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Decision 2012:The Race Heats Up

And they're off. When B&C broke the news last week that CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric had enlisted former Fox and NBC executive Ed Wilson to help formulate a possible syndication plan and former daytime star Ricki Lake was shopping shows to distributors, it signaled that the race for 2012 was officially on. While neither project is a done deal, the fact that both potential daytime hosts are making the rounds indicates that things are heating up for what will debut just 18 months from now.

“I’d use the analogy of the 2012 presidential race,” says Bill Carroll, VP of programming for Katz Television Group. “There are a number of people considering running, but they have to put out the word to get feedback to decide whether it makes sense. Has the race officially started? No. But has it unofficially started, with everyone commenting on these candidates’ possibilities? Yes.”

There’s been a lot of talk about fall 2011 because that’s when Oprah Winfrey will wrap her syndicated show. Instead of creating a huge infl ux of talent, though, only Warner Bros. brought out a big name in Anderson Cooper.

But Oprah’s departure to full-time cable executress did allow some syndicators to upgrade shows, such as Warner Bros.’ Ellen and Sony’s Dr. Oz, to better time slots, while most of the ABC stations, where CBS Television Distribution’s Oprah has aired since its launch, elected to expand newscasts or launch local programs. Instead of opening up new real estate, Oprah’s departure has created syndication musical chairs.

In the long term, however, there’s a real need for syndications and stations to take some big shots in daytime. Couric, especially, could be that shot. After her 15 successful years on NBC’s Today, Couric is a proven daytime commodity, but stations will have to step up with significant cash to make that show work. “Katie reeks of news lead-in,” says one syndication executive. “That’s good. That brings the money.”

Several syndicators —including CBS and NBC Universal— are interested in getting into business with Couric because “there’s nothing else out there that could be that sort of gamechanger,” says the executive.

Meanwhile, after nearly 11 years of hosting daytime talk, Lake is also a known commodity, for better or worse. When Lake exited her show in 2004, it had fallen to last place among talkers with a 1.3 average household rating. That gives stations an indication of what performance to expect from any new Lake vehicle, although a reboot could bring new viewers.

Sources say that while NBCU, CTD and Twentieth Television are interested in Lake, Couric’s fate must first be determined before distributors will decide whether or not to take on Ricki.

TV stations’ plans for 2011 are mostly firm, but there a few shows that won’t be on the airwaves come fall. CBS Television Distribution’s The Lawyers—pitched and produced by The Doctors’ executive producer, Jay McGraw —is not going forward for September. And both of Twentieth’s game shows—Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? and Don’t Forget the Lyrics—are going off the air. My Network TV will replace both of those programs, which air on MyNet in primetime on Tuesdays, with other acquisitions to be announced later.

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