Daytime Drama: Shake-Ups, Ratings Woes for New Talk Shows From Katie Couric, Jeff Probst, Ricki Lake
UPDATED: Less than a month into the new season, Couric's middling ratings and topics have affiliates grumbling, Lake has a new executive producer, and a CBS exec's ouster is partly due to Probst's disappointing start.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Less than a month into the new season, daytime television's new players already have experienced two major shake-ups and increasing ratings questions for the fall's biggest star, Katie Couric.
On Sept. 28, 20th Television, producer of Ricki Lake's Ricki, announced that executive producer Lisa Kridos had been replaced by Gail Steinberg, who produced Lake's previous show. The move was seen as a distress call amid middling ratings for Lake's new talker.
Then, on Oct. 2, longtime CBS Television Distribution head John Nogawski was ousted, at least in part because of the disappointing start for The Jeff Probst Show. Sources say the decision to replace Nogawski after a 30-year tenure with foreign sales head Armando Nunez came from the highest level of CBS. Although domestic syndication has been losing audiences and suffering lower license fees, international is growing. Nunez is likely to bring in a new team to boost domestic development, promotion and (CBS hopes) sales. CBS still leads the domestic syndication market thanks to such shows as Judge Judy, Dr. Phil and Wheel of Fortune (produced by Sony Pictures TV), but to succeed, Nunez will need to rapidly refill the domestic pipeline before those long-running hits age out of existence.
At the same time, ABC-Disney's Katie, which arrived with the highest expectations, was off about 10 percent in national ratings in its second week. And affiliates already have begun grumbling that Couric and executive producer Jeff Zucker promised a topical show that would serve as a perfect afternoon news lead-in but instead has delivered more typical talk show guests, such as Jessica Simpson revealing her Weight Watchers success story during the show's premiere episode.
"She made a big splash with an enormous amount of promotion," gripes one insider. "What's not holding up is the production of the show."
Affiliates are locked into two-year deals for Katie, with top markets paying $10,000 to $15,000 a week in license fees, and ABC's stations -- including WABC in New York and KABC in Los Angeles -- doling out as much as $50,000, say sources. But many deals have performance clauses, which would allow affiliates to reduce the price or move the show to a different time slot if ratings lag. A survey of local-station GMs indicates they aren't ready to sound alarms. Says one, "It's way too soon to say any show isn't going to make it."