Ricki Lake, Bethenny Frankel and Jeff Probst Eye NBC's Open Daytime Slot

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This story appears in the Nov. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Few things in TV are more difficult and expensive than launching a syndicated daily talk show on broadcast stations. New entries must battle for space against entrenched shows like Ellen and Dr. Phil, and there is increasing competition online and from cable, where competitors include OWN's new The Rosie Show.

On top of that, contenders must find slots not taken by fresh faces already set for fall 2012 like Katie Couric (anchored on ABC stations), Steve Harvey (NBC stations) and the recently renewed Wendy Williams. So the nail-biting is about to get intense as NBC's stations ponder picking up another hour.

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Sources tell THR that the competition has come down to talkers starring Survivor host Jeff Probst (CBS Distribution), former talk stalwart Ricki Lake (20th TV) and reality star Bethenny Frankel (Which is to be distributed by Warner Bros. Telepictures).

Adding to the tension, the longer it takes for a show to get traction, the less likely it will be cleared in the three-quarters of the country needed for a launch. Says Rick Swanson, director of programming and marketing at Seattle's KING-TV: "Producing a top-quality syndicated TV show is a minor miracle."

THE CONTENDERS

In addition to the favorites (right), others looking to launch shows nationally include Tricia Goddard (NBCUni), whose talker has been acquired by Sinclair stations but needs a major market anchor like Fox and Tribune, and Bill Cunningham, the conservative Cincinnati-based host whom Tribune has been testing. A proposed NBCUni talker with Jenny McCarthy looks DOA.

Jeff Probst: He's said to be a serious contender for the NBC daytime slot, which is important -- there is no room for him on the prime CBS stations, and CBS Distribution is determined to get his show on the air.

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Bethenny Frankel: If NBC stations pass on her Warner Bros. Telepictures' show, the former Real Housewife of New York could find it difficult to get the clearances she needs to launch despite support from Ellen DeGeneres.

Ricki Lake: It makes some local stations nervous that the Fox-owned stations haven't committed to Lake, now on the comeback trail. Her 1993-2004 talker drew coveted younger views, but who will be her audience now?

ON THE BUBBLE

Survival means getting the right ratings, which then provide leverage to get on better stations. Those are problems facing several shows, including Debmar-Mercury's The Jeremy Kyle Show. The British personality has had success in the U.K. with his confrontational ways, but that hasn't translated well to the U.S. Like Steve Wilkos, who has a similar style, Kyle may need more time to find an audience.

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Anderson Cooper: His ratings have perked up after a month on air and stations like the show's production values but feel he needs to project a stronger personality. He needs momentum to get renewals and upgrades to better stations.

Nate Berkus: In the middle of a three-year deal, the Oprah Winfrey protege has ratings barely above a 1.0, and his demos don't shine, so NBC stations could boot him off afternoons. Show owner Sony denies mulling a future on OWN.

Gloria Allred: Her show is cleared in less than 85 percent of the U.S., and ratings suggest she won't be back next fall. But even if she's dropped by the NBC stations, producer Byron Allen insists the Allred show will go on.

 
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