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'Starting' Tours U.S.

Season two is wrapping up production, but Starting Over, NBC Universal's daytime reality show, is kicking off a national tour to boost ratings.

Beginning Feb. 19 in Phoenix, the show's three life coaches—Iyanla Van Zant, Dr. Stan Katz and Rhonda Britten—will hit 15 malls; the tour ends in May. Two life coaches will be available for meet-and-greets at each stop.

“This will give people a chance to have first-hand contact with us,” says Van Zant, who plans to visit malls in seven markets. “It also gives us the opportunity to have contact with the audience and help them create their own goals.” Britten, who will travel to all 15 cities on the tour, plans to offer exercises and one-on-one coaching to visitors. New York-based Hadley Media, the same company that handled Ambush Makeover's multi-city bus tour last fall, will orchestrate the logistics.

To highlight the tour, local TV affiliates will run promos. NBC plans a local radio blitz and sweepstakes, as well as a newspaper campaign. Malls will also advertise the event. The media pitch capitalizes on the show's second-season tagline: “The hottest drama in daytime is real.”

NBC U beefed up promo events prior to the road tour. At the beginning of this season, it added an interactive text-messaging feature within the show. Viewers are asked a question, and text-message their answer. LaunchPad, a Los Angeles-based company, has set up a platform system in unison with Seattle-based Wireless Services. Users can send and receive messages regardless of which cellphone service they use. To date, 10,000 text-messaging subscribers have opted to receive more information about the show. These subscribers can be sorted via area code, allowing NBC Universal to inform them when the tour hits their area.

Aside from cellphone subscribers, Starting Over's Web site averages 700,000 separate visitors per month. To accommodate such traffic, NBC U got its own standalone server. “These women are like soap viewers, they are so loyal to this show,” says Mary Beth McAdaragh, VP of marketing for NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution. “They get very engrossed in these women's lives.”

Starting Over, produced by Bunim-Murray, averages a 1.1 national household rating season to date, but the show's strength is in its demographics. Starting Over averages a 1.0 season-to-date among women 18-34, up 11% from last year. It averages a 0.9 among women 18-49 and women 25-54, year-to-year increases of 13% and 29%, respectively. Industry buzz is that's enough to see season three.