Fall of Martha Stewart Opens Doors for Others

Mar 15, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The imminent end of the longtime King World series “Martha Stewart Living” is giving some syndication projects new life heading into fall 2004 and beyond.
In the aftermath of dropping “Martha Stewart” from its lineups, the Viacom station group soon will make decisions that will affect the rest of the syndication industry, including the future of “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack,” “Larry Elder” and even another potential “Oprah Winfrey Show” spinoff.
King World had been mum on the future of the Martha Stewart series beyond this season, even before the trial, which resulted in the daytime hostess’ conviction for making false statements and obstruction of justice in connection with her sale of nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone Systems stock.
Despite the show’s being being dropped by Viacom, King World sent out a release last week stating that the syndicator will continue to distribute “Martha Stewart Living” to local stations that want to broadcast the program for the rest of the season. Beyond that, however, the show’s future is up in the air.
The series received severe downgrades to late-night in numerous markets, including New York, before this season. Viacom stations are now running repeats of series such as “Entertainment Tonight” in “Martha’s” old time slot.
Looking toward this fall, sources said Viacom is nearing completion of a deal with distributor Telepictures for the upcoming “Larry Elder” talk show that would give the strip its New York and Los Angeles clearances for the fall.
Insiders said the deals would put the series’ clearance level “over -the top,” with the rest of the country expected to fall in line in short order once the deal is announced. Expectations are that “Larry Elder” will take over “Living It Up!’s” current time slot.
King World’s struggling talk show strip “Living It Up! With Ali & Jack” has been the subject of cancellation rumors since the November sweeps, despite two-year agreements with its stations. Though some stations seemed willing to swallow the license fee and drop the series, there is renewed speculation the strip will indeed come back on the Viacom group despite low ratings. “Martha Stewart” was at one point considered a strong candidate for the “Living It Up!” time slots .
With “Martha” out of the lineup, now the reverse looks to be coming to fruition, with “Living It Up!” set to take “Martha’s” late-night spots if “Living It Up!” returns.
One Viacom station general manager said the biggest move sparked by Ms. Stewart’s conviction may come from Oprah Winfrey.
Though a spokesperson at Ms. Winfrey’s Harpo Productions denied any plans were under way for another spinoff (“Dr. Phil” launched in syndication in 2002 and instantly became daytime’s No. 2 show), executives continue to talk about the next protege to come from the “Oprah” family and speculate that “Martha’s” cancellation could hasten the launch of a spinoff if the Viacom group is interested.
The primary focus for a spinoff centers on Nate Berkus, a regular on “Oprah” this season and a seasoned Chicago decorator. He was named Chicago Social Magazine’s design editor in 2000 and was listed in House Beautiful’s Next Wave in Design Talent in 2003. His presence on “Oprah” has increased, and sources said he could be eyeballed as “the next Martha Stewart.”
“Nate is an emerging member of the `Oprah’ family, someone who `Oprah’ viewers know, and when he makes appearances on the show, audiences obviously like him,” said Bill Carroll, VP and head of group programming at Katz Television. “`Oprah’ has done a wonderful job showcasing what he brings to television: his good looks, his communications skills and his decorating talents. There is now the beginning of a following for Nate. I would equate it to where Dr. Phil was in his first year on the `Oprah’ show, but not where he was after appearing for four or five years.”
Another name being mentioned as a candidate for a Harpo project in 2005 is Dr. Phil’s son Jay McGraw. Sources said that his name has already been mentioned for a possible MTV show, but the series is also being looked at for daytime syndication.
Jay McGraw is the author of The New York Times best seller “Life Strategies for Teens,” and “Closing the Gap: A Strategy for Bringing Parents and Teens Together” and “Ultimate Weight Solution for Teens: The 7 Keys to Weight Freedom.”