Who Can Replace 'Jane'?

'Martha' waits in the wings

The recent cancellation of The Jane Pauley Show leaves 222 stations with an hour to fill next season. Few are sweating the loss. Although NBC Universal had sold it for two full seasons, the low-rated freshman program had failed to catch on.

This season, it averaged a 0.7 rating among women 18-49 through March 6, ranking 122nd among 187 syndicated shows tracked by Nielsen.

Pauley's loss is Martha's gain. The Martha Stewart Show, a one-hour daily lifestyles program NBC Universal is producing with Martha Stewart and Mark Burnett, was announced in December. “For the majority of stations, Martha Stewart is likely to be the replacement for Jane Pauley,” says Bill Carroll, VP/director of programming for Katz TV.

NBC Universal made it easy for some stations to switch. If Pauley wasn't cancelled, they could drop The Martha Stewart Show agreement.

Hearst-Argyle Television's WESH Orlando, Fla., took advantage of the offer, says station GM William Bauman. When he agreed to take Martha Stewart, he had already downgraded Jane Pauley from a 4 p.m. slot, where she was up against The Oprah Winfrey Show, to 11 a.m. Now he has The Ellen DeGeneres Show up against Oprah at 4 p.m. “Ellen is competing strongly in the period,” says Bauman. Stewart will replace Pauley at 11 a.m.

WESH is one of 11 Hearst-Argyle stations that currently airs Jane Pauley. A likely replacement at the other 10 is either Ellen or Starting Over, two shows that have performed well for the group, says VP of Programming Emerson Coleman. That is provided Starting Over returns next season. NBC Universal spokesman Joe Schlosser says his company is likely to renew the show for a third season, although it's still not a done deal.

The 14 NBC-owned stations that carry Pauley haven't decided what they'll run in its place, says group spokeswoman Liz Fischer. Although Martha Stewart seems to be a likely candidate, Fischer says, no decision has been made.

There are more than five months to go before the start of next season, and stations have many options. They can choose to double-run strong syndicated shows or go with off-net material, such as The Nanny and Mad About You, which Sony is selling for next season. There is also a chance The Robin Quivers Show or another new first-run program could be cleared at the last minute.

“This has been a very strange year in terms of launches,” says Carroll. “There is the possibility something new may surface between now and September.”