Strips Test Sophomore Slump

Oct 2, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Many of the stalwart first-run syndicated Monday-through-Friday series returning for 2006-07 face a make-or-break season of ratings expectations and the prospect of long-term success.

Chief among them are sophomore talkers “The Tyra Banks Show” from Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution and NBC Universal’s “Martha,” plus courtroom half-hour “Judge Alex” from Twentieth Television.

In the first week of their second season, ratings are up for “Tyra” but down for “Martha” and “Alex.” Still, the jury remains out for all three.

The second year of a first-run strip is “always critical,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for the Katz Television Group. “Many shows have come back for a second year, but not a third.”

Profitability usually kicks in during season three, and after a second season renewals are traditionally for two seasons, so if a sophomore show is faltering, stations and studios will cut bait and move on.

With a third season, shows become “part of the landscape rather than the new kid on the block,” Mr. Carroll said. “Tyra” scored a 1.5 household rating for the week ended Sept. 17, a number that includes live viewing plus same-day viewing via digital video recorders, according to Nielsen Media Research. “Tyra” was up 36 percent from its premiere week average in September 2005, the biggest year-to-year increase of any first-run strip in syndication, not just the sophomores.

“Martha” suffered a decline from last season, dropping 35 percent from its debut week in September 2005 to a 1.3 this season.

“Alex” was also down, declining 10 percent from a 2.1 debut last year to a 1.9 season premiere week this year.

Assists From Upgrades

Sophomore shows such as “Tyra” and “Martha” are not the only talkers facing landmark years. Warner Bros.’ “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” saw “significant upgrades” in the top markets, Mr. Carroll noted, including moves to afternoons in New York and Los Angeles, where the show is going up against the No. 1 talk show in syndication, CBS Paramount’s “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

“That’s going to be beneficial or hurt you,” Mr. Carroll said. “It certainly raises visibility and also adds to the scrutiny as everyone does in terms of the performance.”

In addition, during the week ended Sept. 17, four of the five entertainment newsmagazines experienced significant growth over the same week last year. Genre leader “Entertainment Tonight” from CBS Paramount grew 16 percent from the same week last season to a 5.1 rating, while King World’s “Inside Edition” was up 10 percent to a 3.4, followed by CBS Paramount’s “The Insider,” which enjoyed an 8 percent increase to a 2.7. NBC Universal’s “Access Hollywood” had the biggest growth, with a 24 percent increase to a 2.6. Warner Bros.’ “Extra” was on par with its rating from last season, a 2.2.

The ratings performances of the newsmagazines may be due in part to their schedule stability, since “for the most part the shows are basically in the same time periods for the past season,” Mr. Carroll said. In other words, most viewers know where to find them.

The big push for new network programming plus magazine coverage of the high-profile divorce announcement from singer Whitney Houston and husband Bobby Brown were also a likely factor in the newsmagazine ratings boost, he said.

“The reason they watch is in essence the headlines of the day, not the set or the style, but what’s happening,” Mr. Carroll said, downplaying any creative changes made at the newsmagazines.

“There is more interest when there’s a lot going on,” Mr. Carroll said. “The beginning of the new season would account for that.”