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Ellen , Starting Over Get Early Debuts

Warner Bros.' The Ellen DeGeneres Show and NBC Enterprises' Starting Over kicked off the syndie season last Monday. Ellen got off to solid, if not spectacular, start while Starting Over has some work to do.

Ellen's premiere episode, featuring an interview with Friends' Jennifer Aniston, launched with an overnight 2.0 rating/6 share in 53 metered markets. That's up 17% from the year-ago time-period average and up 5% from its average lead-in.

In its second day, Ellen built to a 2.2/7, up 10% over the show's launch, 22% over its year-ago time period average, and 10% from its lead-in.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," said Jim Paratore, executive vice president, Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, and president, Telepictures Productions. "But this is a marathon, not a sprint. I think it's too early to judge success or failure."

While building on year-ago time-period average and lead-in are two of the key factors in determining a show's success or failure, a high-profile show like Ellen is typically looking for around 2.5 to be considered even a moderate hit. Last season, King World's Dr. Phil, by far syndication's biggest launch in several years, premiered with a 5.2/14.

Ellen performed best in Columbus, Ohio, where it averaged a 4.5/12 on NBC-owned WCMH-TV at 4 p.m. on Monday and grew 13% in rating and 8% in share to a 5.1/13 on Tuesday. The show came in second in the market to King World's Oprah, still in repeats, but beat Universal's Maury in head-to-head competition and improved the time period by 18% over what Paramount's Montel Williams had been doing in the slot last season.

Ellen also came in first or second in 17 metered markets on its Monday launch.

The story wasn't as good for Starting Over, which launched with a 1.1/4 in 48 metered markets, down 15% from its time-period average and down 26% from its lead-in. On Tuesday, its overall performance remained flat, and it was down 35% from that day's lead-in.

Starting Over's best performance on Monday was in Jacksonville, Fla., where it averaged a 2.9/9 on Gannett's WTLV-TV at 11 a.m. That was good enough for only fourth place in the time period but still beat ABC's The View. Starting Over also was up 61% over what King World's Martha Stewart Living had been achieving in the time period last year.

The show came in first or second in only one market: Hearst-Argyle's WCVB-TV Boston, where it aired at 2:20 a.m., after the late close of Monday Night Football.

"Our expectations were not that this show was going to open with a big number," says Barry Wallach, executive vice president of NBC Enterprises. "Our expectation was that we would come out with a decent number and show growth over months."

According to Wallach, while Starting Over's initial ratings were low, the show managed to build its share over its four quarter-hour marks. "I look at those quarter-hours, and people are sticking with the show, and more people are coming. I don't think it's people coming 30 minutes early or 15 minutes early for All My Children," Wallach says. "The genre is proven, the producers are proven, and the product is darn good, but it's probably going to take a little bit of time."

Both Ellen and Starting Over got a jump on syndication's fall season. Warner Bros.' The Sharon Osbourne Show and King World's Living It Up! With Ali & Jack open today.

Other major premieres this week are King World's Oprah, back for its 18th season, and King World's Dr. Phil, starting its sophomore year with a focus on weight-loss in tandem with the release of Phil McGraw's new book, The Ultimate Weight Solution. Dr. Phil also is launching a mini-reality-show-within-a-show, following a family in crisis through the year.