Newsmags Rally in a Stalled Field

Oct 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

In a first-run syndication market struggling to live up to last year’s benchmarks, newsmagazines have gained some modest steam.

Among all returning first-run shows this season, only four have shown ratings growth versus the same period last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. Three of the four shows that are posting year-to-year improvements-“Entertainment Tonight,” “Inside Edition” and “Access Hollywood”- are newsmagazines. (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” is also up.)

The newsmagazine genre as a group had a 7 percent boost during the past four weeks for which national household ratings are available.

But court shows: Down an average of 11 percent. Talk shows: Down 14 percent. Game shows: Flat.

Overall in media, the tabloid news genre has been gaining popularity the past couple of years, both in syndicated programming and gossip-driven print magazines such as People, Us Weekly, In Touch, Star and Life & Style.

This summer, with decreased first-run competition, newsmagazines, which remain in originals through the summer, took off as tabloid events such the death of Steve Irwin, the birth of Suri Cruise and the drunken-driving arrest of Mel Gibson provided multi-day fodder.

“The genre has been red-hot for several years now, but what we’ve seen the last few months is a series of remarkable stories,” said Charles Lachman, executive producer of “Inside Edition,” which was up 9 percent for the week ending Oct. 8.

By getting viewers into the habit of watching the newsmags during the summer, when competition was relatively low, it put the genre in a solid position for staying strong once the season got under way.

Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz Television Group, said the genre is benefiting from a couple of factors.

“They do best when there’s a lot of entertainment headlines, and we certainly have gone through a period of time when that’s the case,” he said. “In addition, there’s been a real consistency in terms of the on-air talent and time periods for newsmagazines.”

As for the other genres, Mr. Carroll ran down their drawbacks: “Game shows go up and down, they’re cyclical … we have so many court shows we may be at a saturation point, and we haven’t had a breakout sitcom in a number of years,” he said.

But the relative success of the newsmagazine won’t necessarily lead to more spinoffs. “I think the audience is well served in this area,” said Terry Wood, president of creative affairs and development for CBS Television Distribution Group. “It’s not about having more, it’s about maintaining and growing that audience.”

The only returning non-newsmagazine first-run show that’s made gains versus last year was “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” perhaps benefiting from the suddenly higher profile of host Meredith Vieira, who recently joined the “Today” show.

Among the new syndicated shows, King World’s “Rachael Ray” continued to lead by a wide margin, scoring a 2.0 national household rating in the week ended Oct. 8, the most recent numbers available, though it was down 5 percent from the previous week.

Among other new shows, “Geraldo at Large” was down 13 percent week to week to a 1.4, “Cristina’s Court” was unchanged with a 1.3 and “The Dr. Keith Ablow Show” was down 10 percent to a 0.9.

“The Megan Mullally Show” was up 13 percent to a 0.9 versus the previous week, but took a hit in distribution. The show has been downgraded on NBC stations in New York and Columbus, Ohio, but the downgrade was not reflected in the Oct. 8 figures.

“Star Trek: The Original Series,” which returned to weekly broadcast syndication this year, drew a 1.2.