Sifting Starts for Syndie Freshman

Nov 16, 2008  •  Post A Comment

The pack of freshman first-run syndicated programming is eerily mirroring its prime-time network brethren: solid starts for some, but no massive hits.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, according to syndication analysts.
With nearly two months’ worth of ratings in the books, the freshman pack has given station managers and analysts enough data to start understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each program.
Some shows, including Debmar-Mercury’s “Trivial Pursuit: America Plays” and Program Partners’ “Family Court With Judge Penny,” are lagging behind the rest of the pack in the ratings. They, as well as the frontrunners, are jockeying for position during tough economic times and difficult competition, making getting a foothold in viewership an uphill battle.
TelevisionWeek spoke with general managers and analysts about the head of the freshman syndication class, looking for clues on who will move on to the next grade and who will get held back. Below are the top-rated syndie shows in the freshman daily first-run pack.
‘Deal or No Deal’
NBC Universal Television Distribution’s 30-minute daytime version of its prime-time series stripped out a majority of its leggy, briefcase-revealing models, cut the top prize money in half and added a wheel to the mix.
Removing those elements from the show speeds up play immensely, and viewers are noticing.
Currently leading the freshman pack in household ratings, “Deal” isn’t a smash in all markets, but is performing well nationally, said Bill Carroll, Katz Television Group’s VP/director of programming.
“It’s approaching a renewable level,” he said.
“‘Deal’ has moved past long-running ‘Family Feud’ with a 2.1 GAA (Gross Average Audience) vs. 1.9 this season,” said Chuck Larsen, president of independent TV consultancy October Moon Television. “In a market where returning game shows are off an average minus 11%, ‘Deal’s’ weekly growth is promising.”
Bill Lamb, president and general manager of Fox affiliate WDRB-TV in Louisville, Ky., said “Deal” is performing well in his market, positioned at 6:30 p.m., after “Judge Judy” and leading into “Two and a Half Men.”
He said the show has boosted the time period by half a ratings point versus last year’s occupant of the time slot, “According to Jim.” “Two and a Half Men has gained slightly as well.
Mr. Carroll said “Deal’s” start is right around where he expected it to be, noting it’s unreasonable to think that even despite the notable franchise, “Deal” should have launched much higher than it did.
“‘Deal or No Deal’ is the highest-rated new first-run show in syndication in households and all key demos. It continues to grow week in and week out and it attracts the youngest audience for any game show in syndication,” said Barry Wallach, president of NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution.
“‘Deal’ has been widely praised by our local broadcast clients and advertisers alike for its fast-paced action and high production value,” he added. “We look forward to continued ratings growth and exciting shows in the months ahead.”
‘The Doctors’
Spun off from “Dr. Phil” and featuring a roundtable of accredited doctors discussing medical issues, CBS Television Distribution’s “The Doctors” is showing some ratings promise.
“At a 1.4 AA [rating], ‘The Doctors’ is on the map, but it has a way to go to reach ‘Dr. Phil’s’ 3.3,” Mr. Larsen said.
“I would characterize this as a work in progress,” Mr. Carroll said.
Mr. Carroll said the show has drawn some tough time slots in the top markets, including 9 a.m. in New York City. But recent numbers, including a series-high 2.0 rating in overnights on Monday, Nov. 3, is heartening.
Sacramento CBS affiliate KOVR-TV’s Vice President/General Manager Kevin Walsh said his station is happy with the numbers for the show’s start. He was even more impressed with viewer feedback.
“The one thing we have gotten in our market is viewer response. It’s unusual to get the calls that we’ve gotten [about ‘The Doctors’],” he said. “Viewers are calling to tell us they like the show and find it educational.”
He said he believes the show is going to promote itself virally and via word of mouth, and is optimistic that ratings will grow.
“We were already pleased with ‘The Doctors’ debut as the No. 1 new talk show in syndication, but we’re even more encouraged with the growth we’ve seen in the national ratings and the recent overnight season highs the show achieved this week,” John Nogawski, president of CBS Television Distribution, said.
‘The Bonnie Hunt Show’
Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution’s “The Bonnie Hunt Show” is hoping to gain some traction as viewers settle into standard viewing patterns leading into the winter, but the show’s start has been slow going.
“At 0.8 GAA, ‘Bonnie’ ranks 12th among the 14 daytime talk shows on the air. The audience size will need to grow to survive,” Mr. Larsen said.
Despite the sluggish start, Mr. Carroll said critics shouldn’t be rushing to judgment on “Hunt.”
“Variety chat shows take time to gain an audience,” he said. “Those shows usually take until the spring to gain an audience.”
He cited “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” as examples of successful shows that weren’t bulls out of the gate.
“It’s rare that you hit it out of the park [directly from the start],” he said.
Mr. Carroll did agree with Mr. Larsen’s conclusion that the audience is going to have to build in order for “Hunt” to succeed.
“In Chicago, we’re encouraged by ‘Bonnie’s’ numbers,” said Larry Wert, WMAQ-TV general manager of WMAQ-TV in Chicago, which is owned and operated by NBC.
Mr. Wert said that in his market, “Bonnie” has boosted ratings in women’s demographics within the time period.
“I’d say in Chicago, we’re encouraged and continue to be optimistic and we know and love Chicago’s Bonnie’s hometown,” he said.
“We are very encouraged by the feedback we are getting from stations and viewers about ‘Bonnie,’ and we look forward to growth as viewing habits are established and viewers discover the show,” said Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.
‘Judge Karen’
For a crowded genre like court shows, for Sony Pictures Television’s “Judge Karen” to elbow its way in during its first few months on the air is encouraging.
“With 11 court shows on the air, the genre is crowded, but for freshman Judge Karen to register a 1.4 GAA is not a bad start,” Mr. Larsen said.
While “Karen” isn’t an immediate standout, the show is in the middle of the pack and continues to either build or maintain its lead in, Mr. Carroll said.
“We have high hopes for the show, so much so we are now doubling running the show weekdays from 4 to5 p.m.,” Bill Ballard, president and general manager of WIAT-TV in Birmingham, Ala., a CBS affiliate, said.
“Court shows have a successful track record in our market as an early news lead-in and we are hoping the addition of ‘Judge Karen’ will improve our early news ratings.”
Sony Pictures Television declined comment.


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