Daytime Gets Royal Treatment

England's royal family meets daytime talk in Universal's new show, Fergie, starring Sarah Ferguson, duchess of York.

"With this show, we are trying to present emotional stories, real stories of real people," says Steve Rosenberg, president of Universal Domestic Television. "We won't have celebrities in just for the sake of pitching their television show or their movie. It's really about making people feel good and empowering people.

"Sarah can break down those walls really quickly. When people meet her, they know she's royalty and they have no frame of reference to what that means. But Sarah has a unique ability to be famous and branded and in an elevated position, but still make you feel like she could be your best friend. She's been through the same things that a lot of us have been through."

Having a celebrity host gives a show's launch a huge boost, says Rosenberg. Ferguson's personal history and her job as spokesperson for Weight Watchers has helped get her name into the public conscious, he says.

Ferguson catapulted to fame in 1986 when she married England's Prince Andrew. Together, the couple had two daughters, Princess Beatrice, now 13, and Princess Eugenie, 12. The famous marriage ended in an equally famous divorce in 1995, but Ferguson has remained in the U.S. public eye through Weight Watchers, and appearances on NBC's Today Show. In the U.K., she already had her own talk show, called Sarah, Surviving Life, which aired on Britain's SkyOne Television.

So far, the show is cleared in about 20% of the country, with Universal hoping for a deal with the NBC owned-and-operated stations. NBC is the only group of network O&Os with a hole to fill in daytime talk, and the fate of several launches rests on the station group's decision.

"We are focusing on the NBC group deal. That will be the lead domino for us," Rosenberg says. "This is a more difficult market. As more and more product is produced in-house, you are going to see stations be more willing to commit to their own shows. And production is leveling off because of the reduced expectations for success. Shows are staying on the air because they are not doing that much worse than other shows."

Amy Rosenblum, who also executive produces Universal's Maury, will produce Fergie
in New York 33 weeks a year. Ferguson will commute between New York and England.