The Most Bankable Stars in Syndication

Jan 12, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The crown jewels of station lineups have only gained in value, as indicated by TelevisionWeek’s 2004 list of the Most Bankable Stars in Syndication.
Human money machines may be more and more difficult to find in an age when formats are emerging as viable players in the syndication game. That said, the industry’s top stars strengthened their hold atop the list. Eight of the top 10 vote-getters are veterans of our yearly survey measuring stars’ power to draw audiences and advertisers and their marketability and power behind the scenes.
Our jury of voters this year included experts from around the syndication business -each with a unique and formidable insight on who is a “sure thing” when it comes to television. Jury members were Lance Klein, agent at Endeavor Talent; Chris Lancey, president of Western International; Stacey Marks-Bronner, general manager of Chicago station WFLD-TV; Lynn Stepanian, senior VP of programming and distribution for The WB 100+; Chuck Larsen, president of October Moon Television; Bill Carroll, Katz Television Group VP and head of group programming; Jim Chabin, Promax & BDA president and CEO; and Greg Spring, director of development at Pie Town Productions.
Each judge was asked to rank 10 personalities he or she felt deserved to make the list, with the qualifier that the personality has to be featured on a syndicated program that aired this season or was scheduled to debut sometime in 2004. The results saw a plethora of shows the voters felt were “gimmes” for studios, media planners and stations. In the end, stars from 14 shows were in the thick of the voting when the final ballot came in. That final ballot saw last year’s two newsmagazine representatives, “Entertainment Tonight” and “Access Hollywood,” as well as off-net strip “Will & Grace” and first-run series “On-Air With Ryan Seacrest” just miss the cut.
Two newcomers entered the ranks: Ellen DeGeneres, who hosts this season’s top freshman talk show, and Jane Pauley, who has a show that has yet to see the light of day but is already considered to be a formidable series for its distributor.
1. Oprah Winfrey
Who needs retirement? Ms. Winfrey provided the pain relief needed by King World executives (and more than a few stations) when she extended her host contract with the distributor through the 2007-08 season.
“She sells books. She sells CDs. And her face is on a magazine cover every single month. Not bad for the most influential woman in America today,” said one panelist who voted the daytime queen tops.
It’s easy to peg a show more than a decade old as aging, but Ms. Winfrey has bucked the odds, adding a new executive producer before the season and seeing a ratings spike by reinventing herself. The talk guru gave distributor King World a holiday bonus, jumping 14 percent year to year to a 7.2 household rating during the November sweeps, according to Nielsen. In addition, viewership in the females 18 to 34 demographic increased nationally by 26 percent from 2001-02 to 2002-03 and is up 11 percent this season, indicating that the show is breeding a whole new group of fans.
“The most influential person on television. She brought us Dr. Phil and then reinvented herself again,” one voter said.
Another added: “If television had royalty, Oprah would be our queen. She transcends our business.”
Ms. Winfrey is ranked No. 1 for the third year in a row, and her place among the most bankable can be expected to continue-at least through the 2007-08 season.
Rank Last Year: 1
2. Dr. Phil McGraw
His show, “Dr. Phil,” is only in its second season, but the spawn of Ms. Winfrey’s brain trust at Harpo matched last year’s No. 2 spot on the list and even gave Ms. Winfrey a run for her money.
“As long as viewers see him as a savior instead of a snake oil salesman, people are going to make a lot of money off him,” one voter said.
The sophomore outing for “Dr. Phil” created even more buzz than the show’s first sweeps a year ago, buoyed by prime-time upgrades in some markets and his best-selling book “The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution.”
“I voted for him because he’s a marketing machine; because he’s the one-minute shrink; because he communicates like every woman dreams her man would,” one participant wrote.
National numbers for November showed “Dr. Phil” with a 5.7 household rating, up 27 percent vs. year-ago numbers, with female demographics similarly affected. Among women 18 to 34, the series is up 19 percent from a 2.1 to a 2.5; among women 18 to 49 the series rose 23 percent to a 3.2 (vs. a 2.6); and among women 25 to 54 the strip jumped 23 percent to a 3.8.
Although clearly some insiders keep waiting for Dr. Phil’s carriage to turn into a pumpkin, they respect his performance.
“After an early bout with a bit of crankiness, the good doctor seems to have settled into a comfortable chair in front of a studio audience,” said one juror, while another simply stated: “I didn’t want to give [the vote] to him, but I had to.”
Rank Last Year: 2
3. Jerry Seinfeld
Perhaps nothing better illustrates how one man can hold sway over Hollywood than the clamor of industry executives trying to get tickets to see Mr. Seinfeld perform. That’s what’s happening with the namesake of Sony’s off-net hit “Seinfeld,” who will perform at the National Association of Television Program Executives conference as the distributor prepares to sell the series’ third cycle to stations.
“In 2018 TV Land will still be running ‘Seinfeld.’ It deserves to be honored in the Smithsonian with the Wright brothers’ plane,” one panelist said.
Its prime-time run on TBS and the upcoming launch of the “Seinfeld” DVD collection keep viewers returning to the “show about nothing.” In fact, voters for The Most Bankable Stars moved Mr. Seinfeld up two spots despite his departure from prime time several years ago. One voter wrote that if there is one chink in the armor, this distance from prime time could be it.
“The show may be old and dated, but people still like it and the series still pulls in a nice amount of money,” one observer said.
From a ratings point of view, “Seinfeld” continues to compete for the top off-network spot among syndicated strips, averaging a 6.2 during the November sweeps. But the more impressive statistic may come from among the younger demographics, where its leads among men 18 to 49 and its rating in adults 18 to 49 every night still beats some network prime-time lineups.
“‘Seinfeld’ just keeps going after eight years, and we can still attract an audience with episodic promotion,” one participant wrote. “The viewer will make an appointment to watch an episode that is their favorite on a regular basis. Priceless!”
Rank Last Year: 5
4. ‘Friends’ Cast
The cast members may be leaving prime time after this season, but their faces will continue to represent appointment television in syndication as “Friends” rolls into the “Bankable” list’s fourth spot.
“‘Friends’ is showing class by stepping off the stage while the crowd’s still cheering, in the same vein as ‘M*A*S*H’ or ‘Mary Tyler Moore.’ Bravo!” a voter wrote.
The series was tops among all off-net strips during the November sweeps period with a 6.3 rating. Soon the Warner Bros. access stalwart will see what life is like without network promotion driving “Friends” addicts to the show. “Friends” has earned more than $1 billion for its distributor, and the greenbacks are expected to continue through the series’ second and third cycles. In addition, the series leads all syndication programming in ad revenues. It snared 15 percent to 18 percent increases this year to $20 to $22 costs per thousand for 18 to 49 viewers.
“When you can generate the amount of ad revenue ‘Friends’ earns, it can’t be beat,” one panelist said.
Rank Last Year: 3
5. Ray Romano
The star of the CBS hit “Everybody Loves Raymond” may not have announced yet how much longer the series will be on the air, but King World continues to cash in on the biggest off-net hit to enter syndication in years.
“Viewers will be sad when his sitcom ends,” one survey participant said. “Ray has proven a
very likable friend to the viewing audience. His recognition alone makes him a force to be reckoned with … whatever he decides to do next.”
After winning the Emmy for best comedy series last year, “Raymond” is the No. 5 show in total viewers in prime time, drawing an average of 18.9 million viewers season to date during its eighth season. In its third year in syndication, King World’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” challenges longtime off-net pillars “Friends” and “Seinfeld” with a 6.0 rating.
“The class act award goes to funnyman Ray Romano for remaining a nice guy while collecting a cool $45 million from CBS … and then sharing it with his co-stars,” a voter said. “When’s the last time that happened in this town?”
King World is now preparing to sell the second cycle of the series, which is cleared on the Tribune stations in the major markets.
Rank Last Year: 7
6. Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa
As Regis Philbin begins a new three-year contract during his 16th season in syndication, his partner in crime, Kelly Ripa, is making waves of her own.
The success of ABC’s Friday night sitcom “Hope & Faith” has Disney feeling the love for the former “All My Children” actress. During the November sweeps, Buena Vista’s “Live With Regis and Kelly” scored a 3.9 household rating, an 11 percent year-to-year rise for the sweeps-one of only three series to show gains.
“A marriage made by [executive producer Michael] Gelman, this is a must-see destination in the morning that has not only endured but thrived,” one voter gushed. “Regis will modestly claim that ‘[Who Wants to Be a] Millionaire’ saved ABC, but it is Kelly with her sitcom that might do it again.”
Touchstone TV/Industry Entertainment’s “Hope & Faith,” starring Faith Ford and Ms. Ripa, ranks as the top Friday series in adults 18 to 49 and adults 18 to 34. The series was given its back nine order in October.
Rank Last Year: 6
7. The Simpsons
The longest-running network sitcom ever continues to be a monster in syndication and then some.
The anchor of many stations’ access lineups has now generated more than $1 billion in retail sales, including more than 1.5 million DVDs. Despite a glut of other adult-themed animated series that are trying to copy the success of “The Simpsons” it remains clear that Homer and his clan cannot be replicated.
“This animated dynamo and his enduring series continues without missing a beat,” wrote one observer.
Fans of the show were relieved to hear that Fox agreed to renew the series through May 2005 after speculation ran wild that the series would soon come to an end. In syndication, the series remains a top draw, especially in the younger demos.
“The only thing that is going to stop ‘The Simpsons’ is if ‘Queer Eye’ gives Homer a makeover,” wrote an observer.
Rank Last Year: 4
8. Jane Pauley
For the first time in the history of the bankable stars rankings, a celebrity received enough votes to be ranked even before her first-run series hits the small screen.
“The Jane Pauley Show” is slated to debut in the fall and is cleared in more than 90 percent of the country, including the NBC owned-and-operated stations. According to voters, it’s clear the likability factor won’t be an issue.
“Who doesn’t like Jane Pauley? Everyone loves Jane,” one voter wrote.
Another added: “Successful. Likable. Professional. She is automatic.”
Ms. Pauley wrapped up a long stint on “Dateline NBC” with a prime-time special, “Jane Pauley: Signing Off.” Ten million viewers watched to say goodbye to a name synonymous with NBC’s news shows since 1976. The speculation among some insiders was that she would launch a magazine or host a cable show, but Ms. Pauley soon agreed to host her own daytime strip after talking with NBC Enterprises President Ed Wilson. The series quickly sold and now stands to be a formidable contender after its debut next season.
“What more can you say? The series hasn’t even hit the air and it’s already shown a profit,” one survey participant noted.
Rank Last Year: Not ranked
9. Judge Judy Sheindlin
The queen of the courtroom continued her dominance of the genre by earning a 5.3 household rating during the November book, almost 2 points higher than her nearest competitor.
“Everybody keeps looking to Oprah, but pound for pound, I’ll take Judge Judy any day. Judy draws more viewers than Oprah, week in and week out, has single-handedly revived a genre that has proven to be the healthiest in all of syndication, and her show costs a mere fraction of what ‘Oprah’ costs to produce, meaning more bang for everybody’s buck,” one voter said.
Distributor Paramount made sure the strip would continue for a number of years, inking renewals in early November in the country’s top 30 markets through 2006, for coverage of 80 percent of the country.
Rank Last Year: 9
10. Ellen DeGeneres
Of the pack of new first-run strips, Telepictures’ “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has clearly grabbed the most headlines. The series in November was up 14 percent from its September debut to a 1.6. And it is still growing, reaching a new high of 1.7 in December. “Ellen’s” metered market numbers are even higher.
“Neither Anne Heche nor [Ms. DeGeneres’] ‘coming out’ has ultimately hampered this talented observational comedian-turned-talker from reaching the hearts of America,” one observer said.
“Ellen DeGeneres” has already been renewed on the NBC O&O stations for a sophomore outing in the fall. That represents more than 30 percent of the country. In total, the series has been sold in more than 50 markets for year two, including 19 of the top 20, covering more than 60 percent of the country.
“Her resilience and gentle, humorous style has the audience falling in love with her all over again,” another panelist said.
Last Year:
Not ranked
Ranked Last Year but No Longer on the List:
“Entertainment Tonight’s” Mary Hart and Bob Goen (8); “Access Hollywood’s” Pat O’Brien and Nancy O’Dell (10).