Television Distribution has quietly been making progress selling the show to other station groups, with more announcements forthcoming.
Meanwhile, Wendy Williams, which airs on Fox-owned stations in morning time slots in top markets, is up 30% in households since last September to a 1.3 and up 25% among women 25-54 to a 1.0, tying Steve Harvey and beating Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution's sophomore talker, Katie.
Katie continues to absorb much of the industry's attention-although not, apparently, that of viewers. The show returned flat year-to-year at a 1.9 in households, good for sixth place among talk shows but off 18% among women 25-54 at a 0.9, below both Steve and Wendy.
While reports have indicated Disney-ABC is talking with stations about renewals, station sources say they are not interested, especially at current license fees and in current afternoon time slots. Sources say Katie could be renewed if Couric is willing to take a salary cut-much like Dr. Phil McGraw did when his show was endangered in 2009-and if Disney-ABC is willing to allow stations to run the show in morning time periods, but those are two big ifs.
"The sales team is currently having conversations with our station partners," says a Disney-ABC representative. "The viewer response has been great, and we've been very pleased with the creative changes and direction that Katie and [executive producer] Rachel [Miskowiec] have made this season."
Meanwhile, development is picking up for next year. Telepictures, Warner Bros.' first-run development arm, is shopping a crime-based magazine show starring former Dateline anchor Chris Hansen. Tribune and other groups are considering picking that show up for access time slots, according to sources.
Debmar-Mercury and Scripps are partnering to develop a panel talk show starring Star Jones that also will focus on crime. A pilot has been shot, but it's still early in the development process and neither Debmar nor Scripps has committed to the program as of now.
Fox is expected to pick up Warner Bros.' panel talker The Real, after its successful test run this summer. Kris Jenner, which Fox also tested this summer, is a less likely candidate for pickup, but sources say it is not altogether out of the mix.