Chat Pack

It’s a good thing the major syndication houses are already at work thrashing out new talk show ideas for the fall 2005 season (including Isaac Mizrahi, Vera Wang and Tom Arnold, as well as a remake of Real People with Mario Lopez). That’s because the most anticipated show of this fall’s crop, NBC Universal’s The Jane Pauley Show, which premiered Aug. 30, is already faltering, although the talker’s producers would disagree with that assessment. And few of the other entrants for fall 2004 are expected to be solid ratings performers either.

It’s safe to say Pauley is a disappointment in part because of very high expectations for the show, as well as the relentless promotion it received during NBC’s coverage of the recent Summer Olympic Games. “Had NBC not had the Summer Olympics at its fingertips to promote Jane Pauley, I would have described early ratings as merely disappointing,” said an industry analyst, who requested anonymity. “But since she did, and this is a show hosted by a recognizable name in news, I would call Pauley an early train wreck.”

According to Nielsen Media Research, and based on the overnight ratings for the first eight days (Aug. 30-Sept. 8, 2004), Pauley is averaging a 1.8 household rating/5 share. That’s down a considerable 28 percent in rating and two share points from the lead-in average (2.5/7), and 22 percent and two share points from the year-ago time period (2.3/7).

Barry Wallach, president, NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution, has a different spin on Pauley’s first week. “Would I have liked to see higher initial tune-in? Of course, who wouldn’t?” acknowledges Wallach. “But with Labor Day in the mix and a number of markets preempted because of Hurricane Frances, we did not think early tune-in would be significant. What we expected, and what we received, was initial sampling. Once viewers find daytime television again I think the ratings will increase.”

All the attention paid to Pauley could end up helping her rivals in some ways. “The one advantage the other new talk shows will have, even Buena Vista’s The Tony Danza Show, is debuting further under the radar than Jane Pauley,” says Bill Carroll, vp/director of programming at Katz Media. “Sometimes it’s better to sneak onto the air. … Even if Tony Danza debuts at levels similar to Jane Pauley, the press won’t be as negative.”

As with other seasons, there is no shortage of new syndicated talk shows (nor hybrids of talk and reality), many of which debut today, Sept. 13: Danza, Warner Bros.’ The Larry Elder Show, Sony Pictures Television’s Life & Style and Pat Croce: Moving In, and Home Delivery from NBC Universal.

“Of the five new talk shows, I think Tony Danza could be a sleeper,” explains Carroll. “He’s well-known, well-liked, and I think women in daytime will take a shine to him.”

Warner Bros., which is riding a high thanks to the under-the-radar success last season for its Ellen DeGeneres talk show, rarely opens a new season without something new in talk. This year’s hope is Larry Elder. “Anyone who questions the number of talk shows introduced should look at the networks in prime time and also wonder why we always see new comedies or dramas,” says Dick Robertson, president, Warner Bros. Domestic Distribution. “Like any good comedy, the economic rewards for producing a talk show are considerable if you find the right person or formula.”

“Even following a record number of recent talk show cancellations [Ricki Lake, Crossing Over With John Edward, John Walsh, Wayne Brady, Sharon Osbourne, Living it Up! With Ali & Jack, and On-Air With Ryan Seacrest], the emphasis is, and will probably always be, on talk,” notes Brad Adgate, senior vp of corporate research at Horizon Media. “But the one new show with the best shot of survival is actually The Insider, Paramount’s Entertainment Tonight spin-off.”

Hosted by former Access Hollywood anchor Pat O’Brien, The Insider serves as the lead-out from Entertainment Tonight in a number of key markets, including the 16 CBS owned-and-operated stations. Some observers see that as a can’t miss move. “The tie-in to Entertainment Tonight gives The Insider a considerable advantage,” adds Carroll. “It should be able to feed well off of the parent series.”

Other new first-run entrants include Twentieth Television’s Ambush Makeover, which debuts nationally after running on the Fox owned-and-operated stations this season, and The Ultimate Poker Challenge, a weekly hour from Passport Entertainment. Several off-network shows also roll out this fall: sitcoms Malcolm in the Middle, Yes, Dear and Girlfriends, dramas CSI and The Twilight Zone, and reality hour Fear Factor.