Changing business models throughout the industry have shaken up the ranks in the 2007 list of “The Most Bankable Stars of Syndication.” While the names may be familiar from previous lists compiled by TelevisionWeek, the results revealed that pundits from all sides of the programming industry are searching for a true franchise in every aspect of the word.
With the reigning “Bankable” champion, Oprah Winfrey, remaining comfortably atop the list while overseeing her media empire, panelists this year were quick to pick other household names who are in the midst of becoming moguls in their own right. They chose stars who are known on a first-name basis, including Regis, Kelly, Rachael, Tyra, Ellen and Phil. All of these are names that have been cultivated into brands with loyal followings, not only through their syndicated shows but through other outlets as well, including books, stage, radio and network or cable series.
The rise of these franchise players pushed names from other genres either down or off the list completely. For example, for the first time in the history of the “Bankable Stars” survey, no game show hosts made the top 10 despite high ratings, although Pat Sajak of “Wheel of Fortune,” Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy!” and Meredith Vieira of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” all came close. Mr. Trebek was ranked No. 9 in last year’s survey and No. 5 the year before. Now, panelists are noting that in game shows it was the genre that was the draw, not the personality.
Off-net strips also took a major tumble despite drawing bigger ratings than most first-run series. The genre’s big three, “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Seinfeld” and “Friends,” all fell drastically from a year ago, with “Friends” sliding off the list completely. In some ways this shift reflects the mood of television audiences, as all three shows have seen double-digit drops over year-ago numbers in the Nielsen Media Research ratings charts. As one panelist said, “There isn’t a whole lot left to milk.”
Our annual survey taps the knowledge of some of the television industry’s most plugged-in pundits to see which syndicated personality currently on the air, either in first-run or off-network, has the ability to make a project a runaway success. Every year we include experts from around the business with different areas of expertise, from the creative side, to advertisers and the stations.
They consider both audience and advertiser draw, their ability to create spinoff projects and their appeal, no matter in which daypart a show is broadcast. They are then asked to rank their top 10 personalities and comment on why they deserve to be included on the list.
TelevisionWeek tallies their votes using a point system that considers where the star is ranked as well as how many times that person (or persons) appears on the ballots.
1. Oprah Winfrey
Sitting atop the rankings for the sixth year in a row is King World’s girl with the golden touch. Aside from presiding over the top-rated talk show for 396 consecutive weeks, averaging a 6.9 rating so far this season and being the driving force behind this season’s top-rated rookie “Rachael Ray,” Ms. Winfrey’s projects continue to touch American culture.
“She is bigger than TV,” noted one panelist. “The `Queen of the Afternoon’ remains the champ and the only show to successfully spin off two successful daytime series: `Dr. Phil’ and `Rachael Ray.”‘
In February, Ms. Winfrey signed a $55 million, 3-year contract with XM Satellite Radio to establish a new channel for the outlet. Dubbed “Oprah & Friends,” the channel features some of the most popular contributors for her syndicated show as well as O Magazine, including Nate Berkus, Bob Greene, Dr. Robin Smith and Gayle King. Her contract reportedly requires her to be on air 30 minutes a week for 39 weeks a year.
“Anyone on the panel who does not have her as No. 1 on their list should not be on your panel,” noted one panelist, while another simply said, “It’s Oprah, need I say more?”
One concern surfaced, however, from a participant who noted that Ms. Winfrey’s messages to her audiences may turn off some viewers in the long run.
“We love Oprah,” he wrote. “But questions for guests seem to serve as openings for her latest insights. Still the one for history, but she may need to refocus a bit, or Tom-Kat won’t be the only ones forgetting to invite her.”
2. Dr. Phil McGraw
“Dr. Phil is dead sexy-either that or he’s a good shrink,” said one survey voter.
Either way, it’s become clear that “Dr. Phil” has only gotten better with time. The series was the only talk show to show improvement in sweep-to sweep comparisons coming out of November, and has averaged a 5.2 rating so far this season.
That feeling is shared by many of the participants for “Most Bankable Stars.” “`Dr. Phil’ remains the second-most-popular daytime series. The program benefited from its originator Oprah but now stands on its own,” said one of the panelists.
Dr. Phil, in return, continues to turn his family into business moguls with their own brands. His wife, Robin McGraw, scored a slew of sales with her best-selling book “Inside My Heart: Choosing to Live with Passion and Purpose.” Meanwhile, Dr. Phil’s son, Jay McGraw, drew national attention for his wedding to model Erica Dahm.
This season has seen its share of complications though. Recently, brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe filed a lawsuit claiming libel and slander against the talk show host over an episode that focused on the disappearance of teen Natalee Holloway. In addition, the staff was required to shut down production at a house where the series was taping episodes involving guests who lived there while receiving different types of therapy.
That hasn’t stopped the panelists from acknowledging Dr. Phil’s part in reviving the talk show genre.
“He’s the best thing to happen to daytime TV since sliced white bread,” said one.
3. Judge Judy Sheindlin
Making a triumphant return to the “Most Bankable” list at the No. 3 spot, Judge Judy reaffirms her place among the pillars of syndication after briefly falling off the list last year.
“Judge Judy scares me and a lot of other people,” said one participant. “We watch because we are scared she will find us if we don’t.”
Rating nearly two full points over its nearest competitor, “Judge Judy” is averaging a 4.7 rating so far this season, virtually on par with last year despite a bevy of competitors entering the court show genre for 2006-07. It recently marked its 534th straight week as the top-rated strip in the genre.
Of course, that may have only reminded the panelists why the judge remains the queen of the court show docket.
“The one and only `Judge Judy’ remains the most popular program among the court genre despite a seemingly endless stream of competitors,” said one expert.
With a new star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as a celebration of her 10th season on the air, “Judge Judy’s” formula of playing daytime’s tough face seems set to bring the show back for another 10.
“She is just so patient with the people who come on her show,” joked one observer.
4. Regis Philbin, Kelly Ripa
Buena Vista’s dynamic duo rose from No. 7 to No. 4 on this year’s list and clearly continue to keep the spotlight focused on their every move.
“Philbin and Ripa are the Burns and Allen of our time, remaining relevant and entertaining every morning. They are syndication treasures,” said a panelist.
Averaging a 3.3 rating this season, the team has firmly established itself as a stalwart among pop culture icons, generating national buzz even for incidents involving Clay Aiken. Mr. Philbin’s year saw him inducted into the Halls of Fame of both the National Association of Broadcasters and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He also took a turn as host of “America’s Got Talent.”
“For a guy who went to high school with Moses, he just won’t quit,” said one expert.
Co-host Kelly Ripa, on the other hand, brings her own mentality to the series, prompting regular speculation on the future of her career, whether it’s in daytime or prime time.
“Kelly is a m
odern-day superwoman who is able to balance her career and personal life while maintaining an infectious sense of humor and charm that is always fun to watch,” said one survey participant. Another noted, “I look forward to seeing how she turns her loyal audiences into a cash-making machine.”
5. Rachael Ray
America’s best franchise story of the past year clearly went to the host of King World’s latest series “Rachael Ray,” which had the highest-rated premiere and first week for a syndicated talk show since the 2002 launch of “Dr. Phil.” Shifting from a hit cable series to a daytime syndicated gig only seemed to turn up the publicity machine for the host.
“Rachael’s down-to-earth girl-next-door persona is loved by all,” said one panelist. “Whether she’s cooking a souffle in 30 minutes or talking with her guests, her engaging and relatable personality makes her irresistible to watch on screen.”
Averaging a 2.1 in her debut season, Ms. Ray continues to broaden her growing media empire. Her last four cookbook releases have each taken the top position on best-seller lists after only a week on sale, including her latest effort, “2,4,6,8: Great Meals for Couples or Crowds.” Meanwhile, her magazine Every Day With Rachael Ray, where she serves as editor in chief, completed its first year in operation and a cookware line bearing her name surpassed expectations.
“Even though at times she may be too bubbly for some, daytime audiences have embraced her cooking gabfest,” said a participant. “Thank goodness for another Oprah-inspired offering.”
6. Ellen DeGeneres
A fixture on the “Most Bankable Stars” list since her talk show debuted in 2003, Ms. DeGeneres continues to bring playtime back to daytime with her Emmy Award-winning series.
“Ellen is literally a one-woman show,” noted one panelist. “She can do it all: sing, write, act and dance. What’s not to love?”
An appealing presence both on screen and on stage, Ms. DeGeneres has been tapped in what may be her biggest gig yet, to host the Academy Awards on Feb. 25 after successfully taking on the Emmys twice. “With hosting the Academy Awards in her immediate future, Ellen, despite some major-market scheduling glitches, remains a funny solid daytime performer,” said one voter.
Her series, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” is averaging a 2.1 rating for the season. In 2006, her series won the category of Outstanding Talk Show as well as Outstanding Talk Show Host at the Daytime Emmys. She also won honors as Favorite Daytime Talk Show Host at The People’s Choice Awards, an honor she is up for again in 2007.
7. Tyra Banks
Earning a 1.4 household rating in her second season as host of “The Tyra Banks Show,” and packing in the young female demographics with a 1.1 score among women 18 to 49, Tyra Banks continues to mold young minds in both syndication and network television and enters the “Most Bankable” charts for the first time.
“Tyra is a person that young women respect and look up to,” said one expert. “She’s a model turned role model.”
Ms. Banks, who was named this past year by Time magazine as one of the 100 “People Who Shape Our World” and by Forbes magazine as one of “The World’s Most Powerful Celebrities,” recently had her syndicated show renewed for two more years. On the network side, her series didn’t lose a step after switching this season from UPN to The CW Network, where she is now serving as host and executive producer for cycle eight of “America’s Next Top Model.”
In addition, this rising mogul is reportedly in the process of launching her own magazine and a fashion line.
“She cannot be stopped,” said one panelist. “Take that to the `Banks.”‘
8. Mary Hart
Scoring ratings that have made it the top newsmagazine in syndication for 544 straight weeks, the “Entertainment Tonight” co-host celebrated her 25th season on a high note, signing a multiyear deal to remain on the show.
“Mary Hart could stand in front of a test pattern and I’d still watch,” said one expert, while another noted that the series “continues to have `legs.”‘
The newsmagazine scored well-publicized exclusives this past season, airing interviews such as the reunion of Amy Fisher with Mary Jo and Joey Buttafuoco for the first time in 14 years and being the first to speak with Anna Nicole Smith after the birth of her daughter and death of her son.
9. Cast of `Everybody Loves Raymond’
The death of Peter Boyle struck a blow to the flocks of fans of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” but the series continues to take the top spot for its genre in its sixth season in off-network syndication. Still, it fell from the No. 2 spot in the “Most Bankable Stars” rankings to No. 9.
“Everyone is still in love with this sitcom,” said one panelist, while another noted, “This is a cast that was clearly able to touch the hearts of the country.”
Off-net runs of the series have shown signs of erosion, dipping 15 percent from a 6.2 to a 5.3 rating in year-to-year comparisons, but still nearly a full point ahead of its nearest competitor. Meanwhile, many of the cast members continue to earn headlines of their own as they spin off into their own projects.
Star Ray Romano scored with kids as the voice of Manny in “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown,” and also appeared in “Grilled.” This year he is scheduled to star in the feature film “The Grand.” Patricia Heaton is developing a number of television projects on her own while Brad Garrett returned to the small screen in Fox’s comedy `”Til Death” and lent his voice to films such as “Night at the Museum” and next year’s animated Pixar film “Ratatouille.”
10. Cast of `Seinfeld’
In its 12th season in syndication, the series about nothing continues to draw headlines as the cast branches off into individual projects.
Michael Richards’ tirade while performing a stand-up routine earned national attention, while Julia Louis-Dreyfus won an Emmy for her role on “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and is nominated for a Golden Globe as well. Jerry Seinfeld will return to acting as a voice in the children’s animated feature “Bee Movie” this year.
Mr. Richards’ headlines, in particular, didn’t go unnoticed by our panelists.
“They were No. 7 on my list but thanks to Michael Richards, they have fallen to No. 9,” wrote one participant. Another noted that “Even Kramer’s alter-ego, Michael Richards, could not dampen viewers’ enthusiasm for `the show about nothing.’ Despite the recent controversy, DVDs are selling at a record pace and the daily airings are as popular as ever.”
The cast took a dip compared with last year’s “Most Bankable Stars” survey, falling from No. 5 to No. 10. Ratings for the strip have also tumbled, pacing 19 percent below last season’s 5.4 to a 4.4 score.
Falling from last year’s list: the cast of “CSI” (6), cast of “Friends” (8) and Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy!” (9).