New Network Talkers Hold Serve

Soap opera fans would be wise to shift their affections to talk. With far better economics and very similar ratings performances, talk shows appear to be here to stay, while soap operas are increasingly difficult to justify.

The broadcast networks’ new talk shows—CBS’ The Talk, ABC’s The Chew and its coming The Revolution—cost 35% to 40% less to produce than the soaps they are replacing, according to multiple industry sources. With only one set, less-expensive talent, fewer guilds to contend with and fewer weeks of original production, talk shows make much better economic sense in today’s TV environment.

In the past year, ABC cancelled All My Children and replaced it with The Chew, while CBS cancelled Guiding Light and replaced it with The Talk. This January, ABC will end One Life to Live and launch The Revolution, leaving the network with only one continuing soap opera, General Hospital. And that show’s life is endangered: Of The Chew, The Revolution and General Hospital, only two can remain on the air to make room for Katie Couric’s new talk show next fall.

The granddaddy— or grandmother, if you will—of the current crop of talkers is ABC’s The View, which launched in 1997.

Looking across 32 metered markets in October, The View averaged a 3.2 rating/12 share among households, making it competitive with Warner Bros.’ Ellen at a 3.8/12 in those markets, and Disney/ABC Television’s Live! With Regis and Kelly at a 2.8/10, according to Nielsen Media Research. The View also ties CBS Television Distribution’s Dr. Phil, syndication’s new talk leader, and Sony’s Dr. Oz as the highest-rated daytime talker among the key women 25-54 demographic, averaging a 1.6 season-to-date.

“One big difference between primetime and daytime is that you really have to have more patience,” says Brian Frons, ABC president of daytime. “In daytime, people have made a lot of habits, and it’s hard to alert them to what’s new. The View certainly didn’t launch with those ratings. It took years to grow. Right now, The Chew is trying to find that growth.”

The Chew
premiered on Sept. 26 and features a panel of three well-known professional chefs— Mario Batali, Michael Symon and Carla Hall—as well as lifestyle expert Clinton Kelly and nutritionist (and Dr. Oz’s daughter) Daphne Oz.

According to ABC, the show has been inching up a bit each week since launch. In the week ended Nov. 14, The Chew hit series highs for the sixth consecutive week among all viewers (2.38 million), women 25-54 (701,000) and women 18-49 (521,000).

Also during that week, The Chew beat All My Children’s performance in the same week last year by 1% among total viewers. Among women 18-49 and women 25-54, The Chew was down 8% and 12%, respectively, approximately one-tenth of a ratings point in both cases.

That performance—coupled with significantly lower production costs—is good enough to get ABC’s vote of confidence, says Frons: “I would expect it to come back.” Stations also are comfortable with the show’s performance. “The Chew is performing comparably to the soap opera that it replaced,” says Mike Devlin, general manager of Belo’s WFAA Dallas. “Let’s give it some time. I think that cast is starting to gel, and I’m seeing some positive growth in the ratings.”

CBS’ The Talk, now in its second season, also seems to be hitting its stride. Last fall, The Talk replaced Guiding Light; this season, it reshuffled its panel a bit, letting go of Leah Remini and Holly Robinson Peete and replacing them with Sheryl Underwood and Aisha Tyler. Show creator Sara Gilbert, Julie Chen and Sharon Osbourne all remain on the show, with Osbourne appearing less regularly.

In 30 metered markets in October, The Talk averaged a 1.4 rating/5 share among households. The show is up 25% in share in households and " at among both women 25-54 and women 18-49.

Like The Chew, those ratings may seem low, but because The Talk is performing equivalently to the show it replaced at a much lower cost, it’s a win for the network. The Talk also has been sold internationally in 111 markets, and has improved the time period among women 25-54 on all of the CBSowned stations.

“In a relatively short time, the show has established a brand identity, solid ratings and makes a profit. That’s a pretty good start,” says a CBS spokesperson.

What’s more, The Talk is part of CBS’ overall strategy to transform its daytime from a money loser into a profit center.

“Five to seven years ago, our daytime —just our daytime—was losing approximately $25 million,” CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves told analysts at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch media conference in September. “This year, we’re going to make over $100 million. That’s from renegotiation, bringing down the cost of certain things, changing programs, getting more economical and selling [the daypart] better.”

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Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for more than 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for The Global Entertainment Marketing Academy of Arts & Sciences (G.E.M.A.). She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997 - September 2002.