By Allison J. Waldman
Special to TelevisionWeek
Don’t be surprised if it’s business as usual when the nominations in the talk show categories are announced March 14 for the 34th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards. Most expert prognosticators expect “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” “Dr. Phil,” “Live With Regis and Kelly” and “The View” to continue snagging the lion’s share of nominations. “Oprah” would be there, too, if only she chose to participate.
“Oprah doesn’t enter,” said Terry Wood, president of creative affairs and development for CBS Television Distribution. “She competed for a long time, then she took herself and the show out of the process. I think she’s so gracious. She felt that she’s had her share and it was time to give someone else a chance.”
For the first time in many years, a rookie talk show may actually rate a Daytime Emmy nomination or two. Rachael Ray debuted her one-hour daily syndicated series, produced by King World Productions in association with Harpo Productions, Scripps Networks and Watch Entertainment, last fall. It was the highest-rated syndicated talk show launch since the 2002 premiere of “Dr. Phil.” Recently, the show was picked up for two more years.
“There’s no doubt that Rachael is appealing. She’s a known quantity thanks to her three Food Network shows,” said Mary Ann Cooper, who writes the syndicated daytime television column “Speaking of Soaps.” “The show is a reflection of her-a little loud, a little silly. Lots of food, lots of schmoozing with the audience and keeping it light. Unlike other stars, like Megan Mullally-who presented a persona that wasn’t like her popular `Will & Grace’ character-Ray doesn’t do that.”
“What’s worked for Rachael Ray is that we’ve let her be Rachael,” said Ms. Wood. “We didn’t try to come out with a show that was radically different from the relationship she already had with the audience. We created a home for her that when you turn on the television show you say she does belong there. It was a comfortable fit from the beginning.”
“The magic of a talk show is not just about hosting. It’s about bringing real content,” Ms. Wood said. “Viewers today really have to have take-away. It’s not just about communicating. It’s about connecting. I believe you connect with content.”
“Maybe Rachael Ray will get a shot in her first year out,” said Brian Frons, president of daytime for Disney/ABC Television Group. “You have to assume Ellen DeGeneres is going to be a player. Oprah turns it down, but `Dr. Phil’ is likely. `The View,’ of course. That’s probably the group.”
Both “Rachael Ray” and “Dr. Phil” are produced in part by Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. “I think for Oprah what she enjoys is when she can add to the television lineup shows that she feels belong,” Ms. Wood said. “She doesn’t do it often, but when she feels it, she feels it.”
The “Dr. Phil” talk show, now in its fifth season, is second only to “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in Nielsen ratings. He has been renewed through 2013. “I think the fifth season for a talk show is really key. It’s where you turn a corner and you really come into your own,” said Ms. Wood. “That’s what you’re seeing with `Dr. Phil,’ some of the strongest, most powerful shows he has ever done.”
For `The View,’ now in its 10th season, 2006 presented an opportunity for change. Meredith Vieira bolted for an anchor spot on NBC’s “Today.” Rosie O’Donnell joined the show and Star Jones Reynolds was let go. Ms. O’Donnell, a prominent daytime presence whose own talk show won the top Daytime Emmy Award from 1998 to 2002, was determined to make “The View” must-see television.
“Rosie came in to `The View’ saying that she wanted to help Barbara Walters win a Daytime Emmy as the host of the show,” said Mr. Frons. “I certainly think `The View’ has been packed with energy and excitement and has had terrific ratings in response.”
Today “The View” has become more relevant than ever before, with its fingers on the pulse of pop culture. Ms. O’Donnell seems to revel in dishing about pop culture, often stirring up controversy. Her criticism of Donald Trump and his responses to her barbs resulted in a media feud that garnered headlines from coast to coast. The net result has been a big boost in ratings and chatter for “The View.”
“It’s become must-view TV, national conversation,” said Mr. Frons. “I’ve had more people come up to me saying that they’ve started watching `The View’ this season then I have ever heard before.” As for the winning the Daytime Emmy, “I’m hoping we’re recognized, but you never know,” Mr. Frons said.
“The Montel Williams Show” is another possible nominee, even though it’s been a while since the Daytime Emmys have honored Mr. Williams. In 1996 he won the Emmy as outstanding talk show host. “Montel is such a great talent and such a powerful presence on television,” said Ms. Wood. “What you’re seeing him do this season is that he’s elevated his game in a very big way.”
From Dec. 4-10, Mr. Williams, a former Marine and naval officer, traveled to Iraq to visit with the troops and see how they were coping during the holiday season. For a week the show documented Mr. Williams’ time with the troops, during which he shared videotaped personal holiday wishes from family members, enabling several men to see their newborn children for the first time.
“He really enjoys what he’s doing, and that comes across to viewers and I think to Emmy voters,” Ms. Wood said. “They recognize his passion. They have in the past and they could again.”
As proud and passionate as Rachael Ray is about her show, she’s reluctant to get her hopes up for a nomination. “It’s all been terrific. I’m very, very proud of all the people who work on our show, and our viewers,” Ms. Ray said. “I never saw me being on TV for any reason whatsoever. That’s what’s been so cool about this. It’s been an organic, fun thing.”
“It would be flattering to be nominated, especially the show,” she said. “I’m always thrilled for the people when our staff gets recognized. We go in when it’s still dark, then we go home when it’s dark. We bring our kids and our dogs with us to work, otherwise we wouldn’t see them. It makes me feel uncomfortable to be singled out.”