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NBCUniversal's veteran conflict talk shows — Maury Povich, Jerry Springer and Steve Wilkos — are renewed through the 2015-16 TV season and still turning in respectable ratings. Povich and Springer have long been comfortable, consistent names for legions of viewers. But Tribune Broadcasting and other station groups — noting that nothing lasts forever — are working hard to figure out what comes next.
Tribune stations’ afternoons are filled with conflict talkers, with Maury, which has been on the air in one iteration or another since 1991, still leading the pack at a 2.0 mostcurrent household rating, according to Nielsen, down 9% from last year at this time and fifth overall among the syndicated talkers.
Jerry Springer, whose ratings are more challenged, also has aired since 1991. Springer is averaging a 1.2 this year, down 13% from last year in households and down 25% among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54. Steve Wilkos, hosted by Springer’s former protégé, has now surpassed Springer with a 1.3 average, off just 7% from last year and even among women 25-54.
But not even Oprah Winfrey chose to remain in syndication forever; eventually Povich, 74, and Springer, 69, will retire.
That’s why syndicators and station groups are trying different shows to prepare themselves.
“We really have to find that next vein of what’s working in daytime syndication,” Peter Liguori, Tribune Co. president and CEO, said Oct. 29 during a session at NYC Television Week. “Right now, if the 2-3:00 time period is fraught with a bunch of ‘who’s your daddy’ shows, we might as well do our own who’s your daddy show. We’ll own it all.”
Tribune launched The Bill Cunningham Show, first on Tribune’s stations and now as part of The CW’s daytime lineup. On Tribune’s owned stations, Cunningham seems to have fallen in line. On Tribune’s WPIX New York at 1 p.m., Cunningham is up 40% year-to-year to a 1.4 in households, according to Nielsen. On Tribune’s WGN Chicago at 2 p.m., Cunningham is up 15% from last year.
Tribune also is trying out The Test, a coproduction between Tribune and CBS Television Distribution that’s produced by The Doctors’ Jay McGraw. So far, the show is averaging a 0.6 in households — not exactly a hit.
NBCU tried to recreate the same success that it’s had with Steve Wilkos by spinning off Trisha Goddard out of Maury. The show, which is cleared on weak TV stations, was renewed for a second season, but it’s averaging a paltry 0.5 household rating.
Other syndicators also have given it a go: Debmar-Mercury imported Jeremy Kyle, who is insanely popular in the U.K., but his show never took off stateside.
Tribune has other plans in the mix as well. In January, it will test a conflict talker starring MC Serch, a rapper and radio DJ, for four weeks on its owned stations in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas and four other markets.
Part of the advantage for Serch is that it will be surrounded by other shows in its genre.
“New shows have more potential when they are part of an overall lineup,” says Bill Carroll, VP, programming, Katz Television Group.
Turns out, replacing Maury is nearly as hard as replacing Oprah.
“I think the next version of conflict talk will have consistency with the conflict talk you see today,” says Sean Compton, Tribune Broadcasting president of programming and entertainment. “We should find shows that are very different in format, but appeal to the same viewer.”
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. 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.