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The Most Bankable Stars in Syndication

Jan 13, 2003  •  Post A Comment

They are television syndication’s franchise players. They regularly draw a wide, loyal viewership while also influencing the entire medium by their example, with their consistent performance and quite often by serving as a launching pad for other shows. They are the stars that networks, stations and advertisers can bank on, and they are this year’s Electronic Media Most Bankable Stars in Syndication.
Never before have the choices and votes provided such a display of diversity in our annual poll. But in the end it was the long-running keepers-the franchise players-who once again dominated the voting, with one key exception.
Perhaps it was the lackluster debuts or perhaps it was the tiny array of development and off-net product heading down the track, but familiar faces ruled the day, even with the one rookie who made the 2003 poll.
In an annual tradition, Electronic Media asked top professionals from various corners of the business to provide input on who, exactly, is considered a “sure thing” in American TV syndication, which includes strips, weekly hours, first-run and off-net programs. Our panelists were asked to ponder their drawing power, marketability and overall influence in the television industry.
Our panelists this year included Bill Carroll, Katz Television Group VP and director of group programming; Jim Chabin, CEO of Promax BDA; Chris Lancey, president of Western International; Scott Stone and David Stanley, partners and co-founders of Stone Stanley Entertainment; and Lynn Stepanian, senior VP of programming and distribution for The WB 100+.
The results, which take into account the individual panelists’ rankings as well as the number of times the stars were voted for, saw action heroes disappear completely from the list, something the genre appears to be doing on television stations. Without Lucy Lawless, Pamela Anderson or Kevin Sorbo to kick around, our voters turned instead to four stars of off-net series, three talk shows, two newsmagazines and one court show. They determined which stars are coveted by audiences, stations and distributors alike. (A partridge in a pear tree did receive one vote, however.)
While this list covers only the top 10, a number of other figures did emerge from the voting who are not yet high-profile nationally syndicated figures but who may be ones to watch in the future. Those names include Sharon Osbourne, Jillian Barberie, Wayne Brady and Kevin James of “King of Queens.”
On to the creme de la creme.
Oprah Winfrey
1. For the second year in a row, King World’s matriarch continued to rule, packing a wallop with her on-screen and behind-the-scenes presence. So far this year the strip has earned a 5.7 household rating and is the only talk show to achieve gains in sweep-to-sweep performances with a 9 percent jump from a year ago.
“Not only has she had her long-running hit show, but she has become a launching pad for success in all areas of media,” one panelist said.
Despite Ms. Winfrey’s announcement that she will retire her show in a couple of years, panelists continued to be mesmerized by her ability to draw loyalty from fans.
“When her protege [Dr. Phil] is a hit and she still leads the list among daytime talkers, her magazine continues to be successful and Oxygen cable turns to her for an `after’ show, Oprah remains at the top of her game,” another executive wrote.
RANK LAST YEAR: 1
Dr. Phil
2. “Not since Oprah herself has there been a universally agreed upon hit in daytime syndication,” said one judge.
The phenomenon that has become “Dr. Phil” took the former Oprah protege and gave him his own platform, and the audiences followed. His outstanding debut this season for distributor King World has earned a 4.4 household rating, the best first-run debut in years and topping even off-net runs of “Will & Grace” so far this season.
“He has great upside. His success is upon him, and he seems to have what it takes to last,” said a panelist. “Not yet the king of syndication, but it’s inevitable with the queen in his court!” another wrote.
Dr. Phil’s direct style has quickly earned the series renewals around the country, with the strip now set through the 2005-06 season.
“Dr. Phil is an incredible talent who has made a huge impact on the syndication business,” Roger King, CEO of CBS Enterprises and King World Productions, said. “This extension is great news for us and the show’s affiliates, and we are thrilled to be working with Dr. Phil for many years to come.”
One panelist, however, remained skeptical about Dr. Phil:
“He may be Oprah’s protege, but he’s starting to sound like Dr. Laura.”
RANK LAST YEAR: Not on the list
The cast of `Friends’
3. With syndication’s best rating in adults 18 to 49 with a 5.2 and a strong household number of 7.0, thanks to runs in syndication and on cable, the fab six keep packing them in. A hefty renewal price for a 10th and final season clearly brought a sigh of relief from both NBC and distributor Warner Bros.
“At $10 million an episode, it would be difficult to be more bankable than the cast of Friends,” one observer said.
The series drew the highest commercial rates of any series in syndication, which is fortunate considering the hefty price tag for new episodes in prime time next year.
“With another year of production to feed the supply line, this show alone should fix the company’s stock price,” said a judge.
“When NBC is willing to pay the highest price per episode for a comedy, it is because the program is No. 1 among sitcoms on network, leads in syndication and is the most successful performer for TBS. There is little more that needs to be said,” concluded another.
RANK LAST YEAR: 3
Bart Simpson/The Simpsons
4. Coming in at No. 4 is a perennial favorite, which is TV’s longest-running comedy series and longest-running animated show in prime time. Don’t have a cow, but it remains a cash cow for the Fox Network, Fox Family and distributor Twentieth Television. Neither double nor triple runs seem to be able to slow down the success of the series.
“This show will run forever. The writing is still the best on television, and the stars show no signs of aging,” one observer said.
On the prime-time side, “Simpsons” still holds its own but fans of the show have been upset to learn the writers are mulling an end to the prime-time run two or three years down the road, even if it will play on in syndication forever. Still, young and old alike continue to flock to Springfield.
“Bankable because not since Dennis the Menace has America identified so warmly with a yellow-haired troublesome child. It seems that every family has a little Bart running around,” said one panelist.
RANK LAST YEAR: 5
Jerry Seinfeld
5. Those double runs and TBS airings helped keep Sony’s behemoth among the top five most bankable, as Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer continue to bring in the renewals and ratings.
One panelist pointed out that the series landed on his list “because there’s always something new to laugh about.”
TBS has clearly taken notice. The cable channel recently announced that it will experiment for the first time ever with an off-net sitcom in prime time, scheduling “Seinfeld” to air Wednesdays at 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. On the syndication side, the series has earned a season-to-date average of 6.7, with a 4.6 among adults 18 to 49, second in syndication only to “Friends” in that demographic.
RANK LAST YEAR: 7
Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa
6. Buena Vista’s dynamic duo have re-energized “Live With Regis” in recent years, say our panelists. The series has averaged a 3.4 rating this season, ranking behind only “Dr. Phil” and “Oprah” among talk shows.
With viewers lured by her youthful flair and drawn to her well-publicized pregnancy, jurists predict that Ms. Ripa will carry daytime audiences for years to come. Appearances on the NBC series “Ed” and her contract talks with “All My Children” only add to Ms. Ripa’s national profile.
“At an incredible pace, she has made people forget that Kathie Lee
occupied the chair next to Regis forever,” one judge said about Ms. Ripa’s connection with daytime audiences. “Kelly has brought new life and younger viewers to the `Live’ franchise,” another added. Mr. Philbin may no longer host a prime-time version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” or even its syndicated spinoff, but panelists feel that his legacy lives on.
One judge concluded about Mr. Philbin: “He’s become the Mr. Television of our generation.”
RANK LAST YEAR: 2
(Ms. Ripa ranked separately last year at No. 9)
Ray Romano
7. After bursting on the syndication scene last year with off-net runs of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Mr. Romano improved his standing in the ratings. The King World-distributed series has averaged a 6.2 score this season with a 3.8 among adults 18 to 49.
“Ray has found a way to touch America’s heart and funny bone at the same time,” wrote one observer.
In the latest November sweeps, “Raymond” was up 16 percent year to year. That’s not bad for a show that was close to cancellation in its infancy. Now not only do audiences love Raymond, but he has earned the respect of his peers as well.
“A deserved Emmy, a successful foray into movie animation [`Ice Age’] and the continued success of his sitcom both on CBS and in syndication make Ray a logical choice [as a bankable star],” said a jurist.
RANK LAST YEAR: 4
Mary Hart and Bob Goen
8. The show that keeps expanding saw Paramount’s workhorse “Entertainment Tonight” dabble in spinoffs, including programs on MTV, VH1, and now “The Insider.” “Is it just me, or are these guys turning into the elder statesmen of Hollywood magazine television?” one judge asked.
The series has scored as the top magazine in syndication for 48 consecutive sweeps, spanning 12 years. This year “ET” has earned a 5.8 rating and a 2.5 among adults 18 to 49. In fact, “ET” commands the top 30-second commercial costs of any first-run show in syndication (and second overall to “Friends”).
RANK LAST YEAR: 10
Judy Sheindlin
9. Bang the gavel for order in the marketplace. The queen of court shows, “Judge Judy” continues to easily outdistance the competition nationally, earning a 5.1 rating in households. The series is so potent Paramount runs it on both KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV in Los Angeles. With no new court shows set to hit syndication next season, “Judge Judy” looks to cement its place atop the genre.
“Over the years other judges have tried, but no one can lay down the law like Judge Judy,” said one judge.
RANK LAST YEAR: 6
Pat O’Brien and Nancy O’Dell
10. They are the stars who talk about the stars. Marking the first time the “Access Hollywood” team has made the top 10 cut of most bankable stars, the series continues to earn upgrades in markets around the country. Distributor NBC Enterprises gave it a national post-Emmys special last September to solid results and spun off the series to create “AMC Access” on AMC. The series has averaged a 2.6 this season, with a 1.4 in adults 18 to 49, tying for second in the demo.
“Having the ability to shine while reporting about the brightest stars in the world is a very special talent,” one jurist said about the duo.
RANK LAST YEAR: Not on the list.
RANKED LAST YEAR BUT NO LONGER ON THE LIST: Kevin Sorbo (No. 8 last year)