Want Ratings? Just Keep Talking

Airing new summer episodes keeps viewers tuning in
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Updated, Monday, July 28, 3:35 pm ET.

While several talk shows stay in original production in the summer, it’s something most syndicated strips don’t take advantage of, often at their peril.

Disney-ABC’s Live With Kelly and Michael, true to its name, remains live year-round; the result is a five-week summer winning streak over the usual talk leader, CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil. In the week ended July 13, Live, in all originals, beat Phil, in all repeats, with a 2.6 to a 2.5 live-plus-same-day-household- ratings average, according to Nielsen.

That’s also true in daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54, where Live also leads with a 1.4 compared to Phil’s 1.3. Originals don’t solve all problems, however: Both shows are down 12% and 7%, respectively, in the demo.

“We are beating shows that air in the afternoons when there’s a 25% higher level of [homes using television] and some shows are double-run and this show that’s at 9 a.m. is beating all these shows in overall ratings,” says Michael Gelman, Live’s executive producer. “To me, that’s the amazing long-term story with this show, but especially in the summer when our numbers continue to rise.”

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Another summer success story is Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams, which for the past two summers has stayed in original production almost through July, giving the show’s host and crew just seven weeks off before starting another season .

“You can’t get away with repeats because there are too many viewing options now,” says Lonnie Burstein, Debmar-Mercury executive VP of programming and production. “We see that when we are in repeats. If the economics worked, we might stay in original production even longer, but Wendy and the staff are running on fumes at this point.”

Wendy Williams started to show growth in December 2012 and has continued on that track ever since. In the week ended July 13, the show was up 15% in households over last year and up 10% among women 25-54. Moreover, the show climbed to fourth among all talk shows in that key demo with a 1.1, beating such competitors as Warner Bros.’ Ellen and Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz. Wendy Williams also has doubled its Facebook likes in the past year, growing from 1 million to 2 million.

“You can’t make a scientific conclusion [that social media success equals ratings success], but it’s a logical conclusion,” says Burstein. “I think all of those platforms feed on each other.”

Next season, Burstein expects more growth for Wendy because the show has scored key upgrades. It has exchanged its run on The CW 100+, which is essentially a server bank of TV stations housed in El Segundo, Calif., for actual TV stations, and it has upgrades in major markets including Charlotte, N.C.; Columbus, Ohio; and West Palm Beach, Fla.

On the other hand, remaining in originals doesn’t guarantee success. In that same July 13 week, Disney-ABC’s Katie, soon to wrap its run, aired five days of originals and still hovered around its series-low 1.3, a 28% drop since the same week last year. In the demo, it was even worse, with Katie falling off 44%.

Ellen also retreats into repeats in summer and suffers for it. The show fell to fourth place in households at a 1.8, behind Maury, and tied for fifth in the demo at a 0.9 with NBCU’s two Steves: Harvey and Wilkos. NBCU’s trio of conflict talkers—Maury, Wilkos and Jerry Springer—all stay in originals during the summer, and it’s been paying off for the first two.

And some shows are doing just fine with their standard summer production pattern. Steve Harvey has been airing repeats all summer while its hard-working host shoots Debmar- Mercury’s Family Feud and the show is averaging a 1.6 in households, up 33% compared to last year, the most of any talk show. The picture is similar in the demo, with Harvey up 28% year to year to a 0.9.

Updated, Monday, July 28, 3:35 pm ET.

While several talk shows stay in original production in the summer, it’s something most syndicated strips don’t take advantage of, often at their peril.

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