‘Martha’ Back for a Second Season

Dec 12, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Domestic goddess Martha Stewart’s rookie talk strip, “Martha,” has been cleared in 90 percent of the country for 2006-07 as local stations continue to firm up their programming lineups.

The clearances make the NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution show the second of this season’s three nationally rated debuting first-run strips to announce it will be coming back next fall. Twentieth Television’s courtroom strip “Judge Alex” received a firm go in October after the Fox Television Stations Group agreed to clear the show for a sophomore season. The only first-run strip not yet confirmed to return is Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution’s “The Tyra Banks Show.”

In years past, 10 to 12 new syndicated strips were introduced each year, with only two or three succeeding.

If the major distributors do go 3 for 3 on renewals for their rookie first-run strips, the strategy of cutting down on the amount of new programming and focusing on only the most promising projects is paying off, said Bill Carroll, VP and director of television for Katz Television Group. “It’s by design a more well-conceived survival of the fittest,” Mr. Carroll said. “If they don’t return for the second year, it’s not because the economic model is wrong-it’s because the audience has rejected the show, which can happen anytime.”

Unlike “Martha” and “Alex,” which both run on their respective company-owned station groups, “Tyra” runs on the News Corp. station group’s Fox- and UPN-affiliated stations. Warner Bros. and News Corp. are currently in negotiations over “Tyra’s” second season, sources said. The syndicator is “cautiously optimistic” about the strip’s return, according to a senior studio executive. NBC Universal’s “Martha” announcement comes as Sony Pictures Television says it is going ahead with its own talk strip for fall 2006, and Warner Bros. gets closer to deciding if it, too, will have a talk project for next fall.

Sony, which has already cleared the court strip “Judge Maria Lopez” in 90 percent of the U.S. for next fall, is rolling out a new talk strip on the Tribune Broadcasting stations as part of a deal struck by the two companies in May. Sony’s most recent foray into first-run syndication was “Life & Style,” which lasted one season in 2004-05. The company tried to launch a strip this fall with radio DJ Robin Quivers, but failed to secure distribution.

Comedian, “Sex and the City” writer and author of the best-seller “He’s Just Not That Into You” Greg Behrendt will host the new Sony show, which the company will begin selling on a cash-plus-barter basis in non-Tribune markets starting this week.

Warner Bros. is considering a fall 2006 talk strip with psychiatrist Keith Ablow, but is not expected to make any announcements until it confirms “Tyra” is coming back for a second season. “Tyra” may lose its second runs on the Fox owned-and-operated stations to make room for the Ablow project but stay with the News Corp.-owned UPN affiliates, which this season count for “Tyra’s” primary runs in Fox’s duopoly markets.

For the season to date through the week ended Nov. 27, “Martha” averaged a 1.7 national household rating, according to Nielsen Media Research.

“Martha” has been “trending upward nicely” in the women 25 to 54 demographic since the beginning of the season, said Barry Wallach, president of NBC Universal Domestic Television. While “Martha” is set for a second season, no decision has been made on NBC Universal’s third-season reality strip “Starting Over,” Mr. Wallach said.

“The show has never been a household story. It’s been about the [women 18 to 34] demo,” he said, noting that an announcement on a fourth season of “Starting Over” wouldn’t come until at least January. “We would like to see more growth,” he admitted, but added, “There’s so much we can’t see right now” about the show’s demo performance until after the local-market November sweeps ratings are in.

In terms of NBC Universal’s new strip for fall 2006 with “Will & Grace’s” Megan Mullally, that show has been cleared “in about half the country, and we have half to go,” Mr. Wallach said. “There are a couple holes in the top 10, top 15 markets.”