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Everything they touch turns to gold

Jan 14, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The results of the third annual Electronic Media survey on syndication’s most bankable stars echoed the comfort factor television audiences appear to be seeking post-Sept. 11. The top vote getter this time is a daytime icon, and veteran syndication stars dominate most other spots on the list.
EM asked five top professionals from various corners of the television business who they consider to be the top franchise players in syndication based on audience drawing power, marketability and overall influence in the marketplace. Three new names appear among the top 10, knocking Pamela Anderson and Pat Sajak out of the lineup for the first time.
The results were tabulated according to average rank and number of votes received to determine “bankability.”
Unlike last year, no faces for any upcoming series made the top 10, although Dr. Phil McGraw, who will host a new King World strip next season, and Jillian Barberie of Twentieth Television’s limited rollout “Good Day Live” landed close.
Here are the 2002 picks for the 10 most bankable stars of syndication:
Oprah Winfrey
1. Ms. Winfrey reclaims the throne in a close battle of daytime stalwarts after falling to Regis Philbin in last year’s standings.
Ms. Winfrey continues to dominate the talk show rankings with King World’s “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and after speculation about her retirement, re-signed her contract, stipulating there would be new episodes for only 26 weeks per year. Fans continue to flock to the daytime hostess, who now expands her portfolio with Harpo Productions set to unveil “Dr. Phil” next season.
“She turns almost anything she touches to gold,” wrote one judge. “Her name on a project in TV carries weight similar to `Spielberg’ in movies.”
“With her show, magazine, and movies, she’s still at the top of the heap,” wrote another.
Regis Philbin
2. Despite slipping from the top spot as most bankable, Mr. Philbin continues to possess rare star power with Buena Vista Television’s “Live With Regis and Kelly.” The strip’s younger demos soared by double-digit percentages over last year in the recent November ratings sweep. That was the first sweeps period since Kelly Ripa replaced Kathie Lee Gifford as co-host with Mr. Philbin. The show also was up 80 percent over last November among women 18 to 34 nationally, to a 1.8, according to Nielsen information released last week.
Although no announcement has come forth about who will host the daytime version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” sources said many stations are keen on Reege, especially if the series leaves prime time next year.
“Regis can do anything and the audience loves him,” wrote one voter. “A talk show, a game show-has he thought about a medical drama?”
The cast of `Friends’
3. Warner Bros. may still be negotiating with the cast of the ever-popular sitcom “Friends” for one last season, but stellar ratings both on the network and in syndication have fans clamoring for more as the cast makes its first appearance on the most bankable list.
Syndicated ratings were boosted this season with the added runs of the series on TBS, where the show continues to hold its first-place spot as the top off-net sitcom, according to Nielsen Media Research. “Since the sitcom is an ensemble effort [and] they negotiate as a group, we will praise them in the same way,” wrote one survey participant. “Even with the extra exposure on TBS, the syndication and network plays have flourished in their fourth season in syndication.” “The longer `Friends’ runs, the funnier Matt LeBlanc gets,” wrote another.
Ray Romano
4. Last year Mr. Romano appeared on the list in eighth place simply due to the anticipation built around King World’s off-net runs of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Now the performer moves up to fourth place based on the fantastic results of the sitcom’s first season in syndication.
The strip was the highest-rated freshman among weekly and daily series, finishing its first sweeps at a 5.5. That figure was up 22 percent over its October scores. In fact, the ratings were so strong some insiders have privately-and not so privately-credited the series for proving, after disappointing debuts for other off-net fare such as “Spin City,” that strong sitcoms can still draw once they hit the syndication circuit.
“Still dominating Monday nights on CBS, the solid start for `Raymond’ in syndication has made the sitcom category still viable for `Malcolm in the Middle’ and/or `King of Queens,”’ wrote one judge.
“His network show is cookin’, his syndicated reruns are off to the races,” wrote another. “Whenever he gives up sitcoms, how about a game show? A talk show? The audience truly loves him.”
Bart Simpson
5. Moving up five spots is Bart Simpson of Twentieth’s timeless “The Simpsons,” which continues to hold up both on the Fox network and in syndication despite having a decade under its belt.
“With as many as three telecasts a day, the animated show has proven that they are a classic despite the time period or the number of times that Bart has challenged Homer,” said one voter.
“One word-repeatability,” wrote another participant.
Judge Judy
6. Still the queen of the court show genre, Judy Sheindlin of Paramount Domestic Television’s “Judge Judy” remained undamaged despite a plethora of court shows that hit the air in the past year. The strip still sits atop the genre, easily outdistancing challengers for the title.
The strip finished the sweeps with a still-impressive 6.0 rating.
“People are in the mood for swift justice, and this lady provides it,” wrote one voter.
“She’s fended off all of the rivals and still reigns as the queen of the gavel. Nobody’s close,” said another.
Jerry Seinfeld
7. Jerry Seinfeld is another veteran of all three EM most bankable stars lists. Columbia TriStar Television Distribution’s “Seinfeld” has received a boost from the addition of second runs of the strip. The series now challenges Warner Bros.’ “Friends” for bragging rights as the top off-net series despite being off of network television for years.
The series has managed to overcome switching stations in the major markets, since the Chris-Craft Industries group took over airing the series in April. Broadcast rights then went to Fox after it acquired the Chris-Craft stations over the summer, and now the series takes advantage of its window by airing on two separate stations in some markets, including KTTV and KCOP-TV in Los Angeles.
“His reruns still hold up,” wrote one voter. “Viewers will tune in to sample any new venture, but what can he do other than a New York sitcom?”
“The show’s still got plenty of nothing, and nothing’s plenty for me,” said another.
Kevin Sorbo
8. Mr. Sorbo returned with a bang last year after weekly series “Andromeda,” from Tribune Entertainment, debuted to astronomical ratings. Although the series has since settled, it remains the top first-run weekly action series nearly every week. In a market that has been cruel to first-run action series, the launch proved to be a more-than-successful bow and helped smooth the way for this year’s breakout action series, “Mutant X.”
“He made a great transition from fantasy to sci-fi,” wrote one judge. “Just look at those numbers.”
“Whether as Capt. Dylan Hunt or Hercules, Sorbo has captured audience imagination as the leading fantasy hero in weekly syndication,” said another.
Kelly Ripa
9. Taking over permanent hosting duties from longtime favorite Kathie Lee Gifford was a job both envied and dreaded among talent. However, since the addition of Ms. Ripa, the show is skewing significantly younger and has brought in flocks of followers from her other TV project, “All My Children.”
“She is the toast of daytime,” wrote one panelist. “She makes viewers ask, `Kathie Lee who?”’
“Kelly’s been getting a lot of press and can’t help but pump the show,” said another.
Mary Hart
10. Making her first appearance among the most bankable elite, Ms. Hart continues to guide Paramount’s “Entertainment Tonight” to almost d
ouble the ratings of the show’s competitors. Ending its 20th season on the air, the series continues to avoid erosion. In fact, in the most recent sweeps, “ET” was up 7 percent to a 6.5 over November 2000 scores.
“`ET’ continues to be the show for entertainment news,” said one participant. “Mary deserves a lot of the credit.”
“Stars come and go, but Mary and [co-host] Bob Goen go on forever,” added another.