By Debra Kaufman
Special to TelevisionWeek
Rachael Ray’s first foray into TV was on a cooking segment of the evening news on WRGB-TV, the CBS affiliate in the Albany-Schenectady, N.Y., area. So it is sweet success for Steve Baboulis, VP and general manager of the competing NBC affiliate WNYT-TV, that “Rachael Ray” is doing gangbusters for his station.
“The way it turned out, WRGB, where she originally worked, wound up with “Dr. Phil” and we wound up with “Rachael Ray,” he said. “And in the first ratings period, which concluded in November, Rachael was able to beat Dr. Phil. We feel great about that, because these [new shows] usually take time to grow.”
From St. Louis to Sacramento, “Rachael Ray” is helping local stations score the top spot in its time slot, even when it goes against seasoned pros. At KTVI-TV, the Fox affiliate in St. Louis, VP and General Manager Spencer Koch reported that “Rachael Ray” is on opposite “The View,” “Montel Williams,” “Jerry Springer” and the local news. “And she’s No. 1 in that time slot-after one season,” he said. “We’re very proud of that. The viewers have responded extremely well to her.”
The one-hour daily series “Rachael Ray,” which is produced by King World Productions in association with Harpo Productions, Scripps Networks and Watch Entertainment and distributed by King World Productions, features the unpretentious star who engages the studio audience and viewers with her hands-on cooking, liberally sauced with her signature joking and folksy philosophy. Using easy-to-prepare gourmet recipes as its platform, “Rachael Ray” sells the idea that everyday tasks such as cooking can be a source of creative expression, a celebration and a way to embrace good living.
“We think she is a great personality and has developed a terrific brand that will appeal to our viewers,” said Elliott Troshinsky, president and general manager of KCRA-TV in Sacramento. “It’s anecdotal, but our viewers like her personality.”
It doesn’t hurt that Ms. Ray has made significant inroads into becoming a brand, having developed relationships through cookware and knife offerings, among other endeavors. “Certainly, from a brand awareness standpoint, her name, I think, has been received very positively and will continue to develop over the year,” said Mr. Troshinsky.
What helps even more has been Ms. Ray’s enthusiasm in helping stations to promote the show. AT KTVI, Mr. Koch reported that he utilizes a range of Fox resources to promote the show. Early on, the station flew a couple of viewers to New York to meet her, tying the promotion into popular disc jockey J.C. Corcoran’s KHITS96 morning radio show. The station’s Web site features bloggers who talk about trying her recipes. Ms. Ray’s personal involvement in promotions has helped the station catapult the show to its top position.
“When the Cardinals were in New York City for the playoffs against the Mets, we had her do some specific spots for us, telling St. Louis to enjoy the game,” said Mr. Koch. “This is a great baseball town, and it worked very well. With the right plan, Rachael is very available for promotions. She’s been very good to us and to St. Louis.”
Station managers appreciate that Ms. Ray shows interest in individual stations. “Once it became clear that the show would become part of future negotiations, our interest in Rachael grew and grew-and she was aware of our interest,” said Mr. Baboulis. “She was interested in being on our station because she liked the demographics. Our demos are younger, and she wanted to make sure she’d reach the maximum audience that would be attracted to her. She’s very savvy about those things.” Mr. Baboulis reported that his station “promoted the heck” out of the show last year, and plans to run contests and other promotions in February and March.
In St. Louis, “Rachael Ray” comes in at No. 1 for all female demographics, and Mr. Koch notes that, with its large and diverse audiences, the city is “a good barometer for how she’ll do around the country.”
For Mr. Baboulis, the success of “Rachael Ray” means something special to viewers in his upstate New York market, since the region gave her a start in TV. “I’ve always liked what she’s done and always had faith that she would make it big,” he said. “We get lots of positive feedback about the hometown girl who made good. When local folks see the hometown girl who makes it to the network national level, it gives a midlevel market like ours a sense of pride in that person.”