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Banking on Tyra

Young women showed interest, there's plenty of America's Top Model crossover, and Tyra's breasts are real. These are the key takeaways from the first two weeks of Tele­pictures' The Tyra Banks Show.

While the show is not producing eye-catching household ratings, it trended up after its first week (from a 1.3 rating/4 share to a 1.6/5), and show execs are encouraged by Tyra's 9 share in the women 18-34 demo. While Telepictures execs believe it's too early to analyze the numbers, the show grew 78% from its debut to the middle of its second week in that target demo and was up 300% over year-ago time-period averages.

Tyra slogged through pre-launch pitfalls, including switching executive producers and redesigning the set. But Jim Paratore, president, Telepictures Productions, and executive VP, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, says that's the norm. “When Dr. Phil launched,” he says, “there couldn't have been worse reports running around town, and they made a hit show from the start.”

While the performance in target demos has been encouraging, there have been concerns on other fronts, including station general managers who claim the show is different from what they were told it would be.

“I'm concerned with the look and the feel because I'm not sure it represents what they presented us originally,” says one station general manager, who asked not to be identified. “It was presented as more like Oprah and not just all about Tyra all the time. I'm hoping there will be a little more talk.”

Paratore responds that, while early episodes are focused on subjects Banks is familiar with so that she can establish a bond with the audience, they do not want the show to be “about her at the exclusion of the topic.”

Tyra has also been racy at times, such as a show focused on breasts, which included a discussion on whether Banks' are real (a sonogram showed they are), and another that featured a segment on sex toys. Paratore says two stations initially “had some questions” but were comfortable once they saw the actual show. “We really didn't have any problems,” he says, “because she handled it responsibly and it wasn't done in some gratuitous fashion.”

As for Banks, there were many who questioned whether she would make a successful transition to talk-show host. Those included Maury Povich, who told B&C a few weeks back, “Walking down the runway is one thing; hosting an hour-long talk show is another.”

Once upon a time, that group even included Paratore. “A lot of people have underestimated Tyra because she was a model,” he says. “I was one of those people.”

One weapon the show has in its arsenal is cross-promotion with the UPN program Banks hosts, America's Top Model; both Telepictures and UPN wasted no time in playing that angle up. Similar to the synergy between Martha Stewart's syndicated show and her Apprentice series, the symbiosis began on Tuesday night, Sept. 20, when Banks' syndicated show was featured on UPN's America's Next Top Model: Return to the Runway special. The following day, Tyra held a Top Model reunion.

Paratore says there hasn't been backlash from non-UPN stations carrying the syndicated show. “Top Model isn't being promoted on Tyra's show because it's her show; it's being promoted because it's a hit,” he insists. “Maybe if the show weren't a hit and we were doing it, people would be more concerned.”

Paratore adds that Tyra will continue to follow the storylines of America's Top Model. “Tyra sort of redefined the UPN network over the last couple of years,” he says. “So with that audience already circulating, it was a built-in plus when we launched the show.”