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Does Rhea have a Rosie future?

Warner Bros. may be singing "Sweet Caroline" to TV stations currently carrying the departing Rosie O'Donnell Show. But some outlets might not hear the studio's pitch to replace Rosie with Caroline Rhea and keep the show going.

There's a lot of noise coming from other syndicators, who are making a grab for Rosie's
coveted time periods with the likes of Dr. Phil, Pyramid
and the strip versions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
and The Weakest Link.

In fact, it looks as if Warner Bros. has lost or is close to losing the Rosie
slots in the top-three markets. NBC's KNBC-TV Los Angeles may substitute The Weakest Link
for Rosie
at 3 p.m. when the show ends next year. In Chicago, NBC's WMAQ-TV is deciding between Weakest Link
(in double run) and Dr. Phil
as a Rosie
replacement, says a station source. And ABC's WABC-TV New York is likely to pick up Iyanla
for Rosie's
10 a.m. slot.

The NBC stations may favor Weakest Link
because it is being distributed by NBC Enterprises. Likewise, WABC-TV might be leaning toward Iyanla
because it is being produced by co-owned Buena Vista.

Other Rosie
outlets have already cleared the hour-long Dr. Phil
or some combination of the half-hour-long Millionaire, Weakest Link
and Pyramid. Stations that are expected to replace Rosie
with one or more of the shows include KOMO-TV Seattle; KATU-TV Portland, Ore.; WBTV-TV Charlotte, N.C.; WKYC-TV Cleveland; and WXIA-TV Atlanta.

It's not like a Rhea project can't be viable, says Big Ticket chief Larry Lyttle, even though he and Paramount couldn't make a go of a proposed Rhea talk show this fall. "What you want to do here is be able to keep the real estate if you have it," he says. "And Warner Bros. was looking for somebody who would allow the stations to have confidence in the show. Caroline Rhea is worthy of that absolutely."

But has Rosie's
beachfront property already been sold?

"I think they are a day late and a dollar short here," says one syndication executive." Dr. Phil
has put a nail in their coffin."

But some syndication watchers say Rhea might work for Warner Bros. The one thing she'll have over Millionaire, Dr. Phil
and the rest is that she'll "be on the air" this season, says Petry TV programming chief Garnett Losak, referring to plans for Rhea to be a frequent guest host in O'Donnell's last season.

"I think they've lost a lot of time periods. They're a little behind the eight ball, but, if Warner Bros. can demonstrate over the next year that Caroline Rhea can generate an audience, then time periods will be found."

Nevertheless, there is more to the Rhea situation than early birds getting their worm. Some stations are reluctant to take what will largely be a Rosie
replica because Rosie's viewership has fallen off sharply. For the 2000-01 season, Rosie
scored a 3.0 rating, down 19% for the previous season. And she has hit record lows in two of the last four weeks. "That's why we're looking very seriously at other programming out there," notes KNBC-TV General Manager Paula Madison.

A WMAQ-TV source describes the Rhea project as "a hard sell," given how Rosie
has been faring. Already, the station is looking to move Rosie
out of her 3 p.m. slot in 2001, not wanting to air a one-year promotion for a show that could wind up on a rival station.

Yet, there could be room for Rhea. Other low-rated veteran talk shows, including Sally
and Warner Bros.' own Jenny Jones, could be gone by 2002. And history teaches that not all of the fall 2001 newcomers will make it.

WABC-TV's Art Moore acknowledges he has "no idea how Iyanla
is going to do." It could stumble because some tight-for-space stations, including WABC-TV, will have to introduce the show during late night.