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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, September 4, 2002

New TV talk-show hosts hope to beat odds

By Gary Levin
USA Today

Is it any wonder TV executives are wistful about the long-shot chance of having ex-President Bill Clinton host a daytime talk show?

Not since Rosie O'Donnell hit the scene in June 1996 has a new talk show emerged as a hit. Instead, amid the ebbs and flows of court and dating series, the daytime scene has seen failures, from "Dr. Laura" and "Roseanne" to "Martin Short" and "Queen Latifah."

The latest to go bust: last season's newcomers "Iyanla" and "Ananda Lewis," along with the long-running "Sally Jessy Raphael" and Rosie, who quit her show in May.

The problem is twofold: Audiences seem to be tiring of the circuses spawned by the "Jerry Springer Show," where ratings have declined dramatically since its heyday. And cable channels appealing to women, such as the Food Network, Home & Garden Television and Learning Channel, have chipped away at declining daytime audiences with shows about decorating, parenting and cooking.

"How can I do the same topic with a different host? That's what daytime talk has become," says Paramount's Greg Meidel, who is introducing a show built around Oprah's advice dispenser, Dr. Phil McGraw.

Other new shows, all due in the next few weeks: celebrity chatfests hosted by stand-up comedian Caroline Rhea and improv performer Wayne Brady — both hoping to inherit Rosie's mantle — and issue-oriented talkers with John Walsh ("America's Most Wanted") and Rob Nelson, a former political activist and host of a Fox News Channel program.

"There's a reasonable assumption that if five new shows are premiering, the odds are against more than one of those being a success," says syndication expert Bill Carroll of Katz Television Group.

But far more important than scheduling or format — mostly limited to celebrity chat or Springer-style antics — is their hosts' appeal.

"You can do whatever you want as a new thing, a new format, but if they don't like you, they're not going to watch you," Brady says.

If they don't, syndicators are making unusually early replacement plans for next fall.

They say it's part of a calculated plan to establish a successor for Winfrey.

She says she's calling it quits in 2005 and will cut back to only 20 weeks a year starting next September.

The 2003 crop includes talkers headed by Ellen DeGeneres and Sarah Ferguson, and "Living It Up!" a new talk show with Jack Ford and Alexandra Wentworth.

And don't forget the former president, who is being pushed by producer pals to CBS' King World.

Who knows? He could be the next Oprah.