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Martha still at home on TV

We know, embattled domestic diva Martha Stewart just wants to keep on chopping. Despite allegations of insider trading on biotech firm ImClone Systems stock and a media thrashing, Stewart's TV distributors are sticking by her—for now. But if advertisers start squawking—or walking—that could change quickly.

"The program's content is fine, especially if you want to reach women," said veteran media buyer Howard Nass. "But advertisers don't want to go down with her."

Stewart currently hosts a syndicated show, programs on cable's HGTV and Food Network, and, until last week, regular spots on CBS's The Early Show.
Since a tense segment on the Early Show
June 28, Stewart's appearances on the show may be on hold. On that morning, host Jane Clayson gamely tried to wrestle an explanation, but Stewart bluntly waved her off, saying, "I want to focus on my salad," and continued resolutely chopping her cabbage.

Last week, media wags speculated on whether she'd show up again, but, a day before her scheduled appearance July 3, Stewart abruptly canceled. CBS likely planned to resume the questioning, and that kind of grilling apparently isn't to Stewart's liking. CBS says it will continue to monitor and report on the situation.

A Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia spokesperson said that, while CBS News is compelled to question about the ImClone matter, "this inherent conflict unfortunately prevents Martha from appearing [July 3] in her lifestyle 'how-to' segment." The company last week retained The Brunswick Group, a crisis management PR firm.

In syndication, stations covering about 90% of the nation carry Martha Stewart Living,
and 87% of the market has picked up the next season, according to King World, which distributes her show. But it was just coincidence, they say, that, just as Rep. Billy Tauzin's (R-La.) Energy and Commerce Committee began poring over her ImClone records, the syndicated version of the show reran a year-old segment in which he promoted his Louisiana cookbook.

Mel Stebbins, general manager of Columbia, S.C., NBC affiliate WIS-TV, says he hasn't registered any complaints over Stewart. "She doesn't have a real large audience, but she reaches a very loyal following." He says he would reconsider airing Stewart's show if the rumors turn into more substantive charges.

Media sharks may be circling, but Stewart is actually a small fish in the syndication market. Her show has averaged a 1.4 rating so far this year, compared with a 1.5 for the first half of 2001. Her marks dipped only slightly when the scandal broke last month, hardly enough to make her syndication soufflé fall.

"It's not a hit," said media buyer Tom DeCabia, executive vice president of media buying firm AdvanswersNY, "so there's not a lot of advertisers out there who are demanding it."

Smaller ratings, of course, translate to cheaper pricing. Oprah, which typically gets a 5.5 rating, commands about $66,000 per 30-second spot; Stewart takes in a more modest $4,900.

On cable, Stewart hosts one show for the Scripps Networks' Food Network, From Martha's Kitchen, and two, From Martha's Garden
and From Martha's Home, for its sister net HGTV. Each is culled from footage from her syndicated series and licensed by the nets. Neither reported complaints from advertisers or viewers. Scripps wouldn't release ratings information but said Stewart's Nielsen marks have stayed consistent.

In fact, some of Stewart's cable devotees have complaints of a different sort. On the Food Network's Web site, many viewers lament that Stewart won't let Food post her recipes. They say that's just not a good thing.

Another viewer demands that Food scrap her show, but not because of any scandal: "Most of the time, it's Martha's Home or Martha's Backyard that's featured, not her kitchen. It's a cooking channel, not How Martha Lives."