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Relationships, Fun SweepViewers Off Their Feet

Talk shows focused on family, relationships and fun emerged as the stars of this year’s closely watched February sweeps in syndication. Shows that took on such drier topics as health and weight loss, however, saw their fortunes fade as sweeps drew to a close.

CBS Television Distribution’s talk leader, Dr. Phil, distinguished itself by holding strong, leading all talk shows by more than half of a ratings point and an average of more than 700,000 viewers at a 3.3 live-plus-same-day national household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research. Compared with the February 2012 sweeps, Dr. Phil dropped 3% in households, but the show added 5% among daytime’s key demographic of women 25-54; Phil also led in that key category at a 1.9.

The battle for second place among the talkers is tighter, with Warner Bros.’ Ellen tied with Disney/ABC’s Live! With Kelly and Michael at a 2.7. Among the key women 25-54 demographic, Ellen edged out Live! as well, notching a 1.8 to Live!’s 1.6.

Neither show is experiencing drastic swings. Sweep-to-sweep, Ellen was up 4% in households and 5% among women 25-54, while Live! was down 4% in HH, up 5% among women 25-54.

“Those are solid, sustainable numbers, and that’s all you can ask or hope for from these long-running shows,” says Bill Carroll, VP, director of programming, Katz Television Group.

Sony Pictures Television’s Dr. Oz—whose affable host offers plenty of health tips— is holding on to fourth place among the talkers. But the show was down 17% in households to a 2.4 and 18% among women 25-54, to a 1.4.

“That show faces the most difficult time-period comparisons,” Carroll says of Dr. Oz, “because it inherited more of the Oprah slots, so it’s getting the most scrutiny. It’s not surprising there is some fluctuation in [Oz’s] rating. I don’t think most stations are concerned. It may not be meeting stations’ most optimistic expectations, but [it’s] doing well enough.”

NBCUniversal’s stalwart Maury was in fifth place in households at a 2.4, down 8% from last February. Maury remains the youth leader, winning among women 18-34 at a 1.5 and women 18-49 at a 1.7. Among women 25-54, Maury placed third, behind Dr. Phil and Ellen, at a 1.7, up 6%.

Disney/ABC’s rookie talker, Katie, ranked sixth among all talk shows—and first among newbies—at a 1.9 in households. Meanwhile, NBCU’s Steve Harvey has been on the rise, holding at its season-high 1.6 for six weeks in a row and last week finally hitting a 1.7 for the first time. Katie and Harvey are neck-and-neck for the women 25-54 vote, tying for the February sweeps at a 1.0. Over the past two weeks, Harvey has edged out Katie by one-tenth of a ratings point in that key demo.

Perhaps more importantly, Katie is down 5%—or a tenth of a ratings point— since the show premiered at a 2.0 last September, while Harvey is up 25% since it launched at a 1.2 last fall.

Steve Harvey being able to break through has been this season’s happiest situation,” says Carroll. “It wasn’t a surprise, but it certainly has been the positive for which everyone hoped.”

CTD’s Jeff Probst and Twentieth’s Ricki Lake tied for the February sweeps at a 0.8 in households and at a 0.5 among women 25-54. Neither of those shows will return next year.

NBCU’s freshman, Trisha Goddard, will be back even though it tied Debmar- Mercury’s canceled Jeremy Kyle as talk’s lowest-rated show at a 0.6 in households and a 0.4 among women 25-54.

Returning to the middle of the talk pack, CTD’s Rachael Ray, Harvey and NBCU’s Steve Wilkos tied for seventh, but that was much better news for Harvey and Wilkos than it was for Ray.

Wilkos has emerged as talk’s rising star, improving among households for the sweep by 14% and among women 25-54 by 20%. Rachael Ray, on the other hand, was flat sweep-to-sweep in households and down 20% among women 25-54.

NBCU’s Jerry Springer also was flat among households in 10th place at a 1.5, and down 10% among women 25- 54 at a 0.9.

Of next season’s returning talkers, CTD’s The Doctors saw the biggest year-to-year drops, losing 18% in households to a 1.4 in the sweeps, and 33% among women 25-54. The Doctors’ ratings woes are expected to increase this fall when SPT’s Queen Latifah takes its place on several CBS stations in big markets, pushing The Doctors over to the lower-rated stations in those markets.

Debmar-Mercury’s Wendy Williams has seen some growth, improving 8% in households to a 1.3 and 11% among women 25-54 to a 1.0.

Finally, Warner Bros.’ Anderson Live, another show that will not return next season, has lost the most ground, decreasing 27% among households to a 1.1 and dropping 33% among women 25-54 to a 0.6.

This year’s February sweeps ran from Jan. 31 through Feb. 27. The average ratings listed here run through Feb. 24, with the sweeps’ final three days pending.

Story updated at 7:50 a.m. PT on March 11, 2013.

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